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...

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.

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The books I picked & why

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

Joy Neal Kidney Why did I love 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.

By James E. Wise, Jr,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked U-505 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

On 4 June 1944 the German submarine U-505 became the first man-of-war captured by the US Navy in battle on the high seas since the War of 1812. Attacked by the American hunter-killer force Task Group 22.3 off the coast of West Africa, the 750-ton U-boat was forced to the surface, boarded by American sailors and secretly towed to Bermuda. Renamed USS Nemo, it made a war bond subscription tour before docking to await scrapping. The book offers a vivid description of these events and continues the story by explaining how U-505 became a major attraction at the Museum of…


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

Joy Neal Kidney Why did I love 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.

By Captain C. Raymond Calhoun,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Typhoon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Book by C. Raymond Calhoun


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

Joy Neal Kidney Why did I love 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. . . .”

By Joseph James Shomon,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Crosses in the Wind as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Crosses in the Wind contains the first direct information about the services rendered to our war dead. It is the story of the men in Graves Registration Service whose monumental tasks have seldom been heralded, but whose honorable and reverent work should be made known. The book is written with a respect and a detached tenderness which makes it unique. The integrity of the writing - its excellent account of the war, the graves registration work which continued straight into combat areas, and the painstaking care which was observed - will do much to bring us closer to the men…


Book cover of LST 388: A World War II Journal

Joy Neal Kidney Why did I love 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.

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

Why should I read it?

1 author picked LST 388 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Through his journal entries, von der Osten takes us with him to war, from his training days in the newly created amphibious force, to practice beachings on the Chesapeake Bay; from the ports of North Africa and the United Kingdom, to the hostile shores of Sicily, Salerno, and Normandy. All the while serving as a radioman aboard this new kind of ship, the landing ship, tank.

Yet LST 388 is not just a sailor’s story but the story of a great landing ship, a ship that would sail with the largest armada in history during the invasion of Sicily. A…


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

Joy Neal Kidney Why did I love 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.

By Myra Miller, Kenn Miller (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Soldiers' Stories as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

For over five years the Miller Family, Myra Miller, PhD, Ken Miller, Del Miller, Marshall Miller, and Lynette Miller Ballard, have zealously gathered memoirs of World War II servicemen and servicewomen. In 2016 they published Soldiers' Stories: A Collection of WW II Memoirs. Now, on the 75th anniversary of the end of the war, they have given us a second volume. Were it not for the Miller Family, most of these stories would not have seen the light of day. Tom Brokaw popularized the phrase "The Greatest Generation." Read the stories and you will see why the title is deserved…


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A Long Way from Iowa: From the Heartland to the Heart of France

By Janet Hulstrand,

Book cover of A Long Way from Iowa: From the Heartland to the Heart of France

Janet Hulstrand Author Of A Long Way from Iowa: From the Heartland to the Heart of France

New book alert!

Who am I?

Author Reader Editor Francophile Minnesotan Once and forever Brooklynite

Janet's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

This memoir chronicles the lives of three generations of women with a passion for reading, writing, and travel. The story begins in 1992 in an unfinished attic in Brooklyn as the author reads a notebook written by her grandmother nearly 100 years earlier. This sets her on a 30-year search to find her grandmother’s journals and uncover the hidden interior lives of her mother and grandmother.

Her adventures take her to a variety of locations, from a small town in Iowa to New York, Washington, London, and Paris—and finally to a little village in France, where she is finally able to write the book that will tell her own story, intertwined with the stories of her mother and grandmother.

A Long Way from Iowa: From the Heartland to the Heart of France

By Janet Hulstrand,

What is this book about?

This story, about three generations of women with a passion for reading, writing, and travel, begins in 1992, in an unfinished attic in Brooklyn, as a young writer reads journals written by her grandmother as a schoolgirl nearly 100 years earlier. This sets her on a 30-year quest to uncover the hidden lives and unfulfilled dreams of her mother and grandmother. In this coming-of-middle-age memoir, the author comes to realize that the passion for travel and for literature that has fueled her life's journey is a gift that was passed down to her by the very role models she was…


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