Why Do You Love History? One Not-So-Easy Question to Answer

Movie poster to Clint Eastwood's "Flags of our Fathers."

Film poster to Clint Eastwood’s 2006 “Flags of our Fathers”

In a recent interview, I was asked the following question: “why do you love history?” More specifically, I had heard: “why do you love World War II history?” My mind went blank. Nothing. I stared at the Skype interface terrified I’d just missed out on my dream job working in historical research. I babbled something about “not being sure, but always loving history.” The hard drive inside my brain had crashed. I ‘blue-screened’.

I could have answered questions about so many aspects of that period: cultural, diplomatic, economic, military, or political histories of the War. Questions of the War’s history by theater, by year, or about the Allied and Axis Powers…. reasons for the War. How the First World War laid groundwork for the Second. Why Germany’s ‘Blitzkreig’ was a false narrative. Ask me about the Italian Campaign or the Siege of Leningrad or the Battle of Okinawa. And what those battles meant in context of the War. Let me tell you how Germany lost the War on the Eastern Front and how that ultimately caused their downfall. Ask me how the term ‘Total War’ applies to the Second World War (and First World War), and how that enabled Allied Victory.

As a child in the 1960s, I watched the television show Combat each week riveted by Sergeant Saunders’ (Vic Morrow) bravado and Lieutenant Hanley’s (Rick Jason) leadership. My Matchbox collection was dominated by tanks, jeeps, and personnel carriers. I was even G.I. Joe for Halloween one year. Our backyard in Illinois abutted acres of farmland. After school, me with my plastic M1 Garand were often found scanning that farmer’s field for enemy movement.

As an undergraduate, I worked part-time in the university library. I’d routinely lose myself on the floor that held the library’s history books, collections, and archives. It was on that floor, between those rows, where I’d read Richard Tregaskis’ Guadalcanal Diary and William Manchester’s Goodbye Darkness: A Memoir of the Pacific War. After college, I was selected for U.S. Marine Corps’ Officer Candidates School in Quantico, Virginia. I got to see, feel, and touch history first hand. Later in life I completed a Master’s in Military History with a Concentration in World War II—simply for love of the history.

My Father's Gravesite

My Father’s Gravesite

By the numbers, I’m considered a ‘baby boomer’. My father and uncle both fought in the Second World War. My father, a decorated Army sergeant by war’s end, brought the war home with him—the good and the bad. He passed away at 53—far too young—while I was in college. I’m convinced his spirit moves with me in continuing his fighting that war. With every book read and every hour of research, I continue that fight in search of my father’s war.

As a historian I research and question what has been posed as fact. Richard Marius and Melvin E. Page in A Short Guide to Writing About History submit that: “Historians are curious and relentless questioners, and the questions they ponder arise from any number of sources. All historical writing begins as an effort to answer questions about origins, happenings, and consequences. Historians find a puzzle and try to solve it…. Historians believe it is important to distinguish between the true and the false.” (Marius and Page, 2-3)

Why do I love history? I can’t put it into words.


Posted by on April 4, 2016 in Nostalgia and Humor


Book Review: Warbird Factory: North American Aviation in World War II

Book cover

Warbird Factory: North American Aviation in World War II by John Fredrickson.

Warbird Factory: North American Aviation in World War II
By John Fredrickson

☆☆☆☆☆ Recommended

John Frederickson has written an extraordinary new book on North American Aviation, one of the aircraft manufacturers whose aircraft filled the skies across the Pacific, European, and China-Burma-India theaters. Warbird Factory: North American Aviation in World War II is supplemented by a collection of black-and-white and color photographs of North American Aviation’s factories, aircraft, and the people who built them. It is these photographs which supplement the author’s prose that showcase this home front history during wartime. The home front ‘comes alive’ in Warbird Factory. Frederickson’s 36-year career as a manager for Boeing enabled his access to photographs, company records, and history of North American Aviation (NAA).

Warbird Factory is far more than just another of book of airplane pictures, technical specifications, and diagrams however. What makes this new work unique and engrossing is the author’s research and writing of the company’s history which occurred before, during and after the war. He effectively retraces NAA’s origins to the automobile industry and General Motors Corporation (GM). As such, we now have previously unpublished history which details the ‘business side’ of the industry overall and rise of NAA before the war. I personally find the synergies which took place between the automobile industry and the fledgling airline industry of the 1920’s and 1930’s fascinating. I think you will too.

