Book Cover showing a valley

They Called it “Purple Heart Valley”-A Combat Chronicle of the War in Italy by Margaret Bourke-White

An excerpt from The New York Times review by Foster Hailey, November 26, 1944:

“Reading Miss White’s remarkable book and looking at her even more remarkable photographs, many of them taken under fire, you know that all the American men and boys, in Italy, in France, in India, China, Burma and the many Pacific islands, have what it takes to defeat their country’s enemies. That’s why they’re winning the war.

“Margaret Bourke-White’s photographic-written record of the weeks she spent slogging through the mud, riding a Jeep up and down Highway 6, climbing mountain peaks in the dark with her heavy equipment to get just the right place and the right light to shoot her pictures, photo­graphing the quick, the dead and the dying in gun emplacements. front-line foxhole, emergency dressing station and rear-base hospital, is one of the best and most remarkable books to come out of the war. The author prefers to be known perhaps as a photographer; but this book qualifies her as a first-rate reporter, in command of a lean, hard prose that is the only true medium of description for the ordered insanity of war…

“…Although the most exciting photographs and the best reading are of battle. Miss Bourke-White gives the whole picture. She tells of the misery of the Italian civilians behind the lines; the black market through which some Italians fleeced other Italians; the bungling of the American Military Government, which (by a confession to her, she said, of one of its high officials) was more interested in how the United States would react to what it was doing than of getting a disagreeable job done quietly and efficiently.”

 

From Foreign Affairs: Reviewed By Robert Gale Woolbert July 1945

In this intimate, first-hand description of the Cassino campaign in Italy the author has accompanied her usual superb photography with exciting text.


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photo of John Shook beside Vietnam Memorial

One Soldier by John H. Shook

Who, or what, was the real enemy in Vietnam? The ever-elusive, jungle-wise Viet Cong and their NVA allies? The oppressive heat and torrential rains? The leeches, mosquitoes, and the jungle itself? Or the army whose regulations made you carry a .45 even though the firing pin was broken? Perhaps, each in their own way, they all were… and John Shook battled them all.

In One Soldier, he recounts his experiences and describes how he faced—and overcame—all the enemies a machine-gunner encountered in the Nam. Straight-from-the-shoulder, Shook tells of search and destroy patrols and night ambushes and slogging through a rice paddy, wondering when the first shot was going to come. You’ll be at his side during bull sessions on getting a “million-dollar” wound that would mean a return to the States and in firefights that turned his M-60 machine gun from a shoulder-numbing burden into a staccato, lead-spewing lifesaver.

Most of all, One Soldier is a story of combat, written in the immediate, gut-wrenching language that men at war resort to: “A burst of automatic rifle fire rips through the hooch inches above my elevated perch. Knowing exactly where my rifle hangs I reach out for it but grasp only air and wooden wall. … The firing in both directions is heavier now. There is yelling on the bridge. It is a black night, a void of vision punctuated by muzzle flashes and the crisscrossing streaks of tracers… Is that your 16?’ I yell. ‘What the f—. Who cares?’… ‘Where was your rifle when this s— started?'”

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Cover showing a bombed out bridge

Dear Fatherland, Rest Quietly by Margaret Bourke-White

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An excerpt from The New York Times review, December 4, 1946 by Orville Prescott.

“Miss Bourke-White is one of the most distinguished of American photographers. Before the war she was a specialist in pictures of industry. During the war as a photographer for Life she took many of the best frontline pictures which appeared in that magazine, in Russia, in Italy and in France and Germany. She traveled by jeep, by plane and on foot wherever reporters were allowed to go, which often meant where shells were exploding and bullets flying. But she did not just take pictures. Miss Bourke-White is a good reporter as well as a photographer. She talked with all manner of men and with resourceful enterprise sought out representative and significant men. The present volume includes 128 of her excellent pictures of Germany in defeat, in addition to Miss Bourke-White’s report on her investigations….

