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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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.’ “

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

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.”

 

Book Cover with Soldiers in Desert

Patrol–North Africa-1943 A Story of the Desert War by Fred Majdalany

Set in 1943, Patrol is a short, intimate novel following a small group of men on a night-time patrol in the North African desert. Major Tim Sheldon, close to battle exhaustion, is unexpectedly asked to carry out the mission and this atmospheric, tense novel puts this so-called minor action center stage, as over the course of the day and during the patrol itself, Sheldon reminisces about his time as a soldier, his own future, and what it means to confront fear.

Patrol was a bestseller when it was first published in 1953. Clearly autobiographical, it is based on Fred Madjalany’s own experiences in Tunisia as part of the North African campaign, in particular his command of a night patrol and his time in hospital when wounded. The fictional battalion in the novel is based on 2nd Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers into which Majdalany was commissioned in 1940. Infantry battalions such as this were constantly in action with little respite, and the officers were very young by peace time standards. The stress of battle aged them considerably. Madjalany’s wife Sheila Howarth wrote, ‘I believe in Patrol he was writing his epitaph’. He suffered a stroke in 1957 and died ten years later when the specialist commented ‘the war killed him.’

Editorial Reviews:

“Civilians—and many men in the services—never know what war really is. Perhaps in reading ‘Patrol’ by Fred Majdalany they can learn…. To the very short list of those who have been able to convey in fiction the boredom, pain, fear and that acrid stink of war that an old campaigner can recognize—names like Crane and Bierce—Fred Majdalany must be added for ‘Patrol.'” — The New York Herald Tribune

….The author comes up with a striking analogy to define courage under fire. He compares it to a man’s bank account: you start out with a fixed sum, large or small, and as the days on the line and on patrol in­crease, your account begins to dwindle. The time finally comes when there isn’t much left to draw upon except fear. Anyone who saw the British desert rats in Tunisia in ’43 knows that their account never ran out, and “Patrol” is a stirring tribute to their courage. —The New York Times

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Cover with Rising Sun and Bayonet

Escape from Corregidor by Edgar D. Whitcomb

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ESCAPE FROM CORREGIDOR IS “ONE OF THE MOST FANTASTIC AND INCREDIBLE TRUE STORIES TO COME OUT OF WORLD WAR II.”
(Seattle Post Intelligencer)

“One of the best of the war-escape books … the more impressive because of its simplicity.”
(San Francisco Call-Bulletin)

“. . .an incredible, fascinating account.”
(Virginia Kirkus Service)

“This strange, true adventure of World War II is both interesting reading and a tribute to the American fighting man.” (Pittsburgh Courier)

“. . .exciting, fast moving. …” (Chicago Daily Calumet)

“WORLD WAR II HAS PROVIDED US WITH MANY BIZARRE ESCAPE STORIES, BUT NONE CAN SURPASS ESCAPE FROM CORREGIDOR.”
(The Jackson Sun)