Tag Archives: World War II

A Book Recommendation-Hero For Our Times

Leonard Mosely book cover
Leonard Mosley book cover

by Rick Bretz

Once in a while, an entertaining surprise appears in front of you. In this case, a trip to the local library’s book fair was the catalyst where a book rested at the top of a pile and I picked it up. The book was a biography about General George C. Marshall, written and research by Leonard Mosley and published in 1982. I picked it up and bought for a few dollars, along with five others, and felt good about supporting my local library. I did not know at the time that this book would soon become one of my favorite books about military generals.

Having read books about General George S. Patton, General Ulysses S. Grant, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Marine General Lewis Burwell “Chesty” Puller, Air Force General Chuck Yeager, General George Washington, General Douglas MacArthur, Napoleon, Alexander, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, Roman Legion commanders and many more, I don’t know why I hadn’t read anything about Marshall until now.  This was a huge oversight, considering the man’s greatness and legacy.

After reading the book, I have become an admirer of General Marshall and how he conducted himself during his service to the country as a military officer and for his efforts serving under the Truman Administration as Secretary of State. I am late to the group of Marshall Scholars since it has been 33 years since the book’s release by Hearst Books and several more years since Marshall’s passing on October 16, 1959 at Walter Reed Hospital.

Col. George C. Marshall
Col. George C. Marshall

Mosely’s other books cover historical figures and topics ranging from Charles Lindbergh, Emperor Hirohito, and Haile Selassie to the Battle of Britain and the DuPont’s of Delaware.

Mosley’s book spans the decades of George Catlett Marshall’s birth on December 31, 1880 in Uniontown, Pa., to his final days at Walter Reed Hospital. The first few pages surprise when we learn that growing up in Uniontown Marshall was a slow learner and not the favorite of his father. His family didn’t expect much from him as the first chapter’s title suggests, “A Disgrace to the Family?” Never expecting to see the word “Disgrace” in a book about General Marshall, I was hooked.

What we learn soon after a few more pages is that something lit a fire in the young George Marshall—and that “someone” was sibling rivalry. His brother, Stuart, graduated from the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) but didn’t enter the military. When his brother found out that George wanted to attend VMI, he tried to persuade his parents into preventing George from getting an education there because he thought the slow-learning George would fail.

We learn that sixteen year old George Marshall did attend VMI and excelled and succeeded well beyond everyone’s expectations while also meeting his future wife there who lived near the institution. We find out in later chapters that he was a disciple of General Black Jack Pershing and that he was more than brilliant during all of his assignments after getting his Army officer’s appointment.

The author gives us an idea of what made Marshall tick, how he dealt with people and how he honed his leadership skills. He was a no-nonsense leader and didn’t like dealing with politicians or being political. It seems from the book that George Marshall had a way with dealing with subordinates and superiors that impressed everyone. This trait brought him promotions, although slow due to the small Army budget and size before World War I and after, and important assignments. He had few enemies if any but one important one seemed to have it out for him—General Douglas MacArthur.

The book does something after the final chapter that I don’t see often in research notations at the end of books. He takes the time to compare his sources and write a couple of paragraphs about where he got his material for each chapter and why certain sources were used over others. An interesting part of the book. His material comes from more than 40 hours of tapes Marshall recorded near the end of his life and from books written by his official biographer Forrest C, Pogue, documents from the George C. Marshall Research Foundation, the Military History Institute and other resources from the author’s work on other books.

This book is certainly well worth the read. It lets us in on how he found all of those talented generals that served him so well during World War II as well as criticizing Marshall where he sent out ambiguous orders or failed to see the political and  cultural implications in China and the Far East after World War II.

Marshall had many successes too such as his World War II leadership, The Marshall Plan, The Berlin Airlift, and in many other areas that will surprise us, especially during the Great Depression years.

You just never know what literary gems you will find at your local library book fair.

