The Corner

WWII Book Standouts

I wish I had time to post all of the compelling e-mails folks sent me about WW II books, but I at least want to pass along this one:

In response to your literary bleg about books on World War II, I offer a recently-published book that is not widely known. It is a memoir that reads like the best historical fiction, written by United Press war correspondent Henry Tilton Gorrell.  

Soldier of the Press, Covering the Front in Europe and North Africa 1936-1943, provides readers with a rare look back to a time when “mainstream” journalists were unabashedly pro-democracy and pro-soldier. Henry “Hank” Gorrell lived through dozens of death-defying encounters during nearly nine years of reporting from the front lines of some of history’s bloodiest battles. Soldier of the Press, completed in 1943, was published in June by the University of Missouri Press.   

Gorrell was an “embedded reporter” at a time when such a construction would have seemed redundant. His news dispatches – from fascist Italy to civil-war Spain, from pre-war Britain to front line fighting in the Balkans, Greece, Palestine, Iraq, Iran, and North Africa – were carried by major newspapers at the time. But his memoir is packed with contemporary relevance and fresh perspectives. Henry describes the soul-crushing corporate state of Mussolini’s Italy, the Australian Syrian Campaign against the Vichy French (where they were told to go into battle with an olive branch in one hand and a grenade in the other), and the German tactic of leaving roadside bombs and booby-trapped bodies in the wake of their retreat across the desert. He frankly and honestly reveals his own bouts with what we today call post traumatic stress disorder, but he never once loses focus on the fighting man, be he Spanish, Greek, British, Free French, Australian, or American.

Were he reporting today, I believe Henry would be more comfortable alongside men like Michael Yon than any mainstream media personality.

Steven F. Hayward — Stephen F. Hayward is a senior resident scholar at the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, and the author of a two-volume political history, The Age of Reagan.

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