Few Uninfected With Nazism

“….Miss Bourke-White talked with hundreds of Germans. Among them she found a few, a pitiful few, who had not succumbed to the Nazi infection. Most of therm, did not admit or realize that there was any infection. They did not admit that Hitler was evil, that Germany had started the war, that they were aware of the torture and death camps, that they in any way shared responsibility for their government’s and their nation’s crimes. Many of them expected the Allies to finance Germany’s recovery, to be responsible for German employment.

“In Bremen Miss Bourke-White found an old friend, a German girl who had graduated from the Columbia School of Journalism. “Here will be somebody I can talk to,” she thought. But the intelligent, American-educated girl turned out to be an ardent defender of Nazism and all its works. “We have believed in the party principles for centuries,” she said. “Adolf Hitler never knowingly told a lie.”
More disturbing, because of their greater power and influence and because of the respectful deference with which the Allies treated some of them, were the great industrial lords of the Ruhr. Miss Bourke-White talked with many of them, the men who had made Hitler’s war machine possible and who had profited mightily in the process. And they were all just innocent business men uninterested in politics, worthy citizens who expected to continue to run their peaceable enterprises! If they are allowed to, and if the Allies do not foster a genuine democracy in Germany, the third World War will come sooner than we expect it. That is the underlying theme of ‘Dear Fatherland, Rest Quietly.’ “

Addams and Activists on Deck of Ship on the Way to Europe

Peace and Bread in Time of War by Jane Addams

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First published in 1922 during the “Red Scare,” by which time Jane Addams’s pacifist efforts had adversely affected her popularity as an author and social reformer, Peace and Bread in Time of War is Addams’s eighth book and the third to deal with her thoughts on pacifism.

Addams’s unyielding pacifism during the Great War drew criticism from politicians and patriots who deemed her the “most dangerous woman in America.” Even those who had embraced her ideals of social reform condemned her outspoken opposition to U.S. entry into World War I or were ambivalent about her peace platforms. Turning away from the details of the war itself, Addams relies on memory and introspection in this autobiographical portrayal of efforts to secure peace during the Great War. “I found myself so increasingly reluctant to interpret the motives of other people that at length I confined all analysis of motives to my own,” she writes. Using the narrative technique she described in The Long Road of Women’s Memory, an extended musing on the roles of memory and myth in women’s lives, Addams also recalls attacks by the press and defends her political ideals.
Source: Goodreads.

Marines on River

Helmet for My Pillow: From Parris Island to the Pacific

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times, September, 1957.

“…This is an old story, but it is told in a fresh and lovely voice. Robert Leckie writes with charm, with personal humility, with humor, with a rare gift for capturing all that is human in the most inhuman of man’s activities.

He makes no bones about it—the war is what happened to him. The point of view is not the grand strategy of victory, but the immediate tactic of personal survival. By turns a boot, a machine gunner on Guadalcanal, a liberty hound in Australia, an intelligence scout on Peleliu—briefly a self-styled “brig rat” subsisting on bread and water and finally a casualty —Private Leckie fought the enlisted man’s battle.
By David Dempsey

 

From the Marine Corps Association and Foundation

Revisiting a Pacific War Classic by Lt. Col. Michael Grice

Robert Leckie’s “Helmet for My Pillow” has been my single favorite military book for over 30 years. Written from the perspective of a young participant in the great endeavor that was World War II, it is a soulful, wrenching, humorous, and insightful account of one youth’s journey into manhood via the Pacific campaigns spearheaded by the 1st Marine Division.

I first read it as a junior high school student in 1980, and I have reread it nearly every year since. It has framed my perspectives of the Marine Corps, of leadership, of enlisted service, of officers, and of combat as I have aged, matured, and risen through the ranks. Leckie doesn’t provide a technical, historical account consisting of units, maps, and strategy, but instead provides a humanistic view of the Marine Corps at war from the perspective of an often-bewildered observer caught up in the whirlwind of events.

