D-Day June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II by Stephen E. Ambrose


Over 1400 Interviews

The late Stephen E. Ambrose used over 1400 interviews for his history of the D-Day invasion.

This “oral history” approach brings the reader into the heart of the battle through eye-witness testimony. The tales of the front line infantryman sweeps the reader up into their personal histories.

Individual and Small Unit Stories

The story is told from the individual and small unit level often failing to describe larger unit actions or explaining how the individual actions fit into the total picture. Let is shared of what happened on the Canadian and British beachheads. Historical controversies are often given minimal coverage. These are simply good stories of many individual experiences.

The book is not a textbook for lessons on strategic decision making or to answer big picture questions. Ambrose touches on these larger issues in a general focus, but that is not his focus.

Courage of Small Unit Leaders

This is a book about the American achievement in Normandy. The individual courage and independence of the American small unit leaders is the big story of this book.

Ambrose is right on target as he tells the story of their braveness and toughness. I originally read and reviewed the book in 1999.


Jungle in Black by Steve Maguire

jungle in black

A Memoir

Jungle in Black is the memoir of Steve Maguire. McGuire was a young, gung-ho, Airborne Ranger who lead a 9th Infantry Division Battalion Reconnaissance Platoon in the 6th Battalion, 31st Infantry in the Mekong Delta in 1969.

The story opens with drawn-out and generic combat descriptions that lead up to Maguire’s wounding. The rest of the book covers his treatment. We learn that an exploding Vietcong mine blinded him for life.

An Honest First-person Account

This is an honest first-person account that never wallows in self-pity. Unfortunately, he in no way offers enough background about his life to round out his person.

He missed the mark with his book. He paints a broad description of the early stages of rehab. The description covers the usual male boasting, lust for nurses and hopes dashed by physicians not healing or restoring his sight. He fails to feature how he coped with his loss of sight and completed his bachelor and master’s degree and began working on a doctorate in psychology (not mentioned until in an epilog).

This could have been a very inspirational and motivational story; instead, it’s just another war story memoir.

White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson by Brenda Wineapple

White Heat

He had seen men enslaved, and seen death in battle on a terrible scale. So when a young, unknown poet named Emily Dickinson wrote to ask whether he thought her verse was “alive”, Thomas Wentworth Higginson – a critic for The Atlantic Monthly and a decorated Union veteran – knew he was seeing poetry that lived and breathed like nothing he had seen before.

Higginson was immediately awed by Emily Dickinson and went on to become her editor, mentor, and one of the reclusive poet’s closest confidantes. The two met only twice, but exchanged hundreds of deeply personal letters over the next twenty-five years; they commented on each other’s work, mulled over writers they admired, and dazzled each other with nimble turns of phrase. After she died, he shepherded the first collected edition of her poetry into publication and was a tireless champion of her work in his influential Recent Poems column for The Nation.

Later generations of literary scholars have dismissed Higginson as a dull, ordinary mind, blaming him for the decision to strip some of the distinctive, unusual structure from Dickinson’s poems for publication. However, Brenda Wineapple offers a portrait of Higginson that is far beyond ordinary. He was a widely respected writer, a fervent abolitionist, and a secret accomplice to John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry; wounded in the first year of the Civil War, he returned to service as colonel of the first federally authorized regiment of former slaves. White Heat reveals a rich, remarkable friendship between the citizen soldier and the poet, a correspondence from which Dickinson drew tremendous passion and inspiration – and which she credited, more than once, with saving her life.

Brenda Wineapple is the author and editor of five books, including the award-winning Hawthorne: A Life and Sister Brother: Gertrude and Leo Stein. Her essays, articles, and reviews have appeared in The American Scholar, The New York Times Book Review, Parnassus, Poetry, and The Nation. She teaches in the MFA programs at Columbia University and The New School in New York.

Omaha Beach: D-Day, June 6, 1944 by Joseph Balkoski

Joseph Balkoski’s book on Omaha Beach is a great historical resource like his book Utah Beach. Omaha Beach tells the story of when largely untested American troops assaulted the German army’s Atlantic wall. This is a great read covering the events of the day almost minute by minute. It reads like a great documentary. This is not written in the format of a memoir. Balkoski relies mainly on primary sources such as after-action reports, unit journals, and citations to create his blow by blow narrative. He includes the invasion’s diplomatic and strategic context. Omaha Beach is the closest the modern reader can get to experiencing the Normandy landings firsthand.

Sprinkled throughout the battle account are the accounts of those in the battle. It is a classic. It is a must for any D-day library. It also included comprehensive lists of all Medal of Honor and Distinguished Service Cross winners at Omaha Beach. It has the Order of Battle, unit casualty list for the first twenty-four hours, a unit organization of a 30man assault boat unit weapons, and equipment carried in the assault by a typical soldier, and a series of detailed maps allowing the reader unparalleled insight into the minute-by-minute combat on Omaha Beach.

