WHAT DO YOU FILL YOUR POCKETS WITH when you’re rousted awake in the middle of a freezing German night to be death-marched across Germany?
WHEN YOUR BUDDY STAGGERS AND FALLS by the side of the road, and no longer even knows who you are, do you keep moving to keep yourself alive?
— “The next day we marched almost twenty hours, so now we were coming up to a town, now everybody is falling over, but I was in a group where everybody made a pledge to watch each other. I found myself off the side of the road and I lay in the snow and I said to myself, ‘Wow, this is so warm.’ I was so damn cold, I didn’t know my name or anything, or where I lived—I was gone!” —B-24 bombardier, shot down, taken prisoner
Dying for freedom isn’t the worst that could happen. Being forgotten is.
— “We got shot down around noontime by a Messerschmitt. I was in the top turret shooting at them, and I could see [their faces] as clearly as I'm looking at you. They wiped us out completely.I'm following him with the top turret gun and you could see bits of the plane coming off his tail section, but not enough to bother him. As I'm turning, the electrical cord on my flying suit got caught underneath the swivel of the turret. I ducked down, I untangled it… now I got back into my turret. Fellas, the turret wasn't there anymore. That son-of-a-gun who had been eyeing me came in and he hit his 20mm gun, took the top of that Plexiglas and tore it right off!The fighters made another pass. They hit a couple of our engines; they made another pass and they shot away our controls! We peeled off into one of these spirals—you've seen them on television where the plane will come over on its back and just spiral into the ground. Trees are coming up at me; I had my hand on the ripcord and out I went, headfirst.” —B-17 engineer
Maybe our veterans did not volunteer to tell us their stories; perhaps we were too busy with our own lives to ask. But they opened up to a younger generation, when a history teacher taught his students to engage.
— “I was standing on the train in Paris right next to an SS colonel—he had a satchel handcuffed to his arm, and a guard with a Sten gun. The train started up, and the SS colonel bumped into me. And he turned around to me and said, 'Pardonne moi.' I thought, ‘Oh, my God!’” —B-17 crewman/evadee, shot down on his first mission
As we forge ahead as a nation, do we owe it to ourselves to become reacquainted with a generation that is fast leaving us, who asked for nothing but gave everything, to attune ourselves as Americans to a broader appreciation of what we stand for?This is the third book in the masterful WWII oral history series, but you can read them in any order.
— “What made me cry was this is a guy from Texas, and even if he didn’t like blacks, or he didn’t like Jews, or Catholics, or whoever, no German was going to tell him what to do—no general was pushing him around! He says, ‘We are Americans in this camp, and we are all the same.’ They asked him for a list of all Jews, and he said, ‘You’re not going to get it—if you’re going to shoot them, you’re going to shoot us all, because we are not going to tell you which ones to pick out.’ So these are the things that make me feel damn proud to be an American!” —Lead navigator, PoW
It's time to listen to them. Read some of the reviews below and REMEMBER how a generation of young Americans truly saved the world. Or maybe it was all for nothing?
— “A must-read in every high school in America. It is a very poignant look back at our greatest generation; maybe it will inspire the next one.”
Reviewer, Vol. I
A selection of series comments left by Amazon reviewers:
- "Television and movies may capture the imagination of a romantic, adventurous version of war, but these plain-spoken veterans acknowledge the truth of the horror and loss of warfare. My sincere thanks to Matthew Rozell for his efforts."
- "Wow! I felt like I was sitting in the room with a group of WWII veterans, hearing their stories of hardship, fear, and what they had to do for their country, for their family and friends, fighting for what they believed in. I could not put this book down, so very well written to engage the reader and share experiences of war. Heroes abound in this book and everyone should read and be thankful for those who sacrificed so much for the rest of us. Thank you Matthew for capturing these experiences and presenting them in a compelling manner. Also, thank you for giving back to your community by making history real for your students and readers."
- "I have been a student of this war for over 60 years and the author made me want to read more of these types of books. Mr. Rozell constructed the living memories of [our] heroes into a striking and amazing narrative."
- "The survivors of WW2 are the generation of ultimate self sacrifice but also dignified silence. Long may books like this be read by the young people of the 21st century to understand the hardship, altruism and sacrifice of others that built the freedoms of today. Remarkable men and women, thank you one and all."
