In 2004, the U.S. Army unveiled its new combat uniform, complete with upgrades including wrinkle-free fabric and a digitized camouflage print. The Army Combat Uniform (ACU) had many changes (18, in fact), but one of the troop favorites was the shoulder pocket.
Obviously, pockets themselves weren’t new to military uniforms. The quintessential pant-leg cargo pocket was indispensable in the Korean War; as a result, cargo pockets have adorned military combat uniforms (and military-inspired fashion?) ever since. They were also used on blouses during the Vietnam War, and after 9/11, they got fancy even more utilitarian.
“This isn’t about a cosmetic redesign of the uniform,” said Col. John Norwood, the project manager for Clothing and Individual Equipment. “It’s a functionality change of the uniform that will improve the ability of Soldiers to execute their combat mission.”
One of the favored changes was the addition of the shoulder pocket, which replaced the bottom pockets on the jacket after troops realized they couldn’t access the front of their uniform while wearing body armor. The shoulder, however, was a handy location. These were tilted forward and buttons were replaced with zippers for function and comfort in combat.
The U.S. adopted the iconic symbol from the British in the late 1800s for Naval Chief Petty Officers to wear as it represents the trials and tribulations they are forced to endure on a daily basis. Chiefs regularly serve as the “go between” for officers and junior enlisted personnel.
The adaptation consisted of adding the U.S.N. to the anchor, but these letters which aren’t referring to the branch of service like one might think — United States Navy.
The “U” stands for Unity as a reminder of cooperation, maintaining harmony, and continuity of purpose and action.
The “S” meanings Service, referring to our fellow man and our Navy.
Lastly, the “N” refers to Navigation, to help keep ourselves on a righteous course so that we may walk upright.
Earning a rank of a chief (E-7) comes with several years of dedicated service, an intense selection process and be eligible for promotion from the current rank of Petty Officer First Class (E-6).
The Navy has four different chief ranks.
The fourth chief rank refers to the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy or MCPON. Only one enlisted Master Chief Petty Officer can hold this position at one time — they’re the most senior enlisted person in the Navy.
Though the distinction between training and exercising might seem unimportant — it isn’t. How you label your physical activity says more about you, your mindset, and your probable rate of success than any PFT score ever could.
I first saw this difference at The Basic School in Quantico. Some of my peers were former college athletes, and a few were training in our off-time for an upcoming marathon. These peers had goals and a plan to achieve them. The rest of us were just doing what I now call “exercising,” random workouts on random days, inconsistently.
I’m on the far left, standing and squinting.
(Photo by Michael Gregory)
The Marines who were actually training were the only ones I knew who could keep a solid schedule and maintain their fitness levels during The Basic School. The rest of us got by on an ever-dwindling fitness reservoir that was nearly empty by the time I finally finished the school.
I finally started applying this training mentality to fitness during the Marine Corps Martial Arts Instructor Course. The course itself was a constant physical beat-down, but in the few classroom lectures, we were taught how to set up a MCMAP and combat conditioning plan for our units. It was then that I realized I could design a plan to become progressively more difficult as fitness levels increase, the same way a pre-deployment workup gets more complicated as the deployment date nears.
A classic case of the slay fest.
(Photo by Cpl. Brooke C. Woods USMC Recruit Depot San Diego)
How I loathed unit PT…
I used to think I hated PT just because I disliked being told what to do.
I have come to realize I actually hated unit PT because it is exercise and not training.
Most units plan solid workups to prepare each member of the unit to the max extent possible with all the skills and proficiencies needed for when they are actually ‘in country.’ This is training, a clear plan that progressively increases in difficulty and complexity with an end state in mind.
I have rarely seen physical fitness approached in the same logical way in unit PT.
Most units approach PT in one of two ways: as a slay fest or a joke.
A Slay Fest: (n) from the ancient Greek Slayus Festivus, meaning make as many people puke or stroke out as possible in an effort to assert physical dominance and make less-fit service members feel inadequate.
A Joke: just going through the motions and checking the quarterly unit PT requirement box.
