75 years ago today, the world watched while one European nation after another surrendered to Hitler’s forces. In America, everyone was wondering how much longer we could avoid direct involvement in the war—it seemed less like an option and more like an inevitability every day...

 

Five years later, Hitler and his associates would be defeated and the war would be over, thanks in no small part to a generation of selfless Americans. A selection of new materials available at the Ontonagon Township Library offers unique insight into how we got from 1940 to 1945 by providing an intimate look at a few of the people who made the transition from darkness to victory possible.

 

World War II in HD (DVD)

 

This series, developed by the History Channel, uses never-before-seen, fully restored colored film to bring the war to life in a way that post-WWII generations have not experienced. The film is coupled with personal stories from a handful of remarkable veterans, which links the incredible footage to the real-life horrors of the war-time experience.

 

Much of the footage is necessarily graphic, but the perspective gained by watching the series should put it on every American’s “must-watch” list.

 

Serenade to the Big Bird by Bert Stiles

 

Serenade is Denver native Bert Stiles’ account of his role as co-pilot of a B-17 bomber. A self-styled pacifist who had set himself on a promising career path as a writer, Stiles nonetheless went to serve his country as a member of the Army Air Force.

 

This narrative seamlessly weaves together hard fact and honest internal monologue in a way that is both effective and enjoyable to read. Stiles’ tale, broken down into loose chunks that do not always adhere to a particular sense of chronology or theme, flows in an almost dream-like way, and is in turns horrific and beautiful. Had Bert Stiles been able to produce more writing, he might be known today as the “Hemingway of the skies” due to his talent and style.

 

Instead of taking the well-earned trip home that was due to him, Bert Stiles immediately requested a transfer to a fighter pilot unit after he had completed his duties on the B-17 bomber. His request was granted; Bert Stiles would never see America again. He died at the age of 23 when his fighter crashed into the ground on an escort mission over Germany, and he was never able to realize his dream of becoming a novelist.

 

Serenade to the Big Bird, published posthumously, is his only book-length work.

 

(Bert Stiles’ story is one of those featured in the World War II in HD series, making Serenade an excellent companion reader for the DVDs.)

 

Dear Mom, So We Have a War… by Carl Bong

 

While Serenade to the Big Bird gives the reader a glimpse into one man’s experience in the skies over Europe, Dear Mom is a similarly intimate view into another American cockpit. But this one is half a world away, in the Pacific Theater.

 

Of Germany, Bert Stiles wrote, "The fields were just as green as England... They used the same sun down there, and the same moon. The sky was just as blue to them as to anyone at home probably. But for some reason the people down there were Nazis." But for a pilot like Richard Bong, flying over the foreign jungle islands of the Pacific, there would have been no sense of eerie familiarity. And, as a fighter pilot, Richard Bong would have been more concerned with the skies around him than the ground below. Bong's experience would have been very different than Stiles', and much of Dear Mom alludes to the surreal, unfamiliar nature of war over the Pacific.

 

Of course the name Richard Bong is already very familiar to military history buffs, but this impressively-compiled book offers a more personal view of America’s “Ace of Aces”. As the title implies, it features Richard Bong’s letters home, but also includes his logbook entries, testimonials from those who flew alongside him, and other interesting source documents.

 

Kaiten: Japan’s Secret Manned Suicide Submarine by Michael Mair and Joy Waldron

 

We're all familiar with Japan’s shocking “Divine Wind”, or  Kamikaze, initiative. What many people don’t know is that an underwater counterpart existed. The Kaiten (“Heaven Shaker”) was a suicide submarine program developed by the Japanese in an attempt to turn the tide of the war in the Pacific. Essentially little more than a manned torpedo, the Kaiten were single-pilot submersibles small enough to slip through submarine nets and other defenses.

 

This story almost never came to light due to Japan’s policy of destroying all military documentation after their surrender. But one survivor of the first Kaiten attack, a sailor on the USS Mississinewa, finally told his family the story before he died, and the ensuing search for truth would culminate in the writing of this remarkable book.

 

Authors Mair and Waldron take pains to tell the story from both sides, frequently switching perspective between the men of the USS Mississinewa and the Japanese warriors who were Bushido-bound to fight their enemy by any means necessary, even when the only possible outcome was a watery grave.

 

The Arsenal of Democracy: FDR, Detroit, and an Epic Quest to Arm an America at War by A. J. Baime

 

An in-depth look at one aspect of the “war at home”, The Arsenal of Democracy describes Detroit’s conversion from assembly-line economy to American war machine. While Detroit’s major role in wartime production is no secret, this topic has rarely received such detailed coverage as in A. J. Baime’s bestselling new book.

 

Many times, we see the topic of wartime production discussed in dry, numerical fact; little more than a footnote to the action occurring overseas. The Arsenal of Democracy aggressivelybucks that trend. Baime is able to weave the staggering numbers into a gripping narrative by playing on the tension between automotive pioneer Henry Ford and his son Edsel, who famously claimed that Ford could not only meet an order for 50,000 planes, but that they would refit their factories to produce “a bomber an hour”.

 

The Arsenal of Democracy is also a Michigan Notable Book for 2015