I’ve long been fascinated with World War II and the innumerable stories arising from it. The conflict reached from tiny villages in remote places to the major capitals of the world and ensnared hundreds of millions of people–and every one of them had a story.
Growing up, the stories that first captured my attention were those of the men (and sometimes women) who did the fighting. As I got older, the slow roll of history into the abyss of war attracted my attention. If ever a conflict could be seen coming—from years away—World War II was it! And yet, democratically elected leaders, particularly those in Great Britain and France, chose to ignore, then appease the warmongers. To me, the history of the war is like one of those horror movies—you know what’s coming and it isn’t good, but nobody is smart enough or brave enough to stop it.
The more I read about the war, the more movies or TV shows I watched, the more awed I became by the experiences of the men on the front lines, whether in the air, aboard ships or on the ground. For example, I recently read 32 Answered by historian Joe Camp. Joe recounts the horrid conditions American GIs encountered during the New Guinea campaign. At one point in a battle through a swamp, our soldiers spent a sleepless night in neck-deep water—with the Japanese shooting at them!
I once spent a warm summer night in a foxhole at Fort Bragg, NC. One night. In the summer. It was a miserable experience. And nobody was shooting at me! Now multiply that by the months many soldiers and Marines spent on the front lines in far less appealing weather. Think of the men around Bastogne in the winter of 1944-45, the coldest in forty years. Think of the Marines slogging through the festering, stinking jungles of Guadalcanal, fighting not only the previously undefeated Japanese but also insects, reptiles, disease, malnutrition and poor sanitation. Think of the men of the Fifth Army in Italy, attacking with limited cover against higher ground occupied by a well-fortified enemy. The stories of bravery and heroism are remarkable. Sadly, so many of these stories will never be told because the men who endured them were killed.
That’s one reason I write what I write: to honor those who fought and endured so that the rest of us wouldn’t have to.