Neither one of these has the intention of making better the members of the unit. In fact, slay fests often lead to injuries which have the opposite effect on unit readiness, while potentially initiating a hazing investigation because a junior NCO decided to play drill instructor.
Is this a training session or exercise? …Seriously though, what is this?
In the Marine Corps, I saw what could be accomplished when a proper training plan is followed to the most minute detail. I also saw what type of chaos or indifference towards fitness can result from no plan and/or unchecked egos.
This is why you should be training. The most successful athletes are those that have a plan in place that works them towards a goal. I’m a firm believer that everyone is an athlete no matter what your job or current station in life.
Marines are constantly reminded that it doesn’t matter what your MOS is, you could find yourself in combat and you better be prepared for it. Even though some roll their eyes at the idea of a finance technician lobbing grenades in a firefight, they still have an underlying feeling of pride that this is a potentiality.
Promotion on Iwo Jima. I swore to not waste anyone’s time with exercise on that day.
(Photo by Jeremy Graves)
I carry that with me to this day. Constantly thinking about what I would do if a fight breaks out — or if ‘patient zero’ of the zombie apocalypse strolls into my part of town — doesn’t keep me awake at night in dread. It keeps me awake at night in giddy anticipation because I’m training for that sh*t every. Damn. Day.
Of course, your reason for training doesn’t need to be so heavy, violent, or world-altering. Simply wanting to be able to throw a perfect spiral with your future son is a perfect reason to be training. If you need a more immediate time frame, choose a challenge: sign up for an adventure race, a marathon, an adult sports league, or a powerlifting meet (I just took second in my first meet and got a free t-shirt #winning #tigerblood). Train for the on-season or the event day.
As a member of the military community, it’s in your blood to conduct work-ups. Now it’s your turn to determine where and when that “deployment” is and how you train for it. Exercise is a word for people who throw out their back trying to get the gallon of Arizona Iced Tea off the bottom shelf and into their grocery cart. They need exercise; you need to be training.
To observe the 75th anniversary of D-Day, the US Air Force’s 48th Fighter Wing took 3 F-15 Eagles and gave them incredible paint jobs, reminiscent of the colorful and squadron-specific adornments featured on American fighters during the Second World War.
One jet from each of the 48th’s fast mover units — the 492d, the 493d, and the 494th Fighter Squadrons — was briefly pulled from service to be spruced up with a custom color scheme selected by members of the 48th Equipment Maintenance Squadron.
Both the 492d “Madhatters” and the 494th “Panthers” fly F-15E Strike Eagles, the Air Force’s premier all-weather multirole strike fighter, while the 493d “Grim Reapers” flies the F-15C/D Eagle.
An F-15E Strike Eagle of the 492d Fighter Squadron in WWII paint (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Matthew Plew)
The first jet to receive the planned makeover is a Strike Eagle of the 492d, painted with “invasion stripes” used to distinguish friendly Allied from enemy Axis aircraft, a red checkerboard pattern on the nose similar to those found on WWII-era P-47 Thunderbolts, as well as a Statue of Liberty on the vertical stabilizers.
According to Stars Stripes, the repaint operation on a single F-15 took 640 man hours, spread between 10 airmen, and required just around ,000 worth of supplies to complete.
The 48th Fighter Wing is one of a number of modern American fighter units which can trace its lineage back to the Second World War. Back during the 1940s, the unit was officially designated the 48th Fighter Group, and its subordinate squadrons played an important part in Operation Overlord.
The repainted 492d F-15E parked next to a P-47 with its period-accurate WWII scheme (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Matthew Plew)
On June 6, 1944, the 48th’s three squadrons of P-47s took to the skies above Normandy, France as part of a larger flight of hundreds upon hundreds of other Allied combat aircraft. In the blistering aerial campaign that ensued, the 48th’s pilots flew over 2000 sorties, attacking scores of German military targets in support of the ground invasion force.
By the end of the invasion, the 48th had expended almost 500 tons of bombs, destroying German supply routes including bridges and rail lines, gun and artillery emplacements, and hardened German infantry positions.