- "If you are looking for blood, guts and glory, look elsewhere. However, if you are looking for tales of normal people undertaking extraordinary tasks then read on, and be humbled."
- "As a historian with the National WWII Museum, I receive a lot of books "over the transom". By and large, they're all interesting and capture the experiences of young men thrown into the horrors of a vicious war, but this one is different... It should be required reading for every high school and college age student. The best of the American character is brought out in these stories-we learn how men from rural northern areas met and bonded with kids from Appalachia, Southerners, kids who grew up in Jewish homes from the Bronx, Irish Catholics from Boston. For the first time, they realized the size and variety, the richness of cultures and classes of the people in this country. In other words, they became Americans. Patriotism, for many of these veterans, took a back seat to the responsibility they felt to their compatriots.They fought, not so much against the enemy, but rather for the guys next to them. And they brought that spirit back home with them. Young people should not see them only as heroes but as models of what they can become, who set aside their differences to stand beside each other as Americans."
- "Having so many voices speaking in the first-person made the book read easier. Like the Bible, it is a compilation more than a single book,and so many perspectives added color. I was sorry to reach the end, and that is a rarity."
- "I always like to read the experiences of ordinary yet extraordinary people who went through something like this. One can only imagine what they went though."
- "My father, a member of 'The Greatest Generation', would never talk to me about the serious events in his deployment to the South Pacific. Then, after I myself went to war and came home, I asked him how he dealt with certain things. He had me open his old foot locker from which he took a TOPOG map. He unfolded it, pointed to a grid and said 'that is where I lost my first two men.' He no longer talked to me like his boy but like a fellow warrior. The things he told me could have been right out this book; the same words, the same descriptions of horrible sights, the same sorrow for friends lost...the same guilt for having survived. Mr. Rozell, THANK YOU for this book."
- "An absolutely absorbing read. It would seem a simple concept, to let the people who were there tell their story. Rozell gives us background, structure and scope without ever falling in love with his own voice or stealing the limelight, and that is no simple task. Well done!"
- "I finished reading the book last night. The stories of sacrifice and service of the men included impacted me deeply and I have a renewed respect for what they did... How men so young could face the horrors of the war?! How did they endured torture and hard work with hope and faith?!"
"This book should be a must-read in every high school in America. It is a very poignant look back at our greatest generation, maybe it will inspire the next one."
- "My father was wounded during the war in Europe. He would never talk about the war or what he went through. It was always a big mystery -that part of his life. Your book helped me understand, a little better what my father faced - the fear, horror and suffering that is most personal to each soldier. Thank you for writing this excellent book."
I don't know how to explain the feeling of sitting down and going back to re-listen to and edit these conversations, which in many cases took place years ago. As the writer/historian you spend days if not weeks with each individual, researching their stories, getting under their skin. You really have the feeling that you are doing a kind of cosmic CPR,taking their original words and breathing new life in a readable format that places readers at the kitchen table with that person who had something important to say. The reader shares the intimate moments with them as he/she gets absorbed in a real story being told. As an interviewer it happened many times to me directly with our World War II veterans, in living rooms, kitchens and dining rooms all over 'Hometown USA', in the classroom, and at reunion'hospitality rooms' and hotel breakfast tables across America.
But memories are short. A World War II memoirist once wrote, 'Ignorance and apathy are the greatest dangers to freedom.' I agree, but as a lifelong history teacher, I contend that it begins with people simply not being exposed to the history to begin with. For how could one not be drawn into these stories, the human drama, the interaction and the emotion that goes into putting an ideal first? After sitting at their table, how could you not give weight to what they have seen, and where they think we are going, as a people, as a nation? I saw this spark kindled time and again in my classroom, when we got to hear from real people who had a front row seat, who acted in the greatest drama in the history of the world.
Perhaps now I ramble. Now it is better to have them tell you themselves, about the world they grew up in, the challenges and obstacles placed on life's course, and how a generation of Americans not only rose to the challenge, but built the country and the freedoms that we enjoy today. They truly saved the world. Be inspired. Share their stories; give them voice. Lest we forget.
MATTHEW ROZELL is an award-winning history teacher, author, blogger and speaker. He has been featured as the ABC World News ‘Person of the Week’ and has had his work filmed for CBS News, NBC Learn, the Israeli Broadcast Authority, the New York State United Teachers, and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Visit his blog at TeachingHistoryMatters.com.