Dignity of Duty: A Personal Odyssey of Service from the Civil War to the Spanish-American War

Dignity of Duty

From June, 1861—when he was instrumental in the raising and organization of the 20th Indiana Volunteer Regiment out of his hometown of Valparaiso—until August, 1898—when he died of an apparent stroke while serving in Puerto Rico during the Spanish-American War—Major Erasmus Corwin Gilbreath kept detailed journals of his life and service in the United States Army. A self-taught student of history who once aspired to a career in law, Gilbreath’s intelligence and natural curiosity are on full display in his writings, resulting in a collection that is as fascinating as it is enlightening to read.

Featuring an introduction by renowned historian and biographer Carlo D’Este, Dignity of Dutycomprises three original documents assembled and edited by Gilbreath’s great-granddaughter, Susan Gilbreath Lane, who discovered the papers by chance at the Detroit Public Library in the late 1970s.

The Civil War Journal

As a young field officer during the American Civil War, Gilbreath chronicles his regiment’s involvement in many of its major battles, capturing the point of view of the average Union soldier rather than the perspective of high command from which the war has so often been written. Although badly wounded at the Battle of Fredericksburg, Gilbreath was among the lucky few to survive what has been called the largest human catastrophe in American history.

“Through his eyes, we learn firsthand of the true horror of the Civil War: of the boredom, the fatigue, the death of so many on the battlefields, of the crude nature of caring for the wounded in the 1860s, of the blood and the amputations in the aid stations and primitive field hospitals.” — Lt. Col. Carlo D’Este, USA (Ret.), Introduction

The Post-Civil War Journal

Gilbreath remained in the Army following the war and throughout the Reconstruction period when his duties resulted in extensive travel throughout the war-torn South and the untamed West. A witness to the lawlessness and disorder that defined rural America during The Indian Wars of the late 19th Century, here Gilbreath documents his marriage to his wife, the birth of their three children, and the family’s amazing journeys to places like Mississippi, Texas, Chicago, The Montana Territory, Philadelphia, and New York.

“My father also had stories to tell about his father’s adventures in the West: going down a river and being attacked by Indians who were shooting at the family using bows and arrows. To a city kid it all sounded very exotic…it was the Post–Civil War Journal that confirmed the reality of what I had once thought was hyperbole.” — Susan Gilbreath Lane, Foreword

The Journal of the War with Spain

Ordered with the 11th U.S. Infantry to the South to prepare for travel to Cuba or Puerto Rico, Gilbreath captures in his later journals a second major American conflict from the soldier’s perspective. Unknowingly nearing the end of his life and a 37-year military career, he records his thoughts and experiences until just days before his passing.

Adapted from the Pritzker Miltary Library. The source information is HERE.

The Gathering Storm by Sir Winston Churchill

The Gathering Storm by Sir Winston Churchill is the first volume of Churchill’s Noble Prize winning six-part chronicle of World War II. This six book series is Churchill’s personal memoirs.

The Gathering Storm depicts the rise of Hitler and the indifference of the leaders of the European democracies to the clouds of the gathering storm. Churchill incorporates contemporary documentation and his reminiscence in this opening memoir. Churchill’s mastery of English is reason enough to read this book.

I like what was said in a review on Amazon.com, “Winston Churchill was not only a statesman and leader of historic proportions, he also possessed substantial literary talents. These two factors combine to make The Gathering Storm a unique work.”

The book tells the story of the events between World War One and World War Two. Churchill shows how key events were ignored or the people simply hoped they would go away without dealing with them. The resulting inaction allowed many of the later events to occur, thus escalating the size and difficulty of the task.

Sir Winston Churchill won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1953 for this book and the other five books in the series.

Fights on the Little Horn: Unveiling the Myths of Custer’s Last Stand by Gordon Harper


The late Gordon Harper passed away before finishing this comprehensive volume. The writers of both the book’s forward and the chapters regarding “the last stand” make it very clear Mr. Harper’s notes are the source if their writing.

It is very apparent that Mr. Harper spent hundreds of hours on the battlefield knowing it intimately. Significant efforts have been to be made to recreate in detail the actions on June 25-26, 1876. The author did an outstanding job.

The book’s eight maps show the positions of all the soldiers and warriors as well non-combatants. Two maps show the locations of the bodies of the dead.

Each chapter is well documented with numerous footnotes. The references and quotes are from primary sources. Sworn testimony from the Reno Commission and the newspapers of the time are the primary sources.

The conclusions drawn by the author may give cause for debate. Mr. Harper’s deductions are:

  • Colonel Custer was just following orders.
  • He used the standard cavalry tactics of the day when attacking an Indian encampment.
  • The tactics failure were they were not designed for the scale of the adversary – the largest gathering of Plains Indians in one place.
  • This Indians didn’t run as was expected.
  • They fought the U.S. Cavalry to a standstill.
  • The Indians wiped out all riding with Custer.
  • Harper’s research shared quotes from the Native Americans.
  • The Indians indicate that the majority of the 7th Cavalry stood their ground as long as possible.
  • The cavalry troopers concentrated fire was deadly on the charging warriors.

It is a different, even controversial view of the battle. It is also a controversial view of the General Custer.

The hardcover copy is 386 pages. It is an excellent resource and a must for any Custer historian, amateur or professional.