The P-47s, popularly known as “Jugs” because they looked similar to a milk jug at the time, were fearsome fighter-bombers in their heyday. The Eagles and Strike Eagles that the 48th flies today would be just as worthy of carrying the same markings as their predecessors, serving as some of the most advanced and deadliest military aircraft in existence today.
The repainted F-15s will be just one of many upcoming segments the 48th will use to commemorate D-Day, which historians unequivocally agree was the turning point in the European Theater during WWII.
If you’re in the infantry, you know just how annoying field ops can be. It’s not because of the job or the self-loathing that comes with signing an infantry contract, it’s because of the bullsh*t you have to endure while you’re out there. And, since you’re outside the whole time and there’s no chance at privacy, there’s nowhere you can go to have a good cry.
The infantry experience is Murphy’s Law embodied — and hastened. Not only will every possible thing go wrong, it’ll all go to hell before you even start your hike or movement. Here are some of the most annoying things that somehow happen almost every time you go to the field.
If you’re in the infantry, this one isn’t even reserved for the field — it’ll rain no matter where you’re at. It can be a bright, sunny day without a cloud in the sky but the moment grunts are gathered in large numbers, clouds will suddenly appear and rain will come down like a biblical flood is on the horizon.
You don’t necessarily have to be in the field for this to happen but, typically, hazing scandals come up as a result of how a Boot is treated in the field. Hazing scandals will often come from field ops because there are Boots who don’t like having to carry their own weight or being tested by their seniors to earn trust and loyalty.
Lost serialized gear
It’s always a pain in the ass but you better prepare for some Boot, whether its a lieutenant or private, to drop their damn night vision goggles in the jungle or forget a radio in a vehicle. Now, everyone else has to search the area at 3 a.m.
For the love of showers and hot food, don’t be that grunt. Keep track of your gear.
There’s always that one person who gets to the field, somehow, without realizing there’s something horribly wrong with their body. Whether that’s the moment you start hiking out or the third day of the op, some piece of sh*t will cry about something so they can get taken out of there.
Real medical emergencies are less likely but, either way, it means that someone’s squad is going to be short-handed and others must pick up the slack.
This one’s less frequent, but much more severe than losing serialized gear. Losing a rifle is the worst thing that can happen, but someone always manages to do it. Your rifle is your lifeline and, in theory, it should be difficult to lose since you should always carry it.
But, rest assured, there’s a moron somewhere who will do it. They’ll probably leave it in the porta-john or leaning against a tree somewhere. Hell, they might even somehow leave it on the range.
Just when day fourteen rolls around and you think you’re heading back, your company commander informs you that your field op is being extended for another three days. You thought you’d soon be out of the rain; you were terribly mistaken.
Gunnery Sgt. Carlos Hathcock was the kind of Marine that would inspire generations of warfighters. He engaged in sniper duels and came out on top every time. He hunted Viet Cong and North Vietnamese officers through the jungles and grasses of Vietnam. And a new animation from The Infographics Show tells his story as a cartoon.
Most Hard Core American Sniper – The White Feather
Hathcock was an Arkansas native who grew up hunting in order to help feed his poor family. He aspired to military service, and specifically the Marine Corps, and enlisted soon after he turned 17. He was soon competing in marksmanship competitions with the Marine Corps and won some prestigious competitions including the Wimbledon Cup.
From a base in Vietnam, he achieved the longest sniper shot up to that point in history, and he did it with a .50-cal. machine gun in single-shot mode. He waged an extended sniper duel against the “The Apache,” a female Viet Cong platoon leader who tortured Marines, eventually dropping her from 700 yards when she got lazy and peed in the open.
He hit her with his first shot even though he had been switching rifles when he spotted her. After the first shot dropped her, he scored a second hit, just to be certain.
In another engagement, Hathcock and a spotter saw a green platoon of North Vietnamese Army troops. Hathcock hit the lead officer, and his spotter dropped the officer at the back. There was a third leader who tried to escape across a rice paddy, and so the Americans dropped him too. In order to protect their position from discovery, the sniper team stopped firing.