 

Notable Links:

http://www.amazon.com/Marshall-Hero-Times-Leonard-Mosley/dp/0878513043

http://marshallfoundation.org/marshall/

http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/1953/marshall-bio.html

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/macarthur/peopleevents/pandeAMEX105.html

http://www.arlingtoncemetery.net/gcm.htm

http://www.arlingtoncemetery.net/gcm.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Marshall

History on the Water

The USS Orleck Naval Museum docked serving the community at Lake Charles, LA.
The USS Orleck Naval Museum docked at Lake Charles, LA.

by Rick Bretz

When a Navy ship stops serving the United States in defense of the nation, the next step can be the scrap metal yard, sold to another country or in the case of 164 other ships, become an interesting, floating museum.

A view from the bridge of the USS Orleck.
A view from the bridge of the USS Orleck.

The US Naval Ships Association states there are 164 Naval Museums throughout the United States.  There are many more throughout the world from other countries. The site below gives a synopsis of the museum ships travelers can find while touring.

http://www.hnsa.org/

The USS Orleck is just one of those ships.  However, the journey from the initial launch to where it floats today at a dock in Lake Charles, La., is an interesting story that involves two wars, another country, a hurricane and a few determined individuals.

Instrumentation on the bridge.
Instrumentation on the bridge.

She was named after Lt. Joseph Orleck, commander of the USS Nauset, and a World War II hero killed in action in the Gulf of Salerno when his ship took fire from German aircraft September 9, 1943. Lt. Orleck died while trying to save all of his crew as the ship went down.  He was awarded the Navy Cross.

Lt. Joseph Orleck
Lt. Joseph Orleck

The Gearing Class destroyer was launched on May 12, 1945 by Mrs. Joseph Orleck. She served in the Korean War and then underwent an upgrade as part of what the Navy called the Fleet Rehabilitation and Modernization program in 1962. After that she served with distinction in the Vietnam War by providing Naval gunfire support missions as well as search and rescue and reconnaissance efforts.

USS Orleck at sea
USS Orleck at sea

From there in 1982, the history gets interesting as she was transferred to the Turkish Navy and renamed the TCN Yucetepe where she served the Turkish Navy until 2000.

IMG_0601
Turkish labels still dot the ship from her days in that country’s Navy.

 

In 2000, the Turkish Navy transferred the ship to the Southeast Texas War Memorial and Heritage Foundation where she was a Naval Museum to serve as a museum and memorial and it might stayed there at Ochiltree-Inman Park on the Southeast Texas coast but for Hurricane Rita in 2005.  The hurricane damaged her during the storm and after receiving repairs the City of Orange voted to not let her return.

After several years docked and relocated from one place to another, the Lake Charles City Council voted to let her dock on their shores and on May 20, 2010, she was moved to the city where she rests today.

The big guns are at the ready but are rendered inactive as part of an agreement with the government.
The big guns are at the ready but are rendered inactive as part of an agreement with the government.

 

Notable Links:

http://www.hnsa.org/

http://news.usni.org/2015/05/22/the-naval-history-and-hnsa-guide-to-u-s-museum-ships

http://orleck.org/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Orleck_(DD-886)

http://www.ussorleck.com/

 

 

A Book Recommendation-Five Came Back

 

Timeline for blog

                                                                                                 1939-1945

by Rick Bretz

If you watch the Turner Classic Movies Channel and study history, then “Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War” will fascinate you.

five came back cover

 

Researched and written by Mark Harris, he is a prolific writer for many periodicals such as Entertainment Weekly, New York Magazine as well as the New York Times and Washington Post. His previous work was also a best seller, “Pictures and the Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood.”

The book covers the exploits of five Hollywood heavyweights who hung up their tinsel town regalia to put on a uniform and shoot the combat footage that we see today on the History channel and other documentaries. The title refers to five powerful Hollywood people who could have stayed in their comfortable California surroundings but went to war overseas, survived the experience, and came back alive to produce more classic films.

It covers John Ford, George Stevens, John Huston, William Wyler and Frank Capra. These five were responsible for some of Hollywood’s classics. Movies that film historians consider the finest the industry has produced and film school students today analyze shot by shot. These are also classic stories film buffs see each day when movie channels air them at all hour into the early morning.

Here is the short list of the five’s accomplishments.

