In a time when recollections can be reduced to just a few words, Jean Shepherd delivered monologues, soliloquies and musings. He was a raconteur.
Shepherd served in the Army during World War II — that same Army that stormed the beaches on D-Day and raised the flag on Iwo Jima, although Shepherd and his unit would never see the front lines. They were the home front Army: stocking, re-stocking, sending, schlepping and training for a war they helped win — but only at a distance.
Over his career as a humorist, entertainer and late-night voice on the radio, Shepherd would occasionally cast back to his time as a soldier, portraying himself more as Beetle Bailey than John Wayne.
Shepherd himself died in 1999, but a new collection of his Army stories has just come out. It’s called Shep’s Army: Bummers, Blisters and Boondoggles, and editor Eugene Bergmann tells NPR’s Scott Simon that he can talk about Shepherd “by the hour and the day and the week.”
On the semifictional nature of these essays
“Whenever Jean Shepherd told stories, whether they were kid stories or Army stories, I believe they were just about totally fiction. What is true, I believe, is that he was so sensitive to his surroundings and to what was going on and what life was like, that he knew what it was like to be a kid, he knew what it was like to be in the Army, and from knowing what it was like, he then created his fictional stories out of that.”
On whether Shepherd’s experience in code school influenced his stories
“Well, he loved to talk, whether it was talking on the air, on the radio, talking after hours on his ham radio set, or just talking to people in general. And he would give them a 45-minute story, he’d just keep going, he’d never stop.”