North American Aviation plant in Inglewood California. Courtesy of Wikipedia; This photo is in the public domain.

From the public domain: North American Aviation plant in Inglewood California.

The primary aircraft of NAA in Warbird Factory are the B-25 Mitchell bomber and P-51 Mustang escort fighter. (NAA also designed and developed trainers—smaller aircraft utilized for training new pilots.) Scholars and students of the 1944 invasion of Normandy—D-Day—will be fascinated with Chapter 10’s “Eisenhower’s B-25.” NAA took a stock (brand new) B-25J and made modifications for an aircraft that could blend with most other B-25 Mitchell Bombers—with one exception. RB-25J(3), later designated VB-25J, was General Dwight Eisenhower’s personal aircraft to move him throughout France following the 6 June invasion and for one year thereafter. The Ellsworth Air Force Base Museum (South Dakota) is the final resting place for Eisenhower’s B-25J.

I could continue sharing more on Frederickson’s new contribution work but will conclude here. Check out this new book and discover the new history. Warbird Factory will have special appeal for historians and scholars of women’s roles on the home front. Those interested in the early years of the American automobile industry will also find this new book absorbing for its position and support to the aviation industry.

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Posted by on February 22, 2016 in Book Reviews, The Home Front


Book Review: Reflections of Our Gentle Warriors

Reflections book cover cropped v1 final

Reflections of Our Gentle Warriors by Brad Hoopes

Reflections of Our Gentle Warriors
By Brad Hoopes

☆☆☆☆☆ Recommended

In the vast array of books and literature ‘page turners’ exist in many genres. These can include: an engrossing novel, a long-awaited autobiography, or a “tell all” work of journalism-turned-book. In the burgeoning category of historical literature, and more specifically that which encompasses the Second World War, there are countless complete histories. At the other end of the spectrum, there are monographs and books which tell the story or stories of the individual soldier, sailor, airman, or marine during wartime. Reflections of Our Gentle Warriors by Brad Hoopes tells the individual stories of seventy World War II-era soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines. Reflections is a page turner.

Reflections, published in October of 2015, is the result of thirteen years of interviews conducted by the author. In his new book, Hoopes has separated the individual stories by Pacific and European theater. This format works well to give the reader a better understanding of each theater’s history and aura as experienced by the men who fought there. Reflections has something for everyone: from stories which begin with the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 to the war’s last battle on the island of Okinawa in 1945.

Hoopes’s writing is warm and engaging; think of the popular war-era correspondent and journalist Ernie Pyle. Pyle developed a close relationship with his readers back home in the United States with his pleasant writing style. Many of Hoopes’ interviewees are from America’s heartland—Nebraska, Colorado and other Midwestern and Western states. From his interview with Howard Johnston from Nebraska, Hoopes recounts the young soldier’s emotional homecoming to Nebraska:

Mustered out at Fort Riley [Kansas], he started hitchhiking to Nebraska…. He has not yet been able to tell anyone that he was coming home. His brother was over the moon that he was home and quickly came to get him. He then called ahead to their parents to tell them that he would bring Howard home later that day. Their mother broke down crying upon hearing the news and couldn’t stop. Howard’s best buddy—his hunting dog—must have sensed what was happening, as he ran up the road to a hill above the farmhouse and began howling. He stayed up there howling the entire day until Howard arrived and then knocked him over and jumped all over him, licking his face, when he got out of the car.

Reflections is replete with anecdotes and remembrances such as Howard Johnston’s. “Hitchhiking to Nebraska,” it certainly was a different time.

Hoopes was prudent in keeping each individual history at approximately one to three pages (in the electronic Kindle version; smaller font). This structuring works well to pace the book. A photograph of each veteran during or after the war accompanies each story. Congratulations Brad Hoopes on this collection of stories…. each one a page turner.

