Rhodes, Herb, Hungry for Wood: An American Memoir. From the Shores of Iwo Jima to the Tundra of Alaska. Self-published. Softbound. 290 pages. $20.00.
Rhodes lived his early years in a little logging town whose name translates as his title. Hoquiam suffered mightily during the Depression. There was personal tragedy for little Herb; his father lost his job and his mother tried to commit suicide, then was institutionalized with tuberculosis.
Herb managed to grow up by working very, very hard at whatever he could find. When he was 19, World War II was raging and he ran out of funds to continue college, so signed up for the Navy.
Almost half the book concerns his wartime experiences aboard a landing craft. The most vivid memories come from watching the Marines storm a cliff on Iwo Jima in the face of constant fire. Many died, including his best friend, and Herb himself was badly wounded.
When the war ended, he took advantage of the GI Bill and went back to college for a degree in Communications. That led to a job as a reporter for Bob Atwoodís Anchorage Times and a life-long love affair with the town and Alaska. He married, had three children, then divorced and raised the children alone. (A bit mysteriously, at the end he says he has five children that he knows of, leaving the reader to wonder.)
After a few years with Atwood, whom he describes as a boss so cheap there were not only no benefits, but Rhodes had to work summers in a cannery to get through the year financially, he decided to start a small printing company. That was such a success that he upgraded the presses, was able to print newspapers for small towns around Alaska, and then started a paper himself, the Great Land. There he says he was able to expose corruption in the Anchorage police and, when he worked there, kickbacks in the reconstruction of the Alaska Railroad.
This is all quite interesting until he gets to the feud between the Times and Kay Fanningís rival Anchorage News. Then there is so much vitriol itís a wonder the pages are still intact. To take the mild view, he didnít like her or her paper and charges the McClatchy chain with driving both the Times and his paper out of business after it bought the News. While itís fun to present your side of a dispute, this account comes across as wilfully unbalanced. The same can be said for his tirade about Jay Hammond.
However, this reviewer can nearly forgive him for his views when he switches to his beloved dog, bears, ermine and wildlife in general. Still, Rhodes comes across as resembling one of those fabled souls on the Kenai who quit the John Birch Society because it was too liberal.
And, in spite of the chest-thumping, he has never actuallly lived the Alaskan life-style; fishing, hunting, boating, learning to fly, or living on the tundra. Reminds one of the old saying about Anchorageís chief virtue; itís so close to Alaska.