1.  “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” Starring Jimmy Stewart and Jean Arthur

2. “The Grapes of Wrath” Starring Henry Fonda

3. “The Maltese Falcon” Starring Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor and Peter Lorre

4.  “Young Mr. Lincoln” Starring Henry Fonda

5. “Woman of the Year” Starring Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn

6. “Shane” Starring Alan Ladd and Jean Arthur

7. “Mrs. Miniver” Starring Greer Garson, Walter Pidgeon and Teresa Wright

8. “The Best Years of Our Lives” Starring Dana Andrews, Myrna Loy and Frederic March

The book tells the story of five movie professionals and how the war changed them. Once they joined the military, they trained their film teams, coordinated their missions and made sure the public was able to see their productions. These five went on dangerous missions in the air as well as on the ground to capture shots that would tell the story of how the allies won the war and what it cost in lives.  They were a key part in keeping morale high on the home front by telling loved ones what their service men and women were doing overseas.

The book also covers the politics involved with creating a documentary and field photo unit with civilians turned officers leading the groups. At the beginning, some government officials were in favor of commissioning these five future officers to be charged with documenting the war while others thought it wasn’t the best idea. The important people, like General George C. Marshal, were proponents of the program.

The book reads slowly at times when Harris outlines the administrative maze that the documentary group had to navigate when confronted with Washington personalities and egos.  Once you get past that, the author does a wonderful job of describing how Hollywood directors handle the military life and protocols.  The action really begins when Harris describes the harrowing and dangerous missions some of them witnessed while viewing combat through a lens.

John Ford’s unit shot footage of the Battle of the Midway while John Huston and William Wyler went on bombing runs with the Army Air Corps. William Wyler lost hearing in one ear and partially in another from the concussion flak noise while trying to get some aerial combat footage. George Stevens had the unfortunate task of shooting horrific scenes of the liberated Nazi concentration camps. He also produced a film shown as evidence of the atrocities at the Nuremberg Trials to the war criminals and witnesses in the gallery.  Stevens was the last to come back and thus through a film lens saw up close the inhumanity people are capable of to other human beings. This experience forever changed George Stevens as the book covers in detail.

“Five Came Back” is an entertaining and informative read, especially if you like history. More importantly, it points out how the Hollywood elite of that era stood up and did their part when asked by the government to contribute.

Notable Links:

http://www.npr.org/2014/02/22/280280913/hollywood-goes-to-war-in-five-came-back

https://archive.org/details/MemphisBelle

http://www.tcm.com/

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0032155/

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0036868/

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0031679/

 

 

 

 

A Book Recommendation-The Wild Blue

B-24_Liberator

By Rick Bretz

In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit this book is my first authored by Stephen E. Ambrose. After finishing it in less time than it took veterans travelling from the United States to Italy by boat in 1944, I will read more written by Ambrose, who also wrote “Band of Brothers”, “Undaunted Courage”, “Eisenhower: Soldier and President”, and many others.

The Wild Blue, with the subtitle, “The Men and Boys Who Flew The B-24s Over Germany”, is well researched and an entertaining read. It is not a thorough examination of air power used in World War II. It, however, depicts the stages several individuals passed through to get ready, travel to a foreign country, and fly combat missions and hopefully arrive safely back home. The book zeroes in on one particular B-24 unit, the pilots and crews of the 741st Squadron, 455th Bomb Group, and one crew in particular that flew missions from Italy into Central Europe at the end of the war.

As Ambrose’s story unfolds chapter after chapter, the reader understands the commitment and courage bomber crews exhibited during the last days of World War II. Ambrose died in 2002 and with this book, published in 2001, he left us with the story about another significant American, 1972 Democratic Presidential Candidate and Senator from South Dakota, George McGovern, who died in 2012, and the his fellow servicemen.

Before George McGovern worked as an author, history professor, US Representative, Senator from South Dakota and Presidential Candidate, he was a trained pilot. By all accounts from the book, he was an excellent, composed pilot, respected and admired by his crew. Ambrose’s description of McGovern’s training and the dangers involved just to make it through the training is riveting.   His account of how his fellow crew members came to sign up for the Army Air Forces and how they worked their way through training to graduation is enlightening. Some potential pilots washed out while some didn’t make it back. The book takes you through McGovern’s and his crew’s missions during World War II while describing his leadership style. The account of how he earned his Distinguished Flying Cross is particularly captivating.