Scott Lyons


Posted by on January 1, 2016 in Book Reviews


Book Review: God & Churchill: How the Great Leader’s Sense of Divine Destiny Changed His Troubled World and Offers Hope for Ours

Churhchill book cover

God & Churchill: How the Great Leader’s Sense of Divine Destiny Changed His Troubled World and Offers Hope for Ours

☆☆☆☆☆ Recommended

God & Churchill: How the Great Leader’s Sense of Divine Destiny Changed His Troubled World and offers Hope for Ours presents new insight into the life of Great Britain’s former British Prime Minister and wartime leader Winston Churchill. Co-written by Churchill’s great-grandson Jonathan Sandys and journalist Wallace Henley, God & Churchill details how the significant role of Churchill’s spirituality and Christian faith helped guide him through the twentieth century’s twin conflagrations: in the trenches during First World War, and in greater depth leading Great Britain and Allied leadership through most of the Second World War.

With God & Churchill, we are offered an exceptional book on Allied leadership’s cornerstone figure during World War II. So what makes this contribution to the collection of work on the twentieth century’s greatest leader unique and a ‘must have’? Sandys and Henley give substantive evidence for Churchill’s destiny towards greatness—his unwavering belief in God’s plan for his life and leadership. Additionally, the author’s use of substantive sources—primary and secondary—many in Churchill’s own words, speaking of his destiny for greatness on the world stage, fills gaps not covered in earlier works on the former British Prime Minister.

For 2015, the publishers at Tyndale Momentum have added God & Churchill to the growing body of literature on Churchill during another tumultuous period in our world’s history. Sandys and Henley draw parallels between Adolph Hitler’s Nazi Germany and today’s growing terror in Iraq and Syria through ISIS and its growing world-wide influence. At a time when religious beliefs are the central theme for a different form of war today, the authors offer hope: “Here, then, is our hope for the cataclysmic time in which we live: The same God who brought forth Winston Churchill (and other deliverers) still rules over history, and he has a deliverer—or deliverers—for our season as well…. It might even be the ultimate Deliverer.” [1]

Sandys and Henley offer extensive contrast between what role the church was to play for Hitler and Churchill; such views which were the core of their respective ideologies—and their fates as the authors suggest.

As the era of the Second World War becomes more distant, research historians and writers continue to write more objectively, with less bias foregoing ‘romantic views’ of the war’s culture in modern memory. What does remain is a clearer view of Winston Churchill—‘warts and all’ as historians like to say. In God & Churchill, Sandys and Henley have done commendable work in adding to our knowledge of the popular wartime leader. British historian Geoffrey Best, Senior Member and retired professor at St. Antony’s College, Oxford in Churchill: A Study in Greatness, in recounting Winston Churchill’s state funeral (30 January 1965), decreed by the Queen and usually reserved only for royalty, writes:

For a former private secretary privileged to be in the small party that went with the family to the interment, there was no forgetting the ‘two single figures’ he saw from the train: ‘first on the flat roof of a small house a man standing at attention in his old RAF uniform; and then in a field, some hundred yards from the track, a simple farmer stopping work and standing, head bowed, and cap in hand’. For the millions who link with the funeral had to be television, the most unforgettable moment was probably (as it certainly was for me) the great cranes [grey heron; bird] along the south side of the stretch of river between Tower Bridge and London Bridge, dipping their masts in tribute as the launch went by, ‘like giants bowed in anxious thought’.[2]

Such was Winston Churchill’s positive impact on history and the world; a man whose leadership and legacy we may never see again.

God & Churchill will appeal to those readers interested in Winston Churchill, early-to-mid twentieth-century British history, as well as Great Britain’s role during the Second World War. Those who study leadership in particular will find the book essential reading. Readers and students interested in a deeper dive into the study of Churchill, the University of Oxford’s Department for Continuing Education offers the following course (most semesters) titled: Churchill: Soldier, Politician and Statesman (Online). This is a tuition-based live class delivered via distance learning methodology and open to learners worldwide.

[1] Jonathan Sandys and Wallace Henley, God & Churchill: How the Great Leader’s Sense of Divine Destiny Changed His Troubled World and offers Hope for Ours (Carol Stream, Il: Tyndale Momentum, 2015) 237.
[2] Geoffrey Best, Churchill: A Study in Greatness (London: Oxford University Press, 2003) 327.

Best, Geoffrey. Churchill: A Study in Greatness. London: Oxford University Press, 2003.
Sandys, Jonathan and Wallace Henley. God & Churchill: How the Great Leader’s Sense of Divine Destiny Changed His Troubled World and offers Hope for Ours. Carol Stream, Il: Tyndale Momentum, 2015.

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Posted by on December 19, 2015 in Book Reviews, WWII in Europe

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