History Of War Review
Review of The Last Ring Home in History of War magazine, edition 37
A deeply moving account of one family’s search for the truth
The Asian theatre of World War II has been well covered by historians and you might think there would be little more to discover about such infamous events as the Bataan Death March or Japanese POW camps. This book, by focusing on the impact the war had on one family, proves that there’s always more to learn.
The author knew little about his grandfather and it was only a chance encounter, over the phone, that led him to take an interest in his story. Having the same name as his grandfather, Nathaniel Minter Dial was mistakenly contacted regarding a school reunion. He might have brushed this off as meaningless, but instead took it as a sign that he should try to learn more about a man he knew barely anything about.
Minter Dial II’s father, Victor, had grown wary of talking to his mother about her heroic husband. He had barely known the man himself, having been just a toddler when his father had gone to war, and talking of him always seemed to send his mother into a state of melancholy. Victor’s father, Lieutenant Nathaniel Minter Dial, graduate of the Annapolis Class of 1932, had died overseas and his story was on the verge of being lost forever before his grandson took up the cause.
Over decades of research, Minter Dial II fashioned what he admitted to being a “somewhat dry” biography of his grandfather, and he had doubts over how to proceed when the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center on 11 September 2001, convinced him to share his research with his father. Victor, stunned by the amount of detail his son’s efforts had uncovered, became a passionate supporter of his continuing quest to find out as much as possible about Lieutenant Dial.
The result is this slim volume, which is anything but dry. The author has woven together interviews with survivors of Japanese POW camps, anecdotes from friends and comrades of his grandfather and the many letters sent between Lieutenant Dial and his wife, Lisa. What could easily have become sentimental remains, instead, touching and revealing. The steady unravelling of Lisa as she waited for a husband who was never to return is depicted with great sympathy, most effectively through her own letters, which are given added poignancy by the fact that many of them never reached Dial as he went through his personal hell at the hands of his captors.
The suffering of the POWs is legendary, but still has the power to shock. The author makes no attempt to gloss over the realities of the torment they faced, nor does he pretend that every POW was able to endure the experience with sanity intact. That such a powerful story could have been so close to being lost forever is a reminder of the fragility of history.
The result of the author’s endless energy and determination is a compelling story, with more than a few devastating twists. A brief tale it may be, spanning just more than 180 pages, but this is very far from being a little book.