100 Best True Stories of World War II
Published by WM. H. Use & Co., Inc.
I discovered this thick book (almost 900 pages) because my sister gave it to her husband as a gift. His father used to recite one of the exciting stories, “Eighty-Four Days in the Arctic” by Lt. Leon Crane, from memory around childhood summer bonfires. After reading that and browsing the table of contents, I popped on Amazon and found an original copy, printed in 1945, for ten dollars. It was well worth it.
What a great collection of tales from men and women who were in the midst of the various battles.
I’ve made so many notes on these stories as I read that were I to list them here, this blog would be overly long!
While some stories were clearly written in the voice of pro-allies propaganda of the time, I found the vast majority to be simple tales of heroism, tragedy, gallantry, patriotism, and adventure. This was, to my shame, the first time I read anything by Ernie Pyle. He’s now on my go-to list and I understand why he was much beloved.
The stories come from a wide variety of authors—military, civilian, merchant marines—and every ally nation involved in WWII. I learned a great deal about the Pacific, “The Orient,” and North Africa—areas I knew very little about.
Some of the stories that really struck a chord with me include:
“A Nurse on Bataan,” by Lt. Juanita Redmond, A.N.C. – It was enthralling to read this nurse’s story from 1940 and the bravery of medical staff during war.
“The Raft and the Reef,” by Robert Trumbull (curiously, shortly before reading this piece, I’d watched “Against the Sun,” a movie based on this story. It was very moving.
“The Ship That Wouldn’t Sink,” by G.S. Perry & I. Leighton – I cried when one of the men featured in this story died.
“He Covered a Retreat,” by Franklin M. Reck – the saga of Rodger Wilton Young’s sacrifice to save his men.
“Tragedy in the China Sea,” by Cecil Brown – from a war correspondent’s observations and participation in a battle.
“First Blow at Tokyo” (from Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo), by Capt T.M. Lawson – an interesting view from the captain.
“Lady and Tigers,” by Olga S. Greenlaw – a unique account by a western woman stationed with her husband in China with the American Volunteer Group. Another of those tales that brought tears to my eyes. Loss and recovery and surging forward.
“Sherman Had a Word For It” and “Hell on the Normandy Beaches” by Ernie Pyle – if, like me, you’ve ignored this excellent storyteller to date, get busy and read his works.
“Two Years on the Run in Crete,” by Sidney Robinson – Crete was only on my WWII radar in the most peripheral of ways. The saga of Sidney will change that for you, too.
“A Texan in King Michael’s Court,” by Captain John Palm – a tale with some humorous elements.
“What it Means to Be Wounded,” by Richard Tregaskis – featuring Lt. Henry Pedicone from the western PA town of Greensburg.
“The One-Man Army,” by Sergeant C.E. Kelly – a particularly wrenching, yet heroic, story by a confirmed hero from Pittsburgh.
“The Memphis Belle Over Bremen,” by M. Stern – it’s always intriguing to read about this famous gal.
“Death of the Hangman,” by Harold Kirkpatrick – this story is terrifying. The hangman was Deputy Reich Protector of Bohemia-Moravia and second in power to Heinrich Himmler. That probably tells you enough about why I found it horrifying.
“Flying Sweet and Low,” by Mackinlay Kantor – full of brilliant descriptions and for kicks included the line, There is a Santa Claus, Virginia.
“The Texas Takes It,” by Martin Sommers – with a mention of famous actor Robert Montgomery, Lieutenant Commander who was a navy man and not a celebrity while serving.
“Hardtack’s Revenge,” by Cecil Carnes – this powerful two-page story conveys so much detail, emotion, and family in it that I felt a bit gut-punched when it was through.
“Cameraman in Finland,” by Sammy Schulman – the perspective of reading what a seasoned photographer went through to get some of his spectacular shots was another page turner.
“Prisoner 339—Klooga,” by John Hersey – a potent story that gets its start in the ghetto of Wilno.
“Lost Over the Atlantic,” by Colonel Robert L. Scott, Jr. – I know that planes were ferried by pilots—male and female—to fighting areas. But the stories of the journeys of how the transport took place can be amazing, as this flight was. Colonel Scott also wrote God is My Co-Pilot.
“Women in Lifeboats,” by Margaret Bourke-White – another point of view from a well known photography. Ship sunk, rescued, ship sunk. How do you keep going?
“The Battle of Florida,” by Philip Wylie and Laurence Schwab – since the next WWII book on my nightstand is, “In Time of War,” it was interesting to read this about Hitler’s subs creeping close to Florida. Did you know that?
And the final story, “The Long Wait,” as told to Major Oliver LaFarge by Captain Armand L. Monteverde, Captain Kenneth H. Turner, Lieutenant Harry E. Spencer, and Staff Sergeant Don T. Tetley. This adventure of men ferrying a plane, diverted to do a search to rescue over the arctic, and how they wound up being wrecked from November 9, 1942 until April 6, 1943, had me catching my breath, being sad, and feeling the elation of their eventual rescue.
This collection of stories is for any World War II history buff, for anyone who wants to increase their knowledge of what our WWII Vets went through, and for any reader who wants to be thrilled and emotionally connected to the people she reads about.