Wednesday, September 23, 2020

The Fighting Bunch - Chris Derose


If Chris DeRose’s The Fighting Bunch were a novel, I probably would have put it down almost as quickly as I picked it up. I would have found the premise of the book to be too farfetched for me to take it seriously, and I would have been unwilling to suspend my level of disbelief to that degree. If nothing else, that shows how na├»ve I can be about some of the things that happened in America’s s relatively recent past. The book’s subtitle, a long one, says it all: The Battle of Athens and How World War II Veterans Won the Only Successful Armed Rebellion Since the Revolution. But I suspect I’m not the only one who never heard about what happened in Athens, Tennessee, in 1946 after a group of battle-hardened veterans came home and found their county to be completely controlled by one corrupt politician and his gang of criminal-enforcers. 

When the bloody battle was all over, the (mostly) young men who fought and won the Battle of Athens began to realize that they might be in big trouble. After all, what they had just done was not exactly legal, so they could very well themselves end up prisoners in the jail they had just liberated from the political machine so determined to rob them of that day’s election victory. Wiser heads in the group convinced the rest that it was time for all of them to shut up about what had just happened in their little Tennessee town. And they did exactly that - even to the extent that their own children and grandchildren were never sure exactly what role their elders played in the armed rebellion. 

Chris DeRose, when he began The Fighting Bunch, realized that only half the story had ever been told, and he knew that the time left for gathering first-hand accounts of the events of that night was fast running out. Only a handful of men were left to tell the story. DeRose, though, found the next best thing: adult children of the men who were willing to share both their own memories and any original papers left behind by their fathers, along with even some of the original acetate recordings of the live radio broadcast by station WROL from that night. As indicated by its dozens of footnotes and an extensive list of interviews, DeRose did his homework, and it shows. His account of “the only successful armed rebellion since the Revolution” and the men who pulled it off is fascinating. 

Bottom Line: The Fighting Bunch is a rather shocking account of how a group of WWII veterans, men themselves instrumental in assuring the freedom of Europe and the rest of the world, came back to Tennessee to find their own home-county under the thumb of a despicable dictator and the murdering thugs he employed. No one dared oppose the gang - even at first, the veterans themselves - but what happened when the ex-military men reached their breaking-point is a story that readers will find difficult to forget.

Chris DeRose

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)

6 comments:

  1. This sounds like my kind of book. Thanks for putting it on my radar, Sam!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is the most surprising book I've read this year, Cathy. I knew a little about corrupt politics in Tennessee, but I never imagined that returning WWII veterans had been targeted for all kinds of bogus arrests, etc. just because they came home with money in their pockets. This is a real eye-opener.

      Delete
  2. How did you even find this book? It sounds great and one I totally want to read! What a crazy story, though. But that's what makes it so fascinating. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I got luck in that the book's publicist contacted about it by email. Otherwise, I'm positive it would have slipped right by me.

      Delete
  3. I was not even aware of this event. Time to remedy that.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's well worth the read, Jen. I'll look forward to hearing your take on it. It's still hard for me to believe that all of this happened, even harder to believe that the good guys got away with taking the law into their own hands.

      Delete