Instead, Hathcock and his partner called artillery, moved positions, and wiped out the enemy force.
He killed an enemy officer after four days of crawling to the target. (Hathcock believed it was an enemy general, though the NVA never acknowledged losing a general at the time and place that Hathcock scored his kill.)
He hunted down an enemy sniper sent to kill him, shooting his foe through the scope just moments before the Vietnamese sniper would’ve hit him.
So, yeah, there were lots of reasons that he was a legend. Check out the cartoon at top to learn more.
When you think of six-shooters, the classic .38 Smith & Wesson Special revolver comes to mind, as made famous by classic cop shows, like Adam-12, Dragnet, and CHiPs, and countless Westerns. But there was one six-shooter that packed a lot more punch than the cowboys’ gun of choice.
The six-shooter in question was the M50 Ontos — and it certainly wasn’t a revolver. This tracked vehicle packed six M40 106mm recoilless rifles. It was intended to serve a tank-killer for use by light infantry and airborne units when it entered service in 1955, facing off against the then-new Soviet T-55 main battle tank. Like a revolver, it was meant to quickly end a fight.
Six M40 106mm recoilless rifles gave the Ontos one heck of a first salvo,
The Ontos had a crew of three — a driver, gunner, and commander. It held a total of 24 rounds, 6 loaded and 18 in reserve, for its massive guns. The vehicle ended up being used primarily by the Marine Corps — not the Army airborne units for which it was originally intended.
This system proved very potent in Vietnam. Its six recoilless rifles could do a lot to knock infantry back — and the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong found that out the hard way. The Ontos also carried a pair of .50-caliber spotting rifles to improve accuracy and had a World War II-era .30-caliber M1919 machine gun attached (the same used by grunts in WWII).
A Marine escapes the cramped confines of his M50 Ontos to catch a break.
The Ontos was retired in 1970, largely because while it looked mean as hell and packed a punch, it had a few severe drawbacks. One of the biggest being that the crew had to exit the vehicle in order to reload the big guns — which sounds like a quick way to shorten your life expectancy. Then again, if you’ve tried to reload a revolver, you know that process can take a while. In that sense, the Ontos was very much a true six-shooter.
Learn more about this unique powerhouse in the video below.
Heading out into the wilderness for a camping trip is exhilarating and refreshing. Starting a campfire and roasting some marshmallows under the stars is a great way to get in touch with Mother Nature. Although the idea of spending a night in the great outdoors sounds incredible, campers should always remember to bring specific tools and learn important survival skills in the event they sustain an injury and help is far, far away.
It gets cold out there at night, so it’s important to know the basics of starting a fire to keep warm — even in the dire circumstance that you’ve been injured. Do you know how to start a fire with just one hand? You never know — this skill might just save your life.
With your arm in a sling, place narrow log on the ground and then angle a knife up against it. Now, under the knife’s blade, place some dry kindling. Since you only have one-hand, squarely set your foot on the knife’s handle to secure it in place.
Once the knife is nice and snug, take a ferrocerium rod and strike it up against the knife’s blade. This will create a spark and, as long as your dry kindling is close enough, it will catch the spark and ignite.
Like always, provide oxygen and add kindling to feed the fire.
Note: Please remember to always create fires in a safe area regardless of your physical injuries. You don’t want to become a burn victim as well.
Check out Black Scout Survival‘s video below to get a complete breakdown on this single-handed fire starting technique.
World War I pilots began by simply waving at each other in flight, greeting their adversary as each pilot headed to his own reconnaissance mission. But as World War I quickly became brutal—and the pilots themselves saw friends die on the ground by the thousands and in the air by the dozens—they quickly sought out ways to kill each other.
And one of the pioneers who pulled it off was Roland Garros, a daredevil pilot who barely escaped Germany with a night flight into Switzerland at the war’s start.
French Pilot Roland Garros in a plane with a canine.
Garros was a French pilot who had already made a name for himself as a daredevil and aviation expert by flying across the Mediterranean in 1913. But when World War I broke out, he was in Germany and made his unscheduled night flight into Switzerland to get away, quickly joining the Storks Squadron, a group of aviators who would be the highest ranked French air-to-air combatants in the war.
