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.

On to Berlin: Battles of an Airborne Commander 1943-1946 by General James M. Gavin

General James M. Gavin tells the story of the 82d Airborne Division during World War II. Gavin began training at the Airborne School in Fort Benning in July 1941 and graduated in August 1941. After graduating, he served in an experimental unit. His first command was Commanding Officer of C Company of the newly established 503rd Parachute Infantry Battalion. Gavin’s friends William Ryder — Commander of Airborne training – and William Yarborough – Communications officer of the Provisional Airborne Group – convinced General William C. Lee to let Gavin develop the tactics and basic rules of Airborne combat. Lee followed up on this recommendation and made Gavin his Operations and Training Officer (S-3). On October 16, 1941, he was promoted to Major.

One of his first priorities was determining how airborne troops could be used most effectively. His first action was writing FM 31-30: Tactics and Technique of Air-Borne Troops. He used information about Soviet and German experiences with Paratroopers and Glider troops, and also used his own experience about tactics and warfare. The manual contained information about tactics, but also about the organization of the paratroopers, what kind of operations they could execute, and what they would need to perform their task efficiently.

Gavin is best suited to provide this history since he served with the Division during its entire participation in the European Campaign, starting as a Regimental Commander with the 505th to eventually command the division.

General Gavin gives a detailed description of all the operations the 82d participated in during World War II. He adds his analysis of why certain things went well for his unit, while other things were a struggle. He provides insight into the Allied command structure and the challenges it faced.

This is an enjoyable and informative book that provides a unique perspective of the war, much different than other general officers. Gavin personally experienced the harshness and challenges of WWII combat because of the nature of airborne operations. Gavin, also he participated in numerous high-level planning sessions with other well-known leaders of the Allied Command. This participation allows him to connect the planning and the execution of how strategic decisions influenced the actual combat operations in the European Theater of Operations.

For me, the most insightful and entertaining part of the book was General Gavin’s analysis of General Eisenhower’s decision to concede Berlin to the Russians. The last chapter reflects back on the war and Berlin question with a discussion of the decisions made and their impact and implications thirty years later. It is kind of interesting stuff, especially given the long-term implications that these decisions had on world events.

I strongly recommend this book. For those wanting to learn more about the 82d or airborne operations, this is required reading. Read and reviewed by Jimmie A. Kepler.

One Soldier’s Story: A Memoir by Robert Dole

I found “One Soldier’s Story” by Robert Dole in the new book section of The Colony Public Library. The book tells the story of former US Senator and Republican presidential candidate Robert Dole, of Kansas. It shares tales of his growing up in Russell, Kansas. We learn of his running track, attending high school, working as a soda jerk, and attending Kansas University (KU). He opens the window to his experiences at KU where we see him running track, joining a fraternity, working odd jobs to help pay for his college, buying a phonograph, and experiencing the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

His story continues where he struggles with the choice of joining the US Army Air Corps or the US Army infantry. He joins the Army, goes to Officer Candidate School, and ultimately becomes an infantry officer. His tour of duty in World War II takes him to the Italian theater of the war. In Italy, his life is forever altered. He receives a critical wound while on a combat mission.

The remainder of “One Soldier’s Story” tells of his struggles through hospitalization, evacuation, and transport to the USA, rehabilitation, depression, learning to walk again, falling in love and his first marriage, return to Russell, Kansas and his daily challenges. We follow Bob Dole through his return to complete his college degree and his decision to attend law school. We experience his building a career as a young lawyer, the decision to run for political office, and his service as a US Senator, and being both a vice presidential candidate (1976) and presidential candidate (1996).

Whether you like Bob Dole’s conservative politics or not, you will find his story very inspirational. This extremely well-written memoir is hard to put down.

Crusade in Europe by Dwight David Eisenhower

Crusade in Europe is General Dwight David Eisenhower’s memoir from the early days of World War II through the early post-war. His story and observations are crucial to an understanding of the Great Crusade. Among memoirs, this is a gem.

General Eisenhower takes the reader along with him through each stage of the Crusade. Having attracted attention for his performance in Army maneuvers in Louisiana in 1940, General Eisenhower was called to Washington immediately after Pearl Harbor because of his recent experience in the Philippines. He was first assigned to work on plans for the Pacific. At this point, the reader is reminded that, in contrast to the later Germany First Policy, the American public, for a time, screamed for revenge on Japan before dealing with Germany.

Assigned to command Operation Torch, the invasion of French North Africa in 1942, General Eisenhower was charged with obtaining Allied Cooperation. He was plunged into the quagmire of French politics. The disappointing involvement with General Giraud presented an intra-allied problem, as did cooperation of Admiral Darlan, who while too helpful to rebuff, brought with him the stigma of association with a collaborator. The age-old Arab-Jewish hostility further complicated the administration of the liberated territory.