Beginning with his rush to service after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Leckie brings the reader along as a fellow traveler on his journey to war. He presents his story through a framework of symbolism, simile, and metaphor; almost no character is identified by actual name but instead by title or attribute that the author chooses to best typify them. Generally warm to his peers (to whom have been bestowed titles such as “Hoosier,” “Chuckler,” and “Runner,” all so called because of their origins, habits, or claims to fame), he is critical of his seniors, most notably his officers. “Commando,” for example, was what we would consider an exceptionally motivated officer in the modern sense, but his Marines viewed him with suspicion and occasional terror as he attempted to utilize urban combat techniques in the dank jungles of the Pacific. “Commando sits on his brains,” says Leckie and his mates; they recognize that he is incredibly brave, but such bravery is not the only quality that a leader needs to possess in order to inspire men. He writes of officers who only venture into the lines when they hear that Leckie has somehow obtained a box of cigars; true to his status as a carefree private he ensures that they receive none.

Leckie is not uncomplimentary to all of his leaders, however, as he admiringly terms one of his lieutenants “Spearmint” because he has the lowly affectation for chewing gum. Spearmint they follow out of respect and admiration; Commando they follow because they are Marines, and Marines follow orders. The juxtaposition of leadership types and styles from the perspective of an articulate young private is an object lesson that all Marine leaders should heed, and there is no finer case study than Helmet for My Pillow.

The book should not be read only for the study in leadership, but also from the perspective of a Marine engaged in a seemingly endless conflict. Leckie speaks of timeless war where rumors of returning home rise and fall with the completion of each assault. He chronicles the chaotic creation of a newly formed division as it prepares to fight; the murderous landings and campaigns in Guadalcanal, New Britain, and Peleliu; and the adventures and misadventures of liberty in Australia.

His writing style is not the staccato regurgitation of battle lines, company positions, and enemy orders of battle, but instead it is the wrenching and visceral viewpoint of a machinegunner in a dank and slimy pit who waits in the dark for the yellow peril to blot him savagely from existence. He writes of idly watching crocodiles feast on the Japanese dead in the Tenaru River, most notably one he names “Chowhound” because the dead soldier floats in a soup of rice ripped free from his haversack when the amphibious animals savage his body. He speaks easily of the petrifying terror felt by them all when the banzai charges came, and of the following relief when the attacks are repulsed and the field of battle is thick with the corpses of slain Japanese soldiers. He writes much as Norman Mailer did in The Naked and the Dead; his story is about the military experience but is not intended to be a military book. He writes of life and love and, most intensely, of fear:

I had not looked into its foliage before the darkness and now I fancied it infested with Japanese. Everything and all the world became my enemy, and soon my very body betrayed me and became my foe . . . . I lay quivering, in that rotten hole while the darkness gathered and all creation conspired for my heart. How long? I lay for an eternity. There was no time. Time had disintegrated in that black void. There was only emptiness, and that is something; there was only being: there was only consciousness. Like the light that comes up suddenly in a darkened theatre, daylight came quickly. Dawn came, and so myself came back to myself. I could see the pale outlines of my comrades to right and left, and I marveled to see how tame my tree could be, how unforbidding could be its branches.

I know now why men light fires.

Marines of all ranks and ages should read Leckie’s memoir. It contains lessons that pertain to us all—lessons about combat, lessons about life and, most importantly, lessons about leadership. Leckie, who managed to reach the rank of private first class on several occasions, rose from bread and water in a transport’s brig to being decorated for valor while fighting the Japanese. His observations on his lot in life, his friends, and his leaders are not so dissimilar from those being made today in places like Marjeh in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan. I have read his work dozens of times and will reread it many times more. I learn a little more each time I read it, and it is so well written that I look forward to reading it again.

Reprinted with permission of Lt. Colonel Michael Grice.

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Photo of 6 Female Journalists

No Woman’s World by Iris Carpenter

From The Wall Street Journal, December 17, 2021. Five Best: Woman Writing about World War II.