And Garros led the way. Fighter combat in the air began with pilots carrying pistols to shoot at enemy aviators and darts to drop on hostile troops on the ground. But most pilots were looking for some way to mount machine guns on their planes.
But pilots usually looked through propeller blades while flying, and that was the most logical place to mount a gun for pilots to control. But, obviously, shooting through their own propeller would inevitably cause the pilot to shoot down himself. One of the early fixes was to mount the machine gun above the propeller blades, but that pointed the gun into a weird angle, and no one was able to shoot anyone down with that configuration.
Garros figured out another way. He mounted his gun right in front of his seat so he could look down the barrel to aim. To get around the problem of destroying his propeller, he simply armored the wooden blades with a metal sheath and trusted them to deflect those rounds that would’ve downed him while the rest of the rounds flew toward his target.
It is sometimes counted as the first known aerial victory, though it’s important to note that “aerial victory” today is often used to refer to shooting down an enemy plane, not forcing it to run. That feat was first accomplished Oct. 5 by another French pilot.
An illustration of aerial combat in World War I.
But Garros would go on to down five enemy planes in March 1915, causing the American press to dub him an “ace,” one of the first times that term was used. He also may have been the first pilot to achieve five kills.
Either way, his bravery, and ingenuity helped put France at the forefront of the changing face of aerial warfare. Unfortunately, air combat was a risky business, and Garros would not survive the war. In April 1915, he was shot down and crashed behind German lines.
As if by fate, a weather delay in Germany allowed a group of reservists to embark on a challenging 22-and-a-half-hour mission to help save a fellow service member.
When severe weather delayed a C-17 aircrew from the 315th Airlift Wing heading home to Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina was delayed in Germany Nov. 3, 2018, the crew was asked to take on an emergency mission transporting a burn patient to Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas.
“When our mission was delayed, everyone was a little frustrated because they had to get back to their civilian jobs,” said Capt. Dennis Conner, the mission’s aircraft commander from the 701st Airlift Squadron. “Then I get a call asking if we would stay out and take a medical evacuation mission because there was a Soldier who was pretty badly burned. There was not one hesitation, the entire crew stepped up. They put their civilian lives on hold to do this; they missed work and school to get him home.”
The soldier was transported from Hungary to Ramstein Air Base, Germany, by an Air Force aeromedical evacuation team and was destined for the U.S. Army Institute for Surgical Research Burn Center at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio.
C-17 Globemaster IIIs from Joint Base Charleston, S.C., return home after supporting a large formation exercise May 25, 2017.
According to the Daily News Hungary, “an American soldier was electrocuted at the Ferencváros railway station when he climbed up to a cargo train transporting combat vehicles.” The article states there was an electrical line carrying 25,000 volts above the train’s cargo, potentially causing the incident. The Hungarian National Health Service also gave details of the incident, “40 percent of the man’s body suffered second and third degree burns. What is more, he seemed to have broken his femur,” said Pál Győrfy, spokesperson for the organization.
“It was an unbelievable effort. No other country in the world would go to the extent we did to help one of our warfighters,” said Capt. Bryan Chianella, one of the 701 AS pilots on the mission. “We do what we can to take care of our own.”
During the flight, the C-17 was scheduled to do an aerial refueling so it could continue to San Antonio without stopping, said Conner.
“It was chaos,” he said. “Ten minutes before our AR, the tanker lost one of their engines and had to turn around. We did a lot of planning for this mission… We had several backup plans in place. We could only land in Boston or (Joint Base Andrews, Maryland) because if our jet broke down, he needed to be close to a burn center. Since we had strong headwinds, we didn’t have enough gas to get us to Andrews; we had to try to make it to Boston.”
“It was pretty stressful,” said Chianella. “They only had enough pain meds for our original flight time plus two hours and we landed in Boston with our emergency fuel.”
With the quick stop in Boston for fuel, the crew took off for San Antonio and landed at Lackland AFB, Texas then returned to home to Charleston with no further incidents.