With North Africa cleared out, General Eisenhower was charged with the conquest of Sicily. Management of the Patton-Montgomery rivalry was a major challenge of the campaign. Success having been achieved, the Patton slapping incident in Sicily forced General Eisenhower to reprimand a close friend while threatening to deprive him of one of his most effective Army commanders.

Speculation that General Eisenhower would return to the Washington as Chief Of Staff while General Marshall commanded Overlord, the invasion of Europe, distracted General Eisenhower’s attention from problems at hand. General Eisenhower’s eventual appointment to command Overlord forced him to leave the Mediterranean while the Italian campaign was still in doubt. Upon arrival in England, he immediately switched gears to plan the size, timing, supply and location of the invasion of France.

With the invasion ashore, General Eisenhower skillfully managed his coalition of impetuous commanders in their march across Europe. General Eisenhower brings the reader into the thought processes and conferences leading to decisions on the liberation of Paris, Operation Market-Garden, and the Battle of The Bulge.

Americans are familiar with Patton’s claim that, with supplies, he could capture Berlin and win the war. General Eisenhower relates that Monty bothered him with similarly impractical suggestions. He then explains why the proposals were doomed to failure. Spirited arguments with the British over Project Anvil (Invasion of Southern France) come within the reader’s vision through General Eisenhower’s eyes.

The greatest criticism of General Eisenhower’s wartime leadership is reserved for questions about whether the Western Allies should have advanced further to limit the Red Army’s area of occupation. General Eisenhower assesses the claims and presents support for his decisions.

After V-E Day, General Eisenhower’s role shifted more into that of a statesman as he attempted to obtain cooperation with the Russians over the administration of occupied Germany.

Some things come clearly through the pages of this book. The reader is constantly impressed with the importance of supplies, bringing to mind the adage that “Amateurs speak of tactics, professionals speak of logistics.” Despite later controversies, General Eisenhower’s admiration for General George Marshall is made clear on the pages of this book. Written in 1948, I find the statement that General Eisenhower disagreed with many of FDR’s domestic policies to be surprising and a hint of his later political initiatives.

Crusade in Europe is written in a very clear, easy to read and follow style. It never becomes bogged down in boring details. It does not have any mention of a relationship with his female English army driver.

A Soldier Reports by William Westmoreland

This book was found in The Colony, Texas Public Library. The book is the memoir of one of America’s most controversial military leaders. I found it refreshing to read about his background and upbringing. He briefly covers his days as a cadet at West Point where he graduated in 1936, the horse drew artillery days and his role in World War II where he fought with distinction in North Africa and Europe with the Ninth Division. We see his fast rise to a Brigadier General before thirty years of age and later (1952–53) in his role in the Korean War. He served as superintendent of West Point (1960–64), attained (1964) the rank of general and commanded (1964–68) U.S. military forces in Vietnam. He then assumed the position of army chief of staff, which he held until his retirement in 1972.

I was saddened as I read Westmoreland’s comments on one of the early killed in action lists that crossed his desk. It included 2LT John J. Pershing III, grandson of World War I supreme commanding General “Blackjack” Pershing. The book looks at the Viet-Nam war from Westmoreland’s point of view. It explains his decision-making process. It is more than an after action report. It is worth reading if you are a political or military history junkie. His relationship with Lyndon Johnson and Robert McNamara are not covered in detail as I would have liked. This is the story of a decent man, giving his best to his country in difficult times. Read and reviewed by Jimmie A. Kepler.

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 is a 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.

The Gathering Storm by Sir Winston Churchill

The Gathering Storm by Sir Winston Churchill is the first volume of Churchill’s Noble Prize winning six-part chronicle of World War II. This six book series is Churchill’s personal memoirs.

The Gathering Storm depicts the rise of Hitler and the indifference of the leaders of the European democracies to the clouds of the gathering storm. Churchill incorporates contemporary documentation and his reminiscence in this opening memoir. Churchill’s mastery of English is reason enough to read this book.

I like what was said in a review on, “Winston Churchill was not only a statesman and leader of historic proportions, he also possessed substantial literary talents. These two factors combine to make The Gathering Storm a unique work.”

The book tells the story of the events between World War One and World War Two. Churchill shows how key events were ignored or the people simply hoped they would go away without dealing with them. The resulting inaction allowed many of the later events to occur, thus escalating the size and difficulty of the task.

Sir Winston Churchill won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1953 for this book and the other five books in the series.