• By Zach Leonard
  • Posted Thursday, September 15, 2016

Books We Like

Let me let you in on a little secret: as a librarian, I do not read that often, (Shhhh… don’t tell!) That may sound like a contradiction, but I sometimes find myself too busy at work, or home with other duties. There are certain subjects that do drive my interest in reading, and none are as enthralling to me as history, especially World War II military history.

There is a book that I read perennially, but never finish; not because it isn’t interesting, but because I care too much about the people in it. Stephen Ambrose’s Band of Brothers has been out for a very long time, and there is even an HBO mini-series based on the book. Ambrose is a well-known author of American military history and his books are always very engrossing. This particular book follows an American paratrooper company, Easy Company, from their early morning drop behind enemy lines on D-Day, to their seizing of Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest.

To tell the whole story, Ambrose relies on the corroborating accounts of those who served in the company at that time. Ambrose admits that his job of telling the whole story is very difficult, because as time passes, those he interviews forget things, or they may pass on. What is certain, is that the men of Easy had the toughest assignments, but came out to be one of the strongest and most cohesive combat units of World War II.

To hear the men of Easy tell it themselves, they could not have overcame as many obstacles as they did, had it not been for their comrades, and the training that they had received. They bonded in a way that only those in combat can, in many ways deeper than family. This is a great book for those who wish to know more about the European Theater, and about those who served there.

In studying the War in the Pacific, one needn’t look far for the mention of the Battleship Yamato. This ship was by far the largest battleship ever built. She was the pride of the Japanese fleet, and was once thought to be unsinkable. However, on April 7th, 1945, an overwhelming number American carrier-based bombers sank the ship, and with it, any hopes of a Japanese victory. I came across a survivor’s account called, Requiem for Battleship Yamato, by Yoshida Mitsuru (surname first).

Yoshida was a junior naval officer stationed in the bridge of the ship as she sank. Originally written six months after the events occurred, his account is given in present tense, similar to that of a ship’s log. The entries are very sparse, sometimes no more than a simple sentence. Think Hemingway. There are also moments in the account where Yoshida wonders poetically and philosophically about his final doomed mission aboard the ship.

This is the first translation of this book into any language, and as such there has not been too much scholarship in English on the account. I believe this would be a wonderful resource for anyone who wanted a complete picture of what happened that fateful day.

Another book related to the War in the Pacific that bears mentioning is Baa Baa Black Sheep by Gregory "Pappy" Boyington. This book is the account of Gregory “Pappy” Boyington, the famed American ace pilot, who is also a childhood hero of mine. Boyington tells all in this book, both good and bad, in his own sardonic and humorous way. For example, one part of the book mentions the “first Japanese ace” of the war - an American pilot who had wrecked his own plane five times, and as such, had five American flags painted on his plane (depicting enemy planes downed). Another thing Boyington does well is give you a sense of the thrill, and tension of air combat. Through his vivid descriptions, you are flying with him as he sorties against enemy planes, not able to feel totally relaxed until both you and he are safe on the ground. This book is also a survivor’s account, not just from the war, but from Boyington’s own life after the war. Boyington struggled with alcoholism, and his candor on the subject will give you a new respect for him. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to know more about the man, not just the legend.

If you have any interest in World War II history, please gives these books a try.

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