The book is thorough but short enough to satisfy the reader who wants to know about the B-24 Liberator bombers and the story of George McGovern’s experience during the war.

I’m giving away my age here, but I was 12 years old when the 1972 Presidential Election was decided by the voting majority. I didn’t know much about either candidate back then.  Today, I know more about former President Richard Nixon. I understand that McGovern was against the Vietnam War as early as 1962. As a World War II bomber pilot, McGovern understood the cost of war and in reading this you develop more insight into his thinking during those turbulent days in the 1960s.

 

Notable Links:

http://www.amazon.com/The-Wild-Blue-Germany-1944-45/dp/0743223098

http://history1900s.about.com/od/people/a/stephenambrose.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_McGovern

http://acepilots.com/planes/b24.html

http://www.aafha.org/aaf_or_aircorps.html

 

 

 

 

American Battle Monuments Commission

I just learned a few weeks ago that one of my distant relatives from my Mother’s family tree was killed during the Civil War,  near the Gettysburg Battlefield in Pennsylvania. After I heard that, I started thinking about the Arlington National Cemetery and all of the other Veteran’s Cemeteries. They  remind us that several have put on the uniform and put their lives in danger so that others can have a chance at the American dream. The headstones in the cemetery usually designate their religion of choice. For me, when I visit the cemeteries, I first notice two things. I note when they were born and when they died. Most of the time, the age is under 30 years old. I always think about the realization that when I am having a bad day, some people don’t have a day at all.

When I think about it that way, driving home in a traffic jam doesn’t seem so bad at all.

The US military cemetery at St. Laurent-sur-Mer, Normandy, France
The US military cemetery at St. Laurent-sur-Mer, Normandy, France

Memorial Day is when we stop to remember our veterans and especially the courageous souls that gave their lives to support America and, more importantly, to prevent their battle buddies from getting killed on their missions. We honor those who came back but we should especially remember military men and women who gave everything and never returned. These people rest in several overseas cemeteries that honor our fallen. It is striking  to see the number of service men and women buried in foreign lands, almost 125,000 souls resting in 25 burial cemeteries throughout world.

Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial
Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial

Congress established the American Battle Monuments Commission in 1923. The Executive Branch organization honors the service, achievement and sacrifice of the US Armed Forces. The commission establishes and maintains US military memorials, cemeteries and markers where the US Armed Forces has served since April 6, 1917.

Here is a list of the American Battle Monuments Commission cemeteries the organization maintains along with other pertinent information.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Battle_Monuments_Commission
also
http://www.abmc.gov/
I am a veteran and my wife is a veteran. My father is a Korean War veteran. Several of my family members are veterans. Several of my friends from all the services who served with me are no longer alive today. I miss them and I honor them every day.  I honor and remember all of my Armed Forces brothers and sisters who gave their lives.

 

Notable Links:
http://www.cnn.com/2012/11/10/travel/american-cemeteries-overseas/index.html

The Road to Redemption or Perdition

by Rick Bretz

What can be the most satisfying aspect about history is its ability to right what has been wronged.   The idea that time and a writer’s perseverance  can fix what the present failed to do can be wholly satisfying. Let’s face it.  Today we are only getting the partial truth.  Sometimes it takes a journalist, author or researcher to uncover lost information and bring it forward above the layers of noise for all of us to see.   It is satisfying to read how, through time and effort, someone’s reputation was repaired or another’s legacy was pulled down to into the valley from the mountain top.

USS_Indianapolis_CA-35

There are many examples of history making it right.  The case of Capt. Charles McVay, Commander of the USS Indianapolis, is one of many.  McVay’s USS Indianapolis was hit by two torpedoes after delivering cargo on Guam while sailing toward Leyte Island 1945.  Several hundred crew went down with the ship while several hundred more of the 1196 souls lost their lives drifting in the water for several days due to hyperthermia, starvation and shark attacks before being rescued.  Capt. McVay, after being one of the 317 rescued, was convicted by court-martial of “hazarding his ship by failing to zigzag.” Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz remitted his sentence and restored him to active duty until his retirement in 1949. Nevertheless,  this event haunted McVay for the rest of his life before committing suicide in 1968.

