Being there . . . in ’44 and ’45 when America’s combat heroes began to turn The Tide

Reviewed and highly recommended by Don DeNevi                                    

                                                      Part One . . .Today                                                      

                                                   Part Two . . . Tomorrow

          Invariably, and without explanation, strange, inexplicable, and, indeed, unconscionable interludes occur in the sphere of publishing war literature, especially for eagerly awaiting  World War II manuscripts dying to be printed.  Then, almost as abruptly, without notice or reason, the unreasonable pause ends and publishing resumes.

     Such was the recent entertainment played out on this reviewer’s front porch between early September and this past week when military book mail deliveries from his five favorite publishers ceased, not to a trickle, but altogether. Of course, his aging paranoia accused the publishing houses of colluding with Fed Ex, UPS, and the Gods of Overnight Deliveries, to vex him, personally.

     Then, miraculously, beginning on the first day of the second week of November and concluding a few days ago, nine, NINE!, parcels, each containing either a splendid new Pacific War hardcover or post-Normandy European-battles book, were delivered to his front door,  a few within hours of each other. Hard, insatiable, reading resulted, similar a feasting connoisseur, hungry and unabashed, at an open table loaded with delicate viands. Concluding his reading feast last night, the reviewer revealed to his editor that six of the nine books qualify for all five stars on the ARGunners Rating Checklist: Readability, Historical Accuracy, Historical Value, Details, and Overall Rating — all six demanding to be nicely wrapped and presented as Christmas and New Year gifts.

The six “Splendid”, in no order, are:

“Brothers In Arms – One Legendary Tank Regiment’s Bloody War From D-Day to VE-Day”, by James Holland, author of the well-received, popular, “Normandy, ‘44”. Atlantic Monthly Press; hc, 524 pp, $32.

     In describing his research and narrative style, author Holland writes, “My effort is something of a snapshot of the Sherwood Rangers, not a comprehensive history of that famous regiment. So, it follows just a handful of those who served during the final months of the Second World War. As a result, many who deserve to have their exploits written about, or even mentioned in passing, do not feature. I hope it will be read in the spirit in which it has been written.” And, what a spirited writing emerges! We suddenly have an extraordinary “being there” text, an authentic, fascinating “eye-witness” experience of what it was like to live and fight in “iron coffins”. Note that in WWII, the Army had 2 ½ million trucks of all types and about 90,000 tanks, not to mention the 50,000 halftracks and multitudinous other “battle wagons” to fight Hitler.

     James Holland accomplishes a major victory, a rarity, in bringing back to life unnerving tank battles, firing at the enemy, and receiving his fire back, constantly struggling to avoid a shell penetrating the turret at all costs, since it meant instant death for those within. With maps and aerial photographs opening Chapter One, the journey to Berlin begins, with the reader joining the Sherwood Rangers as a tank crew member. If lucky, his assignment was in either a light, medium, or heavy newly arrived Sherman rumbled fresh off the assembly line back home. With his remarkable keen insights that provide riveting descriptions, the author transports the reader, day by day, hour by hour, to Victory in Europe (V-E Day). No narrative such as Holland’s, with such intimate details and carefully crafted fighting depictions, has ever been published before. Simply put, this book is of a great magnitude in the War Literature of the 20 Century.

“Island Infernos – The US Army’s Pacific War Odyssey, 1944” by John C. Manus, author of the classic, “Fire and Fortitude”. Caliber, Penguin-Random House; 637 pages, $34.

      Following the Army and Navy as they advanced across the Pacific after Pearl Harbor, John eloquently guides us through the full story of America’s War in the Pacific – what happened immediately after Pearl Harbor; what elements and events shaped the war in 1942; and the America’s failures and victories that followed through 1944. More than half the book is devoted from early 1944 to the War’s end, and how it concluded in 1945. But what makes “Island Infernos” another book of great magnitude is that McManus concentrates on the huge role of just the US Army. As in Holland’s book, the reader is present, side by side, on the front lines as the Army assault divisions progress across Saipan, Guam, and Peleliu, ending with the recapture of the Philippines.  Costing America one-third of all its casualties in the Pacific War, it turned out to be one of the three most complex operations in our entire military history.

     “Island Infernos” should be shelved side by side with “Brothers in Arms” on one side and John’s “Fire & Fortitude – The US Army in the Pacific War, 1941-1943” on the other. As for “bands of brothers”, a new one should be formed and championed by James Holland and John McManu, together. What a glorious team!

                                                            PART TWO

        . . . to be continued tomorrow – – four additional books to be introduced