Invisible Heroes of World War II is a collection of unique stories of WW2 heroes that we don’t hear so much about, or, as the subtitle more accurately conveys: “Extraordinary Wartime Stories of Ordinary People”. The first half of the book focuses on the stories of individuals, the second on groups of people who performed heroic feats together over the course of the war. The main focus is on people from the US on the battlefield, behind enemy lines, and at home.
I really enjoyed how Jerry Borrowman gave life to stories that are not so “popular” in WW2 historical fiction and movies nowadays. The story of Pat Patton, survivor of the Bataan death march, who hid in the Philippines for over a year, continuing to fight the Japanese until he was captured, and then survived capture, is incredible. The fact that the Navajo code talkers had to keep their wartime activities a secret until 1968, never mentioning how they basically helped turn the war around, is insane. The stories of the engineers, whose work was a huge part of the Allied victory were fascinating. I spent ages researching images of the Bailey Bridge and trying to visualize how amazing a feat it would have been to install one under enemy fire in the space of a few days. Incredible.
All of the stories are interesting: those missing in action, whose bodies have never been found, the woman photographer and journalist who found herself on the frontlines, the Nisei battalions whose courage saved stranded soldiers, despite the fact that their home country has incarcerated many other first and second generation Japanese-Americans. I could go on, as there are more in the book.
I personally think that there were some stories that were missing from the collection (I think all readers can probably think of their own missing stories), but as the book is mainly US-focused, maybe they wouldn’t have a real place in the book anyway. What comes to mind are the Polish Army in Monte Cassino, Italy, a huge deal especially when you know that many of the soldiers had spent time in Stalin’s gulags before being set free post German invasion of the USSR. Another story is that of the village of Oradour-sur-Glane, decimated by the Nazis in 1944, or maybe Jean Prévost, resistant in the Vercors. Obviously I would love to see these types of stories also appear more in mainstream media as they are part of my own personal heritage and legacy.
In any case, Invisible Heroes of World War II is a good read if you are interested in WW2 stories, stories of heroism, learning more about unsung heroes of war. I consider myself a bit of a know-it-all about Europe during WW2, but I learnt a lot from this book!
Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the advance copy!