Four Stars of Valor: The Combat History of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment in World War II

505th PIR

Phil Nordyke’s “Four Stars of Valor: The Combat History of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR) in World War II” is excellent. It is a must-read for any student of World War II.

Mr. Nordyke does a great job as he takes us with the 505th PIR from its beginnings and training in the United States, through its deployment to North Africa, and through its campaigns in Sicily, Italy, Normandy, Holland, the Bulge, and Germany before returning home.

Record Four Combat Jumps

The book takes its title from the 505 PIR’s record four combat jumps in Sicily, Salerno/Naples, Ste Mere Eglise/Normandy, and Nijmegen/Holland. Stars representing participation in combat jumps had been worn unofficially on parachute wings during and after World War II. FYI – this practice did not gain official sanction until after the 1983 invasion of Grenada, Operation Urgent Fury.

Sicily and The Secrets of Ultra

I found it a book that that demanded I read every word on every page. Be prepared for some very graphic descriptions of the training and combat. You’ll feel the heat of North Africa. I was disappointed as I read the Hermann Goring Fallschrim Panzer and 15th Panzer Grenadier Divisions were on Sicily, that General Bradley knew it, and because of secrecy of Ultra they did not pass this information on to the attacking forces! “This was a cruel deception of our own forces, but necessary in order to protect the secrets of Ultra.”

Excellent Job of Using Primary Sources

Mr. Nordyke does an excellent job of using primary sources. At first, I was a little confused when I encountered an incident that was described from multiple people’s points of view, but quickly saw the value in seeing the way more than one person viewed/remembered an incident. It helped paint a more complete picture. Pages 300 – 301 and the actions of Private Camille E. Gagne’s response to the killing of First Lieutenant John Dodd is one example. The coverage giving to the 505th’s role in Nijmegen Holland is very detailed and had me feeling I was there.

The Battle of the Bulge

The 505th PIR’s involvement didn’t stop after its fourth jump into Nijmegen/Holland. They played a key role being deployed by truck into Belgium’s Ardennes Forest as the 82 Airborne Divisions helped stop Hitler’s in The Battle of the Bulge in freezing December 1944 and January 1945.

The book has exception maps and an amazing index. This book should be required reading for active duty members wearing jump wings. It is a must addition to any military historian’s library and would be an excellent addition to all university and community libraries.

“Behind the Lines: A Critical Survey of Special Operations in World War II” by Michael F. Dilley

If you enjoy reading about airborne troops, special operations, andelite troops in World War IIthen author Michael F. Dilley’s book “Behind the Lines: A Critical Survey of Special Operations in World War II” is for you.Divided into two parts, part one of the book is titled, “Behind Enemy Lines”. It tells twenty stories of special operations behind enemy lines. The excellent story telling of the author has shines in all twenty of the stories. Each story stands on its own.

Starting with the Tragino Aqueduct Mission in southern Italy where we see the foolishness of the first mission that requires a fifty mile escape and evasion trek just to get to the pickup point without radio communication to stories on the raid to kill General Rommel and eighteen others that cover every theater of operation we see a common structure. The author tells at times a very spellbinding story followed by the strength of the book – a mission critique. The mission critique show Michael F. Dilley’s strong military intelligence analysis skills.

The second part of the book, “Behind Friendly Lines” lifted back the curtain on an often missed use of special operations soldiers. We look at three amazing missions where they are dropped just behind or into friendly lines.

The pictures included in the book are not a reprinting of stock photos you have seen many times, but rather photographs of uniforms, insignias, and special troops in their special equipment.

The book’s appendixes give us the criteria for evaluation of the units and the operations deserving special recognition. The bibliography included is by itself a resource worth the purchase price of the book.

Michael F. Dailey gets my highest praise for this much needed work on a subject dear to every world war history buff.

Fighting With the Filthy Thirteen: The World War II Story of Jack Womer – Ranger and Paratrooper by Jack Womer and Stephen C. Devito

Travel with Jack Womer from the steel mills of Dundalk, Maryland through his being drafted (which he resented) and assigned to the 29th Infantry Division to his deployment to England. Experience with him his selection to and the nearly yearlong training with the British commandos as a member of the 29th’s elite Provisional Ranger battalion. You will learn how he joined the 101st Airborne Division after the disbanding of 29th Ranger Battalion.

You will meet the group of demolitionist he joined in the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment’s demolition platoon as they fight in Normandy, Holland, the Ardennes and Germany. The detail of the combat jump into Normandy gives you the sensation of being there as well as showing the confusion on the group. Wormer shares examples how his Ranger training helped him survive in combat. Unfortunately, he does not share the same level of detail in the campaigns following Normandy.

