North Africa and Sicily
Phil Nordyke’s “Four Stars of Valor: The Combat History of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR) in World War II” is excellent. It is a must-read for any student of World War II.
Mr. Nordyke does a great job as he takes us with the 505th PIR from its beginnings and training in the United States, through its deployment to North Africa, and through its campaigns in Sicily, Italy, Normandy, Holland, the Bulge, and Germany before returning home.
The book takes its title from the 505 PIR’s record four combat jumps in Sicily, Salerno/Naples, Ste Mere Eglise/Normandy, and Nijmegen/Holland. Stars representing participation in combat jumps had been worn unofficially on parachute wings during and after World War II. FYI – this practice did not gain official sanction until after the 1983 invasion of Grenada, Operation Urgent Fury.
I found it a book that that demanded I read every word on every page. Be prepared for some very graphic descriptions of the training and combat. You’ll feel the heat of North Africa. I was disappointed as I read the Hermann Goring Fallschrim Panzer and 15th Panzer Grenadier Divisions were on Sicily, that General Bradley knew it, and because of secrecy of Ultra they did not pass this information on to the attacking forces! “This was a cruel deception of our own forces, but necessary in order to protect the secrets of Ultra.”
Mr. Nordyke does an excellent job of using primary sources. At first, I was a little confused when I encountered an incident that was described from multiple people’s points of view, but quickly saw the value in seeing the way more than one person viewed/remembered an incident. It helped paint a more complete picture. Pages 300 – 301 and the actions of Private Camille E. Gagne’s response to the killing of First Lieutenant John Dodd is one example. The coverage giving to the 505th’s role in Nijmegen Holland is very detailed and had me feeling I was there.
The 505th PIR’s involvement didn’t stop after its fourth jump into Nijmegen/Holland. They played a key role being deployed by truck into Belgium’s Ardennes Forest as the 82 Airborne Divisions helped stop Hitler’s in The Battle of the Bulge in freezing December 1944 and January 1945.
The book has exception maps and an amazing index. This book should be required reading for active duty members wearing jump wings. It is a must addition to any military historian’s library and would be an excellent addition to all university and community libraries.
Phillip Thomas Tucker’s has written a well researched, very readable book titled “Barksdale’s Charge: The True High Tide of the Confederacy at Gettysburg, July 2, 1863”.
Dr. Tucker’s book makes the premise that at the Battle of Gettysburg General Barksdale’s charge is more significant that General Picket’s charge. The author presents detail after detail.
The book gives a wonderful history of the Mississippi Brigade. He points out they are tall, straight shooters, and brave. I found the book redundant at points.
The author makes good arguments for Barksdale’s charge being more important than Pickett’s. If Barksdale had lived and expended the same energy that Pickett did in defending his actions, we think more highly of his Mississippi brigade’s contributions. Interestingly, the point of view presented was almost exclusively southern apologetic.
The book was an enjoyable read. The history of the Mississippi brigade and its contributions are worth the purchase price. I think the historians have already decided Pickett charge was more important than Barksdale’s, but it made me reevaluate.
I have read more than twenty-five books and memoirs on the subject of the Battle of Gettysburg. I have walked the paths of Barksdale’s Charge. Pickett’s Charge, and stood on Little Round Top. I am a trained historian by education who has studied a significant amount of military history. I am a former US Army infantry officer who has studied the battle in detail in my military science curriculum. I know how to examine the presented premise but respectfully disagree with it.
I highly recommend Company Commander: The Classic Infantry Memoir of World War II by Charles B. MacDonald. At just 21 years of age, Captain Charles B. MacDonald first commanded I Company, 3 Battalion 23rd Infantry, 2nd Infantry Division from October 1944 to January 1945 and later G Company, 2 Battalion 23rd Infantry, 2nd Infantry Division from March to May 1945. Written in 1947 when recollections were still sharp and fresh, the memoir resulted in a very detailed account of what it was like to take command of a line infantry company and lead it into battle. The book gives us the template for writing a personal military memoir.
It is by far the finest memoir of any junior officer in World War II. Charles MacDonald does a great job of keeping his focus on his own experiences. He does not speculate or wastes my time by giving conjecture on the big picture. We only have first-hand information from the events of his personal participation. He sticks to what life was like for a junior officer in command of an infantry company, sleepless, hungry, dirty, stressful, and very dangerous. He takes us from the Siegfried Line in the Ardennes, through the Battle of the Bulge, and to the end of the war in the Czechoslovakia.
This book is a must-read for all army officers who seek to command at company-level and it is informative for military historians as well. It is still required reading at West Point and on the company level officer (second lieutenant, first lieutenant, and captain) recommended reading list by the U.S. Army today. Upon this book’s publication in 1947, Charles B. MacDonald was invited to join the U.S. Army Center of Military History as a civilian historian, the start of a career during which he wrote three of the official histories of World War II in Europe and supervised the preparation of others. The book is simply the best.
John Antal’s “7 Leadership Lessons of the American Revolution: The Founding Fathers, Liberty, and the Struggle for Independence”. The author uses seven case studies to bring the lessons to life. The case studies are in narrative story form.
He is an excellent story-teller who paints a clear picture that brings each story alive.The stories make for great illustrations for the lessons learned. The lessons learned are as applicable to the business enterprise as to military leadership. He does a wonderful job of demonstrating liberty as a motivator demonstrating the importance of the person.
While tempted to do to a chapter by chapter summary of the book, I won’t. If you love history if you love the USA if you have a sense of patriotism and if you enjoy the study of leadership you will like the book. I strongly recommend “7 Leadership Lessons of the American Revolution: The Founding Fathers, Liberty, and the Struggle for Independence”.
George Koskimaki the noted historian of the 101st Airborne Division wrote “D-Day with the Screaming Eagles”. Mr. Koskimaki was 101st Airborne Division Commanding General Maxwell Taylor’s radio operator. The book was written in 1970. Interviews with hundreds of paratroopers contributed to the book. Their stories are attention-grabbing and captivating. They cover the first hours of Normandy. The fact that the book covers only the first couple of days of the D-Day invasion allows fascinating details to be covered.
The book gives you the feel that you are there during the frenzied first hours of the invasion. Detailed accounts of the activities of the pathfinders were enthralling. You encounter stories where paratroopers are sleepily drugged by the motion sickness medication they took preflight. You are under antiaircraft fire with them as they make their final approaches to the drop zones. In some cases, you are within the aircraft as it is going down in flames. You feel the fear of being captured by the Germans. You experience the myriad of broken legs, sprained ankles and other injuries from jumping at too fast of air speeds and too low of altitudes while being shot at. You land with them in the trees and nearly drown in the flooded areas during your parachute landing. You feel the downright confusion of the event.
The coverage of the glider units landing later during the D-day is information rarely covered in other books. Familiar stories like Lieutenant Dick Winters leading troops taking out the guns on Normandy are shared with a freshness that predates “Band of Brothers” by nearly twenty-five years.
I strongly recommend the book. It is necessary for any military history library, college library or community library. Books like “Band of Brother’s”, “D-Day: June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II”, “Citizen Soldiers” and “The Greatest Generation” follow the historical method used by Mr. Koskimaki.