My interest in WW II history grew hand in hand with my interest in wargaming. My second wargame was Avalon Hill's boardgame Africa Korps, but I quickly branched out to other theaters of the war.

I come from the generation called the "Baby Boom" and for most of us, WW II was almost like yesterday, even though we weren't alive for any of it. I grew up watching WW II movies on the late show, TV shows like Combat and The Desert Rats, and playing soldier in the back yard (we used dirt clods for grenades they burst very nicely on impact, but were a little hard to carry).

Almost every adult male I knew while I was growing up had been involved in the war somehow: both of the town's barbers, the retired school principal that lived next door, my science teacher in high school (who had served with Patton). One uncle was in the infantry in New Guinea and the Philippines, another served on B-24s, a third was in the navy, and I had multiple cousins-once-removed both maternal and paternal (my dad was employed in the petroleum industry during the war, and got a deferment without him and others like him, he used to say, Patton would have had to have walked to the Rhine).

In my youth, plastic toy soldiers were 49 cents a bag at the local variety store, and I bought them (and lost them) as fast as I could scrounge coins from the sofa cushions. I built model kits of planes, ships, and tanks, also in great numbers (although I could never bring myself to blow them up with cherry bombs like some of my friends).

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Books (in no particular order):

US Army Handbook, 1939-1945, George Forty

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This is a revised version of Forty's earlier work by the same title, and is a good single volume work for uniforms, equipment, organization and tactics of the US Army Ground Forces during WW II. Forty has written a similar book on the British army of the same period, and numerous other works on other military topics.

At Dawn We Slept, Gordon W. Prange et al.

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If you want a overall account of the attack on Pearl Harbor (including Prange's take on the "Roosevelt knew and did nothing" theories), this is my candidate for the best. It is concise, readable, and accurate. Prange's book Miracle at Midway is equally good on the latter battle, but is now (sadly) out of print. The bibliography will tell you where to go to find out just about anything you want to know about Pearl Harbor.

Guadalcanal, Richard B. Frank

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This book is subtitled "the Definitive Account of the Landmark Battle" and I agree, although I'd substitute the word "campaign" for "battle." Frank covers both the land and naval sides of the action on Guadalcanal, and the bibliography will lead you to whatever else you need to know.

Eagle Against the Sun, Ronald H. Spector

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If you are looking for a concise, one-volume history of the war in the Pacific, land and sea, I recommend Eagle against the Sun. A friend of mine uses this book as part of the reading list for her WW II history course. Costello's The Pacific War takes more of a British-oriented viewpoint.

G.I.: The American Soldier in WW II, Lee Kennett

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This book concentrates on all aspects of service in the army in WW II, deals with the draft, basic training, advanced training, and so on. It is written from a sociological perspective, and it and Perret's book compliment the more technical work by George Forty.

There's a War to Be Won: The United States Army in WW II, Geoffrey Perret

Among other things, this book deals with how the US Army went about winning the war, including the background behind things like the bazooka, the 2- ton truck, the DUKW and other less well-known but equally important topics like why we kept the short 75mm gun on the Sherman tank.

Movies (again, in no particular order):

One of these days, I will add a short sidebar to this page discussing what I feel makes a good "war movie."

Saving Private Ryan

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Tom Hanks, Edward Burns, et al. This is Steven Spielberg's award-winning film of WW II, and I encourage anyone with an interest in the war to see it. I missed it in the theaters, but I saw it on a large screen TV, DVD with surround-sound and all the bells and whistles. There are a few minor historical glitches, but the attention to detail is astounding, and the landing sequence in the beginning of the film is gut-wrenchingly realistic (I've never been through an opposed landing, but I have talked with those who have, and many veterans say this is the closest any movie has come to depicting what happens), so the film is R-rated because the violence is pretty intense. The historians among my friends have some quibbles with the ending, and the film critics among them have some problems with the ending, but as a war movie, it is first rate.

A Bridge Too Far

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This film has an ensemble cast, comprising just about every English-speaking actor in the world at the time (and I exaggerate only slightly Dirk Bogarde, Sean Connery, Michael Caine, Edward Fox, Elliot Gould and that only gets us through the first part of the alphabet). Based on the book of the same name by Cornelius Ryan, the screenplay was by William Goldman (my favorite screenwriter) and the director was Richard Attenborough. That said, the film was pretty much panned by the critics (one entire review consisted of the sentence: "An hour too long."), but there is much for the military enthusiast, and I recommend the film highly.

The Longest Day

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Another film based on a book by Cornelius Ryan (how come no one ever filmed 900 Days?), this one was filmed in black & white so it could use existing footage (some of it actual combat footage). It has an ensemble cast including John Wayne, Richard Burton, Robert Michum, Red Buttons and a huge number of other familiar faces from the 1960s.

Sands of Iwo Jima

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OK, what would any collection of WW II movies be without at least one John Wayne classic. You could do a lot worse.

Memphis Belle

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This is the modern remake of the earlier film. Like most war movies, this one was not highly acclaimed by critics, but I liked it. It is a (fictionalized) account of the last mission of a genuine B-17 bomber. The attention to detail is good, including the youth of the bomber crews.

Tora! Tora! Tora!

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The US and Japanese portions of this movie were filmed by American and Japanese directors, respectively. The Japanese segments are subtitled in English for the version released in the US. The movie was filmed before computer graphics were as prevalent as they are today, but there is a lot of good model work (and the models are used again in the film Midway).

Links:

I'll add to this from time to time.

The Center for Military History

Center for Military History

The U.S. Army Website

The US Army website.

World War Two Website Association

WW II Website Association

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