Co-author Stephen Devito did a great job of interviewing Wormer and putting his stories into a first person narrative. The book gives the feel of a veteran telling the actions of his youth.

Wormer shares how he and other soldiers had girlfriends when in England, but his heart yearned to return to the United States and his fiancée Theresa. A side note I enjoyed was the story of how he asked Theresa for a new picture and she refused. He told the story of his desire for a replacement picture. The press picked up the story. The Baltimore newspaper carried the story. We see his fiancée Theresa’s response/reactions.

The book’s title “The Filthy Thirteen” is the nick-name of the section in the 506th’s demolition platoon that Wormer was assigned. It operated/used special equipment like flame-throwers and explosives to attack and clear German positions. These men were infamous for hard living, tough fighting, and poor personal hygiene that earned them their name. The claim is made that The Filthy was an inspiration for the film the Dirty Dozen.

I recommend this well-written and interesting book.

Hell’s Highway by George Koskimaki

George Koskimaki was 101st Airborne Division commanding general, General Maxwell Taylor’s radio operator. He wrote the three-book history of the 101st Airborne during World War Two. Hell’s Highway: Chronicle of the 101st Airborne Division in the Holland Campaign, September – November 1944 is the second book in the series.

I had previously read Cornelius Ryan’s “A Bridge to Far”, Stephen Ambrose’s “Band of Brothers” and “Citizen Soldiers”, Robert Kershaw’s “It Never Snows in September: The German View of Market-Garden and the Battle of Arnhem, September 1944”, Martin Middlebrooks’s “Arnhem 1944: The Airborne Battle” (focusing on the British specifically at the Arnhem sector), and James Gavin’s “On to Berlin”. All of the books gave good presentations and different points of view of Operation Market Garden. George Koskimaki’s book is based on interviews with more than six hundred paratroopers journals the soldiers intense personal accounts. It gives the vivid previously untold versions of the Screaming Eagles’ valiant struggle.

Hell’s Highway gives us something not covered in the other books. It tells of the Dutch people and members of the underground and their liberation after five years of oppression by the Nazis. It shares how they have never forgotten America’s airborne heroes and how the 101st endangered and even sacrificed their lives for the freedom of the Netherlands and Europe.

While some readers may find the book hard or even tedious to get through because of the detail, I did not. The personal accounts gave vitality to the story. It kept it flowing instead of reading like a military after action report. Mr. Koskimaki did a superb job of telling the history the 101st Airborne Division during Operation Market Garden.

The book is just right for beginners and experts of the 101st Airborne Division. The three books George Koskimaki wrote on the 101stAirborne Division are 1) D-Day with the Screaming Eagles, 2) Hell’s Highway: Chronicle of the 101st Airborne Division in the Holland Campaign, September – November 1944, and 3) Battered Bastards of Bastogne. I highly recommend the book.

Company Commander: The Classic Infantry Memoir of World War II by Charles B. MacDonald

Company Commander: The Classic Infantry Memoir of World War II by Charles B. MacDonald. I highly recommend Company Commander: The Classic Infantry Memoir of World War II by Charles B. MacDonald. At just 21 years of age, Captain Charles B. MacDonald first commanded I Company, 3 Battalion 23rd Infantry, 2nd Infantry Division from October 1944 to January 1945 and later G Company, 2 Battalion 23rd Infantry, 2nd Infantry Division from March to May 1945. This memoir was written in 1947 when recollections were still sharp. It resulted in a very detailed account of what it was like to take command of a line infantry company and lead it into battle. The book gives us template for writing a personal military memoir.

It is by far the finest memoir of any junior officer in World War II. Charles MacDonald does a great job of keeping his focus on his own experiences. He does not speculate or waste my time by giving conjecture on the big picture. We only have first hand information from the events of his personal participation. He sticks to what life was like for a junior officer in command of an infantry company, sleepless, hungry, dirty, stressful, and very dangerous. He takes us from the Siegfried Line in the Ardennes, through the Battle of the Bulge, and to the end of the war in the Czechoslovakia.

This book is a must-read for all army officers who seek to command at company-level and it is informative for military historians as well. It is still required reading at West Point and on the company level officer (second lieutenant, first lieutenant, and captain) recommended reading list by the U.S. Army today. Upon this book’s publication in 1947, Charles B. MacDonald was invited to join the U.S. Army Center of Military History as a civilian historian, the start of a career during which he wrote three of the official histories of World War II in Europe and supervised the preparation of others. The book is simply the best. Read and reviewed by Jimmie A. Kepler in June 2006.