More than 200 female journalists were accredited to the Allied forces by the end of World War II, but it wasn’t until the final months of the war that a select few were allowed to report from the front. Writers like Iris Carpenter had found their own illicit ways to the fighting, but did so at their own peril. “No Woman’s World” is a coruscating indictment of the system against which they had to battle.

Nonetheless, it covers the struggle impressively, from the Battle of Britain on through V-E Day. The power of the book derives less from its coverage of battles than its unsentimental honesty. Carpenter records her own confused emotions on first entering Germany and having to decide how to view ordinary German citizens—as suffering victims, or the enemy, or both?

She is no less forthright in her descriptions of the American soldiers with whom she traveled—many of them poignantly young and courageous but also brutalized by years at war. Her bluntness make this memoir a riveting read.

 

From Time, Monday, Sept. 09, 1946.

When U.S. trucks and tanks hit Omaha Beach, says Iris Carpenter, drivers “cried and vomited” as they crunched over the bodies of G.I.s fallen in the first infantry waves. It was sickening and terrible, but the beachhead held firm.

Blonde, British-born Iris Carpenter, thirtyish, BBC commentator and war correspondent (London Daily Herald, Boston Globe), says that she held firm, too. Although ready to grant from the start that it was no woman’s world, she thought a “newspaper girl” had as much right to report what was happening as anyone else. Correspondent Carpenter stayed until V-E day and beyond, ended up with a new feeling of authority on military strategy, a shattered eardrum (enemy bombing) and a fiancé: Colonel Russell F. Akers Jr. of the U.S. First Army staff.

Much of No Woman’s World reads about as a woman’s war report might be expected to read: human-interest stories, hard-boiled anecdotes, Perils-of-Pauline asides. In field hospitals Correspondent Carpenter saw “the hideous mess which high-explosive makes of human flesh.” In newly liberated Paris she lived on “K rations, cognac and champagne.” On the Rhine she rushed over the newly captured Remagen Bridge while MPs shouted, “Keep ten paces between you and the next guy—it’s hot around here.”

Correspondent Carpenter also includes a critical tactical narrative of the fighting from D-day to the end. Having had access (she does not say through whom, but it is a fair guess) to First Army staff documents, she notes that First Army G-2 had the “first inkling” of Rundstedt’s Ardennes offensive weeks before it began, but that Bradley’s Twelfth Army group did not act on the information. Her conclusion: it was closer to “complete catastrophe . . . than any Allied commander would ever care to admit.”

 

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cover showing a Japanese prison guard

Give Us This Day by Sidney Stewart

“Unforgettable”—The New York Times

“I have read scores of books that came out of World War II, but I have read none that took such a tremendous grip on my emotions, nor one that evoked so strikingly the horror of war…This is more than a book, finely written as it is—it is a living experience.”  —Chicago Tribune

“Probably several million words have been written about the Bataan Death March, but no matter how many all have now been superseded by this splenlid book. If the men of that march needed a monument other than their own heroism they have it now in GIVE US THIS DAY. —Omaha World Herald

 

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Book Cover of Last Enemy

The Last Enemy by Richard Hillary

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The classic memoir that explodes the myth of the romance of war.

Young Richard Hillary, a Spitfire pilot in the RAF, thought that flying one-on-one against Hitler’s “roster of rogues” the Luftwaffe, would be exciting, gallant, and heroic.

However, when he is shot down, horribly burned and disfigured in the Battle of Britain, he faces a different battle in which he must confront the toughest enemy of all—himself—and learn true courage and heroism.

“Hillary takes us into the clouds of his flight-and into the depths of his suffering.”—Publishers Weekly
“FEW BOOKS ARE WRITTEN SO WELL OR PACK SUCH AN EMOTIONAL WALLOP.—UPI

More Editorial Reviews

“A small masterpiece” —The New York Times

“A classic of air warfare” —Washington Post

“Admirable skill … A real writer.” —J. B. Priestly

“A war book that is destined to live … It will, I think, become a Classic.”
—from a BBC broadcast by Sir Desmond MacCarthy

“A haunting memoir of wartime courage”—Philadelphia Inquirer

“THE LAST ENEMY has been a classic in England since its publication. It deserves the same status here.” —Tulsa World

“A philosophical treatise on war which ranks with the
best.” —Montgomery Journal-Advertiser

Marines on Patrol

U.S. Marines in Vietnam: Small Unit Action 1966 by Captain Francis J. “Bing” West Jr.