“This was one of those missions where you make a difference helping a brother in arms,” said Master Sgt. Glenn Walker, the flying crew chief on the mission from the 315th Maintenance Squadron. “We all came together as a team and worked like a flawless Swiss watch,” he said.
Both Conner and Chianella also credited the crew’s teamwork in making the mission a success.
“I was very proud of the entire crew. I didn’t do anything special, the crew just did what they do and made this mission happen,” explained Connor.
The US military and NATO have been significantly outgunned by Russia in eastern Europe for some time, but US Army generals recently laid out a plan to close the gap.
As it stands, Russia has more tanks, aircraft, better air defenses, and more long-range weapons systems than the US and NATO have in eastern Europe.
The US has known for some time that its air superiority, something the US has held over enemies for 70 years, has come under serious threat, but now they’re working on an answer.
“Because of the power and the range and the lethality of these Russian air defenses, it’s going to make all forms of air support much more difficult, and the ground forces are going to feel the effects,” Gen. Robert Brown, who commands the US Army in the Pacific, recently said, according to Military.com.
He said the answer was to “push the maximum range of all systems under development for close, deep, and strategic” strikes, and that the US has “got to outgun the enemy.”
Instead of risking US planes and pilots in covering US forces as they fight with Russia, the US should pivot to increasing the range of its rockets, artillery, and missiles, according to Brown. Then, using those systems, the US can knock out Russian defenses and keep its troops at bay, potentially fighting without air support for weeks, he said.
Brown was speaking at the Association of the United States Army’s Global Force Symposium in Huntsville, Alabama.
Russia has “got a range advantage over us in a number of different areas, particularly cannons,” John Gordon IV, a senior policy researcher at Rand Corp, said at the event. “Typically, modern Russian cannons have got 50 percent to 100 percent greater range than the current generation of US cannons.”
Brown also said the US needs to extend the range of its current systems and those in development to meet the threat, specifically by bumping up the range of the Army Tactical Missile System to 499 kilometers, just under the 500 kilometer range limit the US is bound to by an arms-control agreement.
Brig. Gen. Stephen Maranian, commandant of the Army’s Field Artillery School, said the new missiles would have “the ability to hit a ship at sea, the ability to hit moving targets on the land domain, the ability to have sub-munitions that attack heavy armored targets and have effects … and the ability to use sensors to hone in on targets. Those are all aspects of future spirals of this missile that the base Precision Strike Missile will provide,” Military.com noted.
Additionally, the US is working on a new self-propelled howitzer that would increase the range out to 40 kilometers and increase the rate of fire.
One of the biggest threats North Korea poses is not measured in a few nukes on a few dozen ballistic missiles. We get it that nukes can do a lot of bad stuff, and the consequences of their use can be downright horrific. But they aren’t the only game in town.
In fact, one of North Korea’s deadliest threats are regular old howitzers.
To be honest, we’re talking lots and lots of howitzers. A veritable horde of howitzers, in fact. Try close to 8,000, according to GlobalSecurity.org. However, South Korea has not been idle in the howitzer field.
According to Hanwha Defense Systems, the South Korean military has been using the K9 self-propelled howitzer. This vehicle carries a 155mm howitzer that has a range of about 25 miles that can fire up to eight rounds a minute, including a burst of three rounds in 15 seconds.
But the firepower isn’t all this is about. The K9 is also able to scoot – able to dash at just under 42 miles per hour and go as far as 223 miles on one tank of gas. The crew of five is able to start shooting within 30 seconds, and they have 48 rounds on board. The vehicle can be quickly resupplied by the K10 Ammunition Resupply Vehicle, which can reload the K9 in just under 18 minutes.
It can take punishment, too. Its armor protects the crew from 14.5mm machine gun fire and fragments from 152mm artillery shells. According to GlobalSecurity.org, over 1,100 of these self-propelled guns are in South Korean service.
The K9 has also secured an export buyer in Turkey, which is acquiring 300 of these guns. In short, this gun will potentially see action on both sides of the continent of Asia.
