The best books on surprising and compelling WWII stories

Who am I?

I am the author of two books (the second is Leora’s Dexter Stories: The Scarcity Years of the Great Depression), a blogger, Iowa historian, and a regular contributor to Our American Stories. I’ve woven WII letters and newspaper clippings, along with memoirs and family stories, into the narrative. As Clabe and Leora Wilson’s oldest granddaughter, I also enjoy giving programs about the Wilson family, as well as TV and radio interviews.

I wrote...

Leora's Letters: The Story of Love and Loss for an Iowa Family During World War II

By Joy Neal Kidney, Robin Grunder,

Book cover of Leora's Letters: The Story of Love and Loss for an Iowa Family During World War II

What is my book about?

The five Wilson brothers of Dallas County, Iowa, enlisted. Only two came home. As the family optimist, their mother Leora wrote hundreds of letters, among all her regular chores, sending news and keeping up the morale of the whole family, which also included two daughters. Leora’s Letters is the compelling true account of a woman whose most tender hopes, of a home of her own and family living nearby, were disrupted by great losses. Yet she lived out four more decades with hope and tenacity and resilience.

The books I picked & why

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U-505: The Lone Wolf of Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry

By James E. Wise, Jr,

Book cover of U-505: The Lone Wolf of Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry

Why this book?

The day I was born, the German U-boat U-505 lurked off the west coast of Africa, awaiting American and Allied ships. The submarine was part of the Nazi’s fleet of “wolfpacks,” terrorizing the Atlantic, and even the East and Gulf Coasts of the United States. The book tells about the capture of the submarine after it had carried out a dozen patrols, sinking eight ships. It was secretly towed to Bermuda where the crew interned at a U.S. POW camp. Codebooks, an Enigma machine, and other materials found on board bolstered Allied codebreakers.

The U-505 was eventually donated to the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry, one of only four German WWII U-boats to survive as museum ships. The submarine was towed 3,000 miles from Portsmouth, NH, through the St. Lawrence River, and across four of the Great Lakes to Chicago. The logistics of getting the huge boat across traffic lanes is a fascinating part of this book. Today you may tour the U-505 at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry.

Typhoon: The Other Enemy: The Third Fleet and the Pacific Storm of December 1944

By Captain C. Raymond Calhoun,

Book cover of Typhoon: The Other Enemy: The Third Fleet and the Pacific Storm of December 1944

Why this book?

My uncle, a survivor of the sinking of the USS Yorktown (CV-5) at the Battle of Midway and months of combat (including kamikazes) as CEM of the USS Hancock (CV-19), referred me to this book about another terror they encountered while in combat aboard the Hancock. Strikes were canceled due to the severe typhoon. At the height of the storm, waves broke over the carrier’s flight deck, fifty-five feet above the waterline.

As commanding officer of a ship that came close to destruction in the typhoon of December 1944, the author of this book, Captain C. Raymond Calhoun, was in an unparalleled position to document a tragic ordeal that claimed 778 men, 3 destroyers, and more than 100 aircraft. This compelling account details for the first time the events surrounding the storm, as well as the controversial aftermath.

Divided into four parts--Prelude to a Typhoon, The Struggle for Survival, The Aftermath (including The Court’s Findings, Opinions, and Recommendations), and Summary--this very thorough history of the U.S. Third Fleet’s battle with a typhoon in the Philippine Sea includes appendices, notes, a bibliography, and an index.

Crosses in the Wind: Graves Registration Service in the Second World War

By Joseph James Shomon,

Book cover of Crosses in the Wind: Graves Registration Service in the Second World War

Why this book?

An important piece of history, especially since I have a young uncle, buried at an American cemetery in France, whose remains went through a very detailed Graves Registration process from southern Austria to a temporary cemetery in eastern France, before being permanently buried there.

I was interested in the technical training the unit underwent in Colorado before deploying to England. And the great care they took to make sure that identifications were certain and that personal items were protected to send home to loved ones.

This book was published before most of the overseas American cemeteries were officially open. It follows the 611th Quartermaster Graves Registration Company, which the author was the commanding officer of for twenty-one months, giving the reader a first-hand account of the dreadful but important job they undertook to care for our war dead.

Their unit alone buried more than 21,000 bodies, following the D-Day landings and on through Europe–“a work of respect for their dead comrades. . . .”

LST 388: A World War II Journal

By Robert William Von Der Osten, Barbara Von Der Osten,

Book cover of LST 388: A World War II Journal

Why this book?

This is a wonderful WWII memoir on so many levels. Robert von der Osten kept a journal during his time of service. He and his journal not only survived the war, but his ship did as well. The son of a WWI veteran became a radioman on the new LST-388 (Landing Ship Tank) which hauled equipment and men to North Africa, the UK, and made landings on Sicily, Salerno, and many trips to the beaches of Normandy. The US shipped over 1000 locomotives and about 20,000 rail cars to the UK. Railroad tracks were welded to the deck and ramp of LST-388. It made 29 round trips between England and France carrying rail cars.

This is not only the story of a young sailor and his corner of the massive war, but the story of a ship, taking it to its eventual fate after the war. Robert von der Osten eventually served on the NYPD, then taught high school and college. He didn't get his book finished, but his daughter Barbara did. It has several good pictures in it and is a real treasure.

Soldiers' Stories: A Collection of WWII Memoirs, Volume II

By Myra Miller, Kenn Miller (illustrator),

Book cover of Soldiers' Stories: A Collection of WWII Memoirs, Volume II

Why this book?

I was so taken by the first handsome volume of Soldiers’ Stories that I submitted stories for this one. The Wilson family story is laid out so well across eleven pages of this treasure. Five brothers served. Only two came home.

There are stories of men and women from every branch of the service, some who survived, some who did not. The memoirs are written by the veterans themselves, by family members, or interested friends.

There are stories about the Manhattan Project, Red Cross workers, Rosie the Riveter, men who have adopted the overseas graves of American fallen, even one who found dog tags in Belgium and did the research to find family members. One veteran is honored by memories of his 12-year-old great-grandson. Michelle Obama's grandfather's service is also documented.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in World War 2, Germany, and France?

5,215 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about World War 2, Germany, and France.

World War 2 Explore 866 books about World War 2
Germany Explore 262 books about Germany
France Explore 537 books about France

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Paratrooper!: The Saga of the U. S. Army and Marine Parachute and Glider Combat Troops during World War II, Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler's Eagle's Nest, and Facing the Mountain: A True Story of Japanese American Heroes in World War II if you like this list.