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Grade Level from the Flesch-Kincaid Readability Score is 6.2.

The battle scenes are dramatic but are too graphic for middle school readers in our opinion.

And the text of the book is much easier reading than the blurb below:

Vietnam, summer 1966. On a steep mountainside 20 miles inland, a reconnaissance platoon of 18 men holds off hundreds of enemy soldiers for over 12 hours. In a four-day scouting mission near the demilitarized zone, a small patrol ambushes and destroys a Viet Cong base camp. This was the action behind the headlines in Vietnam.

From routine night raids to full-scale assaults, Small Unit Action in Vietnam presents a compelling perspective on the courage, dedication and patriotic enthusiasm of U.S. Marines in the early stages of the war.

Originally published as a strategic training manual, this remarkable and moving document is an authentic eyewitness account of nine separate actions at the company and battalion level. Most books look at the broad picture of the war. Small Unit Action in Vietnam sharpens the focus to show the individual battles as they were actually fought. Captain West’s book describes with taut precision the lightning judgments, tactical decisions and moments of bravery of individual soldiers fighting a deadly enemy in an overwhelmingly hostile environment.

Through his vivid descriptions—of the rugged terrain, the movements of the units, the use of support troops and artillery, the ruses and psychological ploys so crucial in defeating a brilliant, determined and resourceful foe—we experience with stunning clarity the challenges of combat on the front.

Cover of Last Flight from Singapore

Last Flight from Singapore with Maps and Illustrations by Arthur G. Donahue

Fighting on after the Fall of Singapore

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As one of the storied few who defeated the Nazi Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain, American Arthur G. Donahue-Royal Air Force Flight Lieutenant and recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross-wished to continue his service and requested overseas duty. 

In October 1941, he was sent to the British protectorate of Singapore as a precaution against a possible threat from Japan, which was already conducting a war in China. This posting soon put him on the spot as the Japanese Army swept down the Malayan peninsula to assault the fortress island.

Within two months, all of Asia was thrown into turmoil as Japan simultaneously bombed Hawaii and invaded the Philippines and the Dutch East Indies. Japanese forces swiftly conquered much of Southeast Asia and began moving toward Burma and India. Standing in the face of this onslaught was the British stronghold of Singapore. 

Donahue and his squadron began around-the-clock sorties, reminiscent of their battle against Germany a little more than one year earlier. This time, however, the British forces were overwhelmed and they were forced to surrender the city to the Japanese in February 1942, an event Winston Churchill called “the worst disaster” in British history.

During the final phase of the battle, Donahue was wounded while strafing Japanese transports unloading troops to storm Singapore. He managed to land, and was airlifted on the last flight from the city and ultimately to a hospital in India. In Last Flight from Singapore, Donahue tells his dramatic story, accompanied by photographs he took himself, of the intense and futile battle against the Japanese for control of the gateway to the Malay Peninsula. He continues his story through his convalescence to his return to England, where he once again began patrols over Europe. The manuscript for “Last Flight from Singapore” was found among his effects after he did not return from a patrol in 1942 and was presumed lost. 

From the New York Times review:
“Donahue is no literary artist and he makes no attempt either to dramatize or to underplay his experience. He tells them in a simple, unvarnished manner, much as if he were sitting down with some friends back home. The result is pretty close to what the real thing must have been. There are times when the horror and futility of the Singapore incident shine through with sickening clarity…
“Donahue was one of the expendables, one of the few who stood in the breach while the rest of us found out what was happening. He was one of the few of whom Churchill spoke when he cited the great debt of the many.”