From action-packed eyewitness accounts such as Guadalcanal Diaryto devastating Holocaust memoirs like The Diary of Anne Frankand Nightto the thrilling espionage tale of Operation Mincemeat, World War II is the subject of some of the most fascinating and influential nonfiction books ever written. Every year, seemingly dozens of new titles emerge to offer fresh perspectives and uncover fascinating details about the deadliest conflict in human history. These nine classics cover the war from the Eastern Front to the South Pacific and investigate its murky origins and complex legacies. Make your next great read one of these essential World War II books.
By John Hersey
Originally published in the August 31, 1946 issue of The New Yorker, this compassionate and richly observed portrait of six survivors of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima caused an immediate sensation. It was the first–and only–time the magazine had devoted an entire issue to a single article. Newsstands sold out within hours, and radio stations interrupted their regular programming to broadcast readings of the complete text.
More than a year after the Japanese city was destroyed, Americans were getting the first full account of the horrors of nuclear warfare. Hersey described stone facades permanently etched with the silhouettes of vaporized people and soldiers whose eyes were melted by the atomic flash. Widely recognized as one of the earliest examples of New Journalism (the style of reporting made most famous by Joan Didion), Hiroshima profoundly impacted the debate over nuclear weapons and played a key role in the healing process between America and Japan.
2. With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa
By E.B. Sledge
With brutal honesty and lucid prose, Eugene Bondurant Sledge provides a grunt’s-eye view of infantry combat in the Pacific Theater of World War II. Nicknamed “Sledgehammer” by his comrades, Sledge fought with the 1st Marine Division in the grueling battles of Peleliu and Okinawa. Using notes he secretly kept in a pocket-sized New Testament, Sledge describes the terror of life on the front lines and documents acts of savagery committed by both sides. But he also admires the courage of his fellow soldiers and pauses, when he can, to observe his natural surroundings–an interest that would lead to a later career as a biology professor. With the Old Breed was one of the main sources for Ken Burns’s documentary The Warand helped to form the basis for the HBO mini-series The Pacific.
3. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich
By William Shirer
First published in 1960, this National Book Award winner and New York Times bestseller traces the rise and fall of Nazi Germany from Adolf Hitler’s birth in 1889 to the end of World War II in 1945. As a foreign correspondent for the Chicago Tribune and one of “Murrow’s Boys” at the CBS Radio Network, Shirer reported from Berlin and Vienna in the years before the war and followed the German Army during the invasion of France.
After the war, he drew on his own experiences and a wealth of newly available documents, including the diaries of propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels and General Franz Halder and testimony from the Nuremberg trials, to write this 1,250-page volume. The book was a huge commercial success, selling one million hardcover copies and going through twenty printings in its first year. Although its scholarly reputation is often debated, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich remains one of the most influential tomes about World War II to this day.
By Art Spiegelman
This Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel recasts the Holocaust with Nazis as cats, Jews as mice, and Poles as pigs. Originally serialized in the alternative comics magazine Raw, the story moves back and forth between present-day Rego Park, New York and Nazi-occupied Poland. In New York, cartoonist Art Spiegelman tries to mend his fractured relationship with his father, Vladek, by drawing a book-length comic based on Vladek’s wartime experiences. In Poland, Vladek and his wife, Anja, endure forced relocation to the Sosnowiec Ghetto; the death of their first son, Richieu; and imprisonment in the Auschwitz concentration camp.
Hailed by The Wall Street Journal as “the most affecting and successful narrative ever done about the Holocaust,” Maus elevated the critical reputation of comics and inspired countless artists, including Chris Ware, Alison Bechdel, and Marjane Satrapi.
5. The Longest Day
By Cornelius Ryan
Based on interviews with more than 1,100 D-Day survivors, The Longest Day is the definitive account of the Allied invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944. Ryan experienced the battle firsthand as a 24-year-old reporter for the Daily Telegraph. When the bomber he was flying in was hit and had to return to England, he jumped into a patrol boat and returned to cover the fighting on the French beaches. Fifteen years later, Ryan set out to tell “what actually happened, rather than what generals or others thought happened.” The result is a masterpiece of military history packed with novelistic details, from the U.S. paratrooper who won $2,500 at cards on the eve of the battle but deliberately lost it all so as not to run out of luck to Field Marshal Rommel’s reason for being 600 miles away when the invasion began–he was bringing his wife her birthday present.
