From the Fighting 69th
I can’t answer all your questions to the March/April“Challenge,”but I sure recognize the insignia—it’s the 69th Infantry Division. My father, George Ray Kehn, was a member. He was a sergeant with a mortar crew, and saw action right after the Battle of the Bulge and up to the Elbe River.
As a youngster I saw his old uniform and begged to wear it. I wish he had never given it to me to play with; it’s now long gone.
James R. Kehn
The Fighting 69th infantry patch brought back many memories. I wore the patch for better than two years, from Camp Shelby, Mississippi, to Torgau, Germany, where we met the Russians at the Elbe. I served as company runner in Company C, 271st Infantry.
Hitler’s History Lesson
The perception of Hitler’s mistake in stopping his panzers short of Dunkirk is based on hindsight (“How to Lose a War,” March/April).
Germany crushed France’s frontier defenses in the opening days of World War I, and appeared to be on the verge of victory. Hitler was part of that army, and saw the beaten French pass a miracle at the Marne. Four years later, the German army again broke through the French defenses on the Western Front and seemed on the verge of victory when the French (with considerable help from the recently arrived Americans) passed a second miracle on the Marne and turned the tide—leading to Germany’s surrender a few months later.
In the late spring of 1940, the German army achieved a crushing breakthrough at Sedan and its spearheads reached the English Channel. In hindsight we can see that the French were beaten and that what Hitler should have done was make sure the British didn’t escape. But I believe Hitler remembered 1914 and 1918.
I don’t think his decision to pause and protect his armored spearheads had anything to do with his desire for the Luftwaffe to deliver the knockout punch, or his respect for the English. He was making sure that, for the third time in his life, the French Army didn’t rise from the dead and steal Germany’s hard-won victory.
Your article on George Vujnovich, the mastermind of the American airmen rescue from Yugoslavia (“WWII Today,” March/April) receiving the Bronze Star brought to mind the book The Forgotten 500 by Gregory A. Freeman. It covers the entire story of Operation Halyard from beginning to end, and is fascinating to read. It’s too bad this intriguing saga had to wait over 60 years before it could be told.
I was pleased to see Vladimir Putin’s reading list in “WWII Today.” Americans need to learn more history in general, but the Eastern Front and the Soviet role in World War II are particularly misunderstood.
That said, there’s important context to Putin’s remarks that was not made clear. Though he calls for ongoing research into history, he recommends novels. That isn’t necessarily bad advice, and Putin is not suggesting bad books; Russians certainly know how to write novels.
But two authors are prominently missing.Viktor Nekrasov’s work on Stalingrad was hailed in the Soviet Union, but he became a dissident, left the Soviet Union, and was stripped of his citizenship. Vasilii Grossman had his masterwork Life and Fate confiscated by the KGB because of the uncomfortable parallels between Nazism and Stalinism. Putin’s list of recommended authors is limited to those in good standing with the former Soviet regime who refrain from asking hard questions.
Dr. David R. Stone
Pickett Professor of Military History
Kansas State University
Postcards from Guadalcanal
I greatly appreciated John D. Lukacs’s travel article (“Time Travel,” March/April). I traveled to Guadalcanal three years ago to pay my respects to the Pacific Theater’s most significant early engagement. “Big Death” was an understatement to the ferocity of the struggle.
I highly recommend the Vilu War Museum, and was told that their P-38 was one of the 18 planes led by Major John Mitchell in search of Admiral Yamamoto’s Betty over Bougainville. In addition, a trip to Kasalo/Kennedy/Plum Pudding Island is well worth the effort.
I have been enjoying your magazine for many years, and an article on Guadalcanal in your March/April issue struck home.
In 1943 I was a member of Photo Squadron One, flying from Guadalcanal in PB4Y-1s. The officer in charge, Lieutenant Mickey Farrell (an ex-enlisted chief), was aboard the LST 342 when it was torpedoed. He was from Wyckoff, New Jersey, a well-liked and respected officer.
Ed McGlew, Jr.
N. Springfield, VT.
I’ve got to strongly disagree with the review of Unbroken by Laura Hillen brand (March/April). As someone who had already read quite a bit about Louis Zamperini before this book came out, I was struck by how much new material Hillenbrand found. Zamperini himself has repeatedly said that she discovered a huge amount about his story that even he had never known.
Zamperini’s saga has always been told narrowly, from Zamperini’s perspective. Hillenbrand brings in the perspectives of so many people who witnessed the story, including Louis’s family and the other families on the home front, the Japanese spy who attended college with Louis, his pilot and fellow raft survivor, fellow POWs, and Japanese guards. And within the smaller story of this one man, Hillenbrand tells the whole sweeping story of servicemen in the Pacific War. To say this is not groundbreaking is to do this book, and its author, a great disservice.
I thought readers might enjoy my personal experience with the TV series COMBAT! (“Reviews,” March/April).
On military leave from Viet Nam in 1965, I often hiked in Los Angeles’s beautiful, tranquil Griffith Park to decompress. One sunny morning I thought my senses were playing tricks on me, or I had finally gone over the edge. I was sure I heard machine guns and small arms fire! Reflexively moving to “to the sound of the guns” as I was taught, I belly-crawled to look over a ridge, down into a little tree covered valley.
Below me were Wehrmacht troops attacking an American position. Muzzle blasts and the cries of the wounded on both sides filled the air.
Suddenly, from under the shade of the cliff below me, a voice yelled “Cut!” and everyone stopped fighting. That’s when I realized I was watching a completely accurate European Theater combat skirmish being filmed for a movie or TV.
When I strolled down to them during this break, I saw the signage for COMBAT! Introducing myself as a real-life combat veteran on leave, I was heartily welcomed to their set, where I met Rick Jason (Lieu tenant Hanley), Vic Morrow (Sargent Saunders), and Pierre Jalbert (Caje). The actors were friendly and welcoming, as was the production crew!
What an experience, coming home for R and R to my hometown, hiking in the park, and walking smack dab into a fire fight on the set of COMBAT!
Palm Desert, Calif.
In the March/April article “Following History’s Footsteps on Guadalcanal” by John D. Lukacs, the location of Cape Esperance was erroneously identified as Koli Point.
Originally published in the August 2011 issue of World War II. To subscribe, click here.