The best books about women in uniform in World War II

Karen Berkey Huntsberger Author Of I'll Be Seeing You: Letters Home from a Navy Girl
By Karen Berkey Huntsberger

Who am I?

I’ve been devoted to reading memoirs since childhood. My favorite memoirs are based on letters written by people who served in World War II. Their letters encapsulate their experiences with an intimacy meant only for their loved ones. I am fascinated with the immediacy of their personal experience, the longing for home, and the courage to carry on that is expressed in these letters. I continue to be astonished and inspired by the lives of “ordinary” people who tell their own extraordinary stories better than anyone else could. I am the author of two non-fiction books based on letters and my current project is a World War II-era historical novel.

I wrote...

I'll Be Seeing You: Letters Home from a Navy Girl

By Karen Berkey Huntsberger,

Book cover of I'll Be Seeing You: Letters Home from a Navy Girl

What is my book about?

Frustrated with a career she did not like, Lucy Berkey enlisted in the Navy WAVES in 1943. She chronicled her life in letters home for two and a half years. Lucy’s vivid and captivating letters are filled with warmth, humor, and love for family and friends. She details her training, work as a map artist in Washington, DC, travel, and the unique friendships and camaraderie that developed between the women of the WAVES. Lucy’s story of personal and professional transformation, told against the backdrop of World War II, provides insight into what it was like to be a young military woman receiving the same rank and pay as a man for the first time in history.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Destination Unknown: Adventures of a WWII American Red Cross Girl

Why did I love this book?

I absolutely love the layout of this book–the title, the photos, and the fonts. This irresistible chapter heading made me want to know more: “Training: Thrilled to Death with Everything.” At the start of the book, I knew nothing about World War II Red Cross volunteers and next to nothing about the war in Africa. LeOna’s letters are so exuberant with descriptions so vivid you feel like you are walking in her footsteps. I love the photos with her smiling face. I finished this book with a deep respect for the dedicated women who worked so hard to provide soldiers with comfort and a connection to home.

By LeOna Cox, Kathleen Cox,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

From Kathleen Cox: Her name was LeOna Kriesel, and she was 27-years-old; a recent graduate from University of Minnesota and teaching at Allegheny College. When a fellow Allegheny teacher revealed he was also a recruiter for the American Red Cross he said, “LeOna, I’ve been observing you. I believe you’d make a good Red Cross Girl. Are you interested in applying for the job?” It took LeOna just seconds to exclaim, “Would I, you bet I would!” LeOna was my mother. Growing up I heard her stories about running enlisted men’s social clubs in Constantine, Algeria, and Rome, Italy, from…

We're in this War, Too: World War II Letters from American Women in Uniform

By Judy Barrett Litoff (editor), David C. Smith (editor),

Book cover of We're in this War, Too: World War II Letters from American Women in Uniform

Why did I love this book?

The authors spent ten years researching and acquiring the 30,000 letters that resulted in this collection portraying the wide range of experiences of women in uniform during World War II. I’ve returned to this book often during my research and would recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more about the role women played during the war. These eyewitness accounts of the day-to-day lives of ordinary women stepping up to do extraordinary things are compelling and inspirational.

By Judy Barrett Litoff (editor), David C. Smith (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked We're in this War, Too as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Veterans' Day, 1993. The Vietnam memorial, Washington, D.C. Tearful thousands gather for the unveiling of a new monument, a long-overdue tribute to the women who served in Southeast Asia. The event was a powerful reminder of the importance of women in the war--and of its emotional role in their own lives. Yet Vietnam was not the first war in which American women enlisted alongside men. Fifty years ago, an even greater conflict engulfed the lives of tens of thousands of women as they joined the Second World War. Now Judy Barrett Litoff and David C. Smith recapture their experiences in…

Book cover of Our Mothers' War: American Women at Home and at the Front During World War II

Why did I love this book?

The author’s extensive research opened my eyes to how life changed for women in World War II. The stories presented range from inspiring to heart-wrenching. Women were called on to step outside of traditional roles during the war. They volunteered to be involved in myriad ways with commitment, passion, and an earnest desire to contribute their skills. I’ve gone back to this book repeatedly when writing. A must-read for every woman interested in women’s history. 

By Emily Yellin,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Our Mothers' War as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Our Mothers' War is a stunning and unprecedented portrait of women during World War II, a war that forever transformed the way women participate in American society.

Never before has the vast range of women's experiences during this pivotal era been brought together in one book. Now, Our Mothers' War re-creates what American women from all walks of life were doing and thinking, on the home front and abroad. These heartwarming and sometimes heartbreaking accounts of the women we have known as mothers, aunts, and grandmothers reveal facets of their lives that have usually remained unmentioned and unappreciated.

Our Mothers'…

Book cover of The Red Cross Letters: A Real Life Account 1944-1946

Why did I love this book?

My favorite thing about this book is that it contains copies of the actual letters sent home by Dorothy, about half handwritten and the other half typed. The accompanying photos and newspaper clippings enhance the narrative of her work and travel in England. This is one of the most complete sets of letters I’ve ever seen. Dorothy was the Red Cross secretary at a U.S. Army hospital located at a country estate (think Downton Abbey). I love her conversational tone, charming descriptions, and positive attitude. I almost felt like I was her mother reading the letters as they arrived so many years ago.  

By Dorothy Trebilcox,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Red Cross Letters as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Like many American women during World War II, Dorothy F. Trebilcox (Eiland) wanted to be a part of the war effort. She found her opportunity by serving in the Red Cross in England. This book contains her numerous letters home, exactly as she wrote them, describing her life and adventures from 1944 to 1946. Leaving Sacramento by train, she describes the journey eastward, crossing the Atlantic under threat of U-boats, and daily life in the Red Cross in England during these tumultuous times.

The Beantown Girls

By Jane Healey,

Book cover of The Beantown Girls

Why did I love this book?

I’ve read this book twice in the last year. Even though I knew what happened, it was a page-turner the second time through. Healey clearly did extensive research to give her characters such authentic things to say and feel–they became very real to me. This book doesn’t hide the realities of war. The descriptions of the hard work Red Cross Clubmobile girls did near battlefronts are spot on and the camaraderie between the trio of main characters is beautifully written. Make sure you have a box of tissues handy! 

By Jane Healey,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Beantown Girls as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An Amazon Charts and Washington Post bestseller.

A novel of love, courage, and danger unfolds as World War II's brightest heroines-the best of friends-take on the front lines.

1944: Fiona Denning has her entire future planned out. She'll work in city hall, marry her fiance when he returns from the war, and settle down in the Boston suburbs. But when her fiance is reported missing after being shot down in Germany, Fiona's long-held plans are shattered.

Determined to learn her fiance's fate, Fiona leaves Boston to volunteer overseas as a Red Cross Clubmobile girl, recruiting her two best friends to…

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