6. In the Garden of Beasts
By Erik Larson
This #1 New York Times bestseller is the riveting story of William E. Dodd, the American ambassador to Germany from 1933 to 1937. Dodd, a history professor, was not Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first choice for the job, and he arrived in Berlin with little appetite for the endless socializing expected of a diplomat and little sense of the dangers posed by Germany’s newly-appointed chancellor, Adolf Hitler.
While Dodd struggled to find his place, his 24-year-old daughter, Martha, took to her glamorous new life with verve. Beautiful and sexually adventurous, her high-profile paramours included Rudolph Diels, the chief of the Gestapo, and Boris Winogradov, an attache to the Soviet Embassy who recruited her as a spy. Part political thriller, part family drama, In the Garden of Beasts brings fresh perspective to the question of why it took the world so long to recognize the threat of the Third Reich.
7. An Army at Dawn
By Rick Atkinson
While most American history buffs are well versed in the Allied push across Europe after the Normandy landings and the key battles for control of the Pacific, the North African campaign is a less familiar subject. Drawing on personal diaries and letters from soldiers as well as official documents kept in British, American, French, Italian, and German war archives, Rick Atkinson corrects the record in this Pulitzer Prize-winning history, the first volume in The Liberation Trilogy. From the amphibious invasion of Morocco and Algeria in November 1942 to the Allies’ watershed victory at the Second Battle of El Alamein and the US Army’s coming-of-age at the Battle of Hill 609 in Tunisia, An Army at Dawn seamlessly integrates big-picture military strategy with boots-on-the-ground perspective. Atkinson is particularly insightful on the clash of egos between the old-school British commanders and their upstart American counterparts.
8. Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege: 1942-1943
By Anthony Beevor
With more than one million casualties, the five-month siege of Stalingrad was the bloodiest battle of World War II and a decisive turning point in the fight for Europe. Antony Beevor, a former British Army officer, brilliantly balances the huge scale of the conflict with a soldier’s-eye view of some of the most horrific conditions in the history of modern warfare.
He begins with Operation Barbarossa, the 1941 German invasion of the Soviet Union that was plagued by bad weather, long supply lines, and difficult terrain, and analyzes how the Luftwaffe’s carpet bombing of Stalingrad helped to create the treacherous, rubble-strewn conditions that allowed Soviet snipers to wage a gruesome war of attrition. Most captivatingly, Atkinson portrays Stalingrad as the terrifying outcome of totalitarianism: Hitler lived in a fantasy world and refused to listen to German officers who tried to save the Sixth Army from complete destruction, while Stalin’s demands for total obeisance resulted in the executions of 13,500 Red Army soldiers.
9. Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization
By Nicholson Baker
In this highly unusual and captivating work, novelist Nicholson Baker tells the story of the buildup to World War II in vignettes. Each short piece contains a fact or a quotation drawn from primary sources including newspaper articles, radio speeches, personal diaries, and government transcripts.
Through the steady accumulation of detail, Baker suggests that Allied leaders were not as reluctant to enter the global conflict as most historians contend. He goes back to as far as 1920 to quote Winston Churchill on the proposed bombing of civilian targets in Iraq (“I am strongly in favor of using poisoned gas against uncivilized tribes”), then skips ahead to the prime minister’s preferred military strategy in 1941: “One of our great aims is the delivery on German towns of the largest possible quantity of bombs per night.” Turning to the American scene, Baker draws from sources suggesting that Franklin D. Roosevelt may have deliberately goaded the Japanese into bombing Pearl Harbor so the US could enter the war.
Some scholars were harsh in their judgment of Human Smoke, but by returning to the primary material, Baker rescues pacifism as an honorable concept and reminds readers that when military leaders rush to apply new technologies to warfare, it is often civilians who suffer the most.