Due to painstaking research and several supporters working for him,  in 2000 The United States Congress and President Bill Clinton gave him his redemption and passed a resolution with Clinton signing it. The resolution states, “he is exonerated for the loss of Indianapolis.” In July 2001, the Secretary of the Navy ordered his record cleared of any wrong doing.

It’s just one case of history correcting a wrong.  Another case is President Gerald R. Ford. He pardoned former President Nixon on September 1974 for any criminal acts he may have committed while serving as President. At the time, this act was unpopular in many circles from the voting public to print and broadcast media companies and popular  journalists.  This decision probably was a major factor in costing Ford the 1976 election.  However, history has a way of changing attitudes.  In 2001, Ford received the JFK Profile in Courage award for making the controversial decision to pardon the former President.  He said when receiving the award that “It was the state of the country’s health at home and around the world that worried me.”  He seemed to know then what others seemed to comprehend many years later.  The best medicine for the country was to move on.

http://www.jfklibrary.org/Events-and-Awards/Profile-in-Courage-Award/Award-Recipients/Gerald-Ford-2001.aspx

President Harry S. Truman left office with his approval rating low.  His Gallup Poll approval rating was hovering in the high 20s and low 30s.  With the passage of time and several authors writing biographies about his life and presidential term, his ranking lately has been in the top 5 listing of the best Presidents of all time.  Not that Truman would much care about where he was on the scale.  He was only interested in getting the job done.  That’s why he called in former President Herbert Hoover to help with feeding the population of war-torn Europe after World War II.  Hoover is another President whose reputation took a hit in the 1930s.  Hoover came through for Truman then and became a valuable asset and information resource for Truman and other Presidents to follow until his death in 1964.

These are just a few examples of change.  History changes many things: Slavery, the Soviet Union, the Right to Vote,  the creation of the State of Israel, Prohibition, the treatment of Native Americans and many others.  What matters is, people do change and with that comes the correction of many wrongs, the condition of human foibles and the elimination of evil when needed.

The Presidents Club-A Book Recommendation

The Presidents Club

by Rick Bretz

Sometimes, a book appears in stores or online that catches my eye. I know just by reading the book title that it will be a page turner or for some people a “finger swiper” on our digital readers.

I have been reading the “The Presidents Club, Inside The World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity” for a few weeks now. With a length of more than 650 pages, I have been taking my time reading it. The book is well researched and written by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy and published by Simon and Schuster. Nancy Gibbs is a graduate of Yale University and the University of Oxford. She is Managing Editor of Time Magazine. Michael Duffy is a graduate of Oberlin College. He is Washington Bureau Chief and Executive Editor for Time Magazine.

Right from the first Chapter, they caught my attention and kept it all the way through. I actually read some chapters twice just to retain some of the information they revealed in the book. They discuss the history leading to the formation of the President’s Club but it begins to get interesting when they write about President Harry Truman asking for help from former President Herbert Hoover. The top Democrat asking for help from a Republican most democrats didn’t want to be associated with in any way. But President Truman was different. He knew how to use resources and Herbert Hoover was just the right guy to prevent starvation in Europe after World War II. There are many stories like this throughout the book.

It travels through history covering all of the Presidents to the current sitting President Barack Obama and how they viewed the “Club” and, more importantly, how they used the members of the exclusive fraternity.

I would recommend this book to any history scholar or presidential historian looking for a different perspective on the use of power. It might change your view on several Presidents and how they operated. After reading this book, I changed my opinion on a few Presidents. One President I gained even more respect for during the my reading, Harry Truman. One President the authors elevated his stature in my mind, Herbert Hoover. I knew that former President Richard Nixon was a diplomatic and foreign policy guru and the authors prove it in the book. The book also reveals how certain former Presidents can be difficult at the least.

After reading the book, you can entertain your own conclusions.