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Book Review: Struggles, Service & Smiles: The Autobiography of a Depression Era Kid by Robert B. Wiley, Lt. Col., USAF, Ret.

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For author Robert B. Wiley, a retired USAF Lieutenant Colonel, life has been invigorating since 2009. He settled into a new independent-living retirement residence and recently published his new book, Struggles, Service & Smiles: The Autobiography of a Depression Era Kid. From his point of view, “Life is good.” Robert W. Wiley is 87.

As Wiley grew older, he, like many people with children and grandchildren, began to think about sharing with his family some of the lessons learned from his life and memorable experiences he had. Then as life would have it, Wiley decided to attend an activity led by the president of the Colorado Independent Publishers Association who encouraged the group of assembled retirees to consider the value to themselves, their families and their community of writing a poem, short story or autobiography. Wiley said “Yes, I can.”

Today, digital printing technology and the availability of print on demand suppliers who eliminate the need to print and pay for thousands of books upfront, have made it possible for anyone who has dreamed of publishing their own book to do so at a relatively low cost. This has led to an explosion of what I call “grassroots memoirs and autobiographies.” This honest, straight-forward genre of books is written by ordinary people, like Robert W. Wiley, who have lived lives that are perceived by others and themselves to be ordinary. Many such authors have no exceptional writing skills, but in many cases, the stories told in their books are often truly extraordinary and engaging.

Struggles, Service & Smiles is prefaced by a bit of family history in the opening chapter, “My Gene Pool,” and begins to track Wiley’s life beginning in chapter two, titled “Hi World, I’m Bobby.” While he did indeed enjoy a rather simple and ordinary life following his retirement from the military in 1964, Wiley’s early childhood, his small town upbringing and his work ethic development in school and college, leading up to his military drafting, were anything but!

By today’s standards, his life experiences as a middle and high school and college student are especially notable and relevant for today’s youth. In the chapter, “Beginning to Grow Up,” Wiley writes, “While I was still a sophomore (in high school) I came close to wearing myself out. I had done my paper route and made my Friday night collections. I had been accepted for a job working in the kitchen of the fancy Green Gables Restaurant. I rode my bike to the north side and started washing dishes. The eight-hour shift ended at two a.m. I got on my bike and rode farther north to my regular Saturday job at the Piggly Wiggly Market. I just slept at the door until the store opened at seven… believe me, it was very hard to get up and deliver the Sunday papers!” The economy of words reflected in this passage is typical of Wiley’s style.

Struggles, Service & Smiles is a warm and uplifting autobiography. It clearly demonstrates that satisfaction and gratitude for all the things life has to offer us is a choice. Robert B. Wiley inspires all those who read about his life to reflect on and write about their own lives. And in so doing, he empowers each of us to proclaim “Life is good!”

Struggles, Service & Smiles: The Autobiography of a Depression Era Kid
Robert B. Wiley, Lt. Col., USAF, Ret.
Outskirts Press (2011)
ISBN 9781432774332

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