This short list of books is meant to avoid the obvious works one might find in a Christmas list. So I’ve omitted great works like A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Charlie Brown Christmas (which I’ve included) is probably the only that would make the popular lists we often see because it’s so well known in our culture because of the television series that preceded the book.
The works below all have a strong Christmas connection, even the military history books and the two children’s book I included. This is of course by no means a complete list, but they are all accounts I have read and value. Any of them would make excellent gifts this year. Please feel free to add to this list in the comments section.
1) On the Incarnation of the Word: Simply one of the most profound and beautiful books ever written about Christ. On the Incarnation by Athanasius was written in the 4th Century. Very few works can penetrate the soul and explain the purpose and glory of God putting on human flesh like this one. Athanasius reminds of such ancient truths as, “For the death which they thought to inflict on Him as dishonor and disgrace has become the glorious monument to death’s defeat.” (more…)
‘Unbroken’ is a must read book about the survival, suffering, and redemption of World War II veteran Louis Zamperini. Zamperini, a former Olympic runner, served as a bombardier in the Pacific Theatre of the war. During a search and rescue mission, his B-24 crashed in the Pacific. Zamperini, battling starvation, sharks, and Japanese Zeroes, drifted in a life raft with two others for thousands of miles. But that was just the beginning of his epic battle for survival. He was picked up by the Japanese and made a prisoner of war. After his liberation from the camp at the end of the war, Zamperini’s life spiraled out of control from alcoholism, his only coping mechanism for his horrific wartime experience and the torture he suffered.
While I was reading this book by Laura Hillenbrand, it became clear to me that Christ was the only thing that could redeem Zamperini’s life. A few years after the war, Zamperini was transformed by the power of the Gospel at a Billy Graham Crusade in Southern California. Zamperini not only forgave his Japanese tormentors but worked a lifetime in ministry mentoring the young. Zamperini, born in 1917, currently lives in Hollywood, Calif.
One of the problems in evangelicalism today is the lack of leadership. There is a lack of uncompromising voices like a Billy Graham who is pointing the country to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
It’s folly to believe this country can be salvaged or reformed without a strong vibrant faith in the people. For the Christian, the remedy for sin is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is not all of the substitutes for the Gospel that has flooded our culture. Even big government now promises to treat so many of the symptoms of sin by trying and failing to build a heaven on earth.
Below is a short profile of Louis Zamperini introduced by Brett Baier at Fox News. His story represents so well the courage of many of our veterans and also points to the transformation of so many lives through the crusades of Billy Graham.
Our changing culture and society has now largely pushed Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s notable and resolute prayer over to the side of partisan politics. Today is of course the 69th anniversary of American, British, and Canadian forces landing at Normandy, a day Roosevelt declared in 1944 would preserve our way of life and “religion.”
But tributes and recognition of FDR’s prayer are often regulated to conservative blogs, news sources, and politicians now. There is even a bill that was passed by the House of Representatives during the 112th Congress to add the prayer to the WWII Memorial. It did not pass the U.S. Senate. The first House bill had 26 votes against the legislation. It is being reconsidered for this current 113th Congress, but seems to be languishing in committees in both legislative bodies.
It has been widely reported that the Obama administration rejects adding the prayer to the memorial.
The prayer strikes an outdated tone when compared to the cultural and religious worldview in much of our society today. Sure, some of those differences are striking for the reason of the seriousness and justness of the cause of the conflict, but it’s undeniable the firm and resolute worldview of FDR’s words are now considered controversial by many. FDR’s words ask for blessings and pay homage to the one true God and our beliefs and heritage in Western Civilization. His prayer begins with the words, “Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our Nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.”
Many conservative writers and thinkers praise FDR for the strength of his prayer. He reminded the listeners of who the enemy was and why, and what ultimate fate they would meet. He uses the word “righteous” to describe the efforts and cause of the Allied forces. The fact that his prayer now seems to be relegated to a more partisan sphere is a powerful reminder of the deeper divisions and clash of worldviews in this country.
Below is the full audio of the prayer FDR delivered 69 years ago today:
While enjoying time off this weekend, why not take some time to learn more about America’s military sacrifice in defense of liberty? Many of the best books I’ve ever read have been about American military history. When I worked for former Congressman Gene Taylor in Gulfport, Miss. one of my favorite parts of my job while working constituent services for veterans was listening to stories about battles from places like Okinawa, Khe Sanh, and Hue City. I’ve read all of the books compiled below and all of them tell magnificent stories of virtue, honor, sacrifice, and leadership. Obviously this is not a comprehensive list but I worked at including different conflicts and service branches. While I could expand it, I’m asking readers to add your own recommendations in the comment section.
1) The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors: This is easily one of the greatest books on Naval Warfare ever written. The author, James D. Hornfischer, weaves together a dramatic David and Goliath battle in the Pacific, where a force of U.S. destroyers and cruisers took on a Japanese fleet over ten times its size. It was perhaps the U.S. Navy’s finest hour during WWII, but it came with a monumental price. The sacrifice of these sailors deserve to be honored and forever remembered.
4)One Square Mile of Hell: I don’t understand how this narrative about the Battle of Tarawa by John Wukovits has never been made into a movie. The account is vivid and suspenseful with its description of the short lives for many Marines who landed on the Tarawa Atoll in 1943. This book too does a tremendous job of telling the stories of a few of the families who sacrificed their lives. It was also the first WWII battle that showed the bodies of dead Americans in newsreels to the public back home. Special permission had to be granted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to show the dramatic loss of life on film from this battle.
5) We Were Soldiers Once . . . and Young: A great chronicle of the Battle of the Ia Drang Valley in 1965 and the courageous men who served in the 1st Battalion of the 7th Cavalry. Written by retired Lt. General Harold Moore and war correspondent Joe Galloway, this book tells the stories of numerous heroic men like John Goeghegan and Willie Godbolt who paid the ultimate price in Vietnam. A popular movie based on the book was released in 2002.
6) With the Old Breed: Eugene B. Sledge was a superb writer and this is some of the best war literature you will ever find. Few accounts capture the human emotion of combat like With the Old Breed. I reviewed the book for Veterans Day in 2010.
7) House to House: This is simply a riveting account on the intense urban combat that wracked Fallujah, Iraq in November 2004. The battle is often referred to the Second Battle of Fallujah. I debated including this work over some other books because of some excessive cussing, but in the end I couldn’t keep it off the list. It’s an emotional and intense read and captures well the courage and sacrifice of so many who fought and died in Iraq during the bloodiest years of the war. SSG Bellavia paid tremendous tribute to the men that fought by his side.
I frequently noted in the field, how chaplains – to a man – sought out front line action. And I assume that was because, as one put it, at the time: ‘There is where the fighting man needs God most – and that’s where some of them know him for the first time. – U.S.M.C. Commandant A.A. Vandegrift, 1945
The last two decades has seen a surge in interest in popular historical study of America’s role in the Pacific and Europe during World War II in films and books but little to no individual attention has been given to the role of military chaplains. There were never enough chaplains to serve American soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen, but as Dorsett points out those that served found innovative and courageous ways to reach the men. “They can’t say that the church forgot them, when they were called into service and henceforth in their lives they will forget the church,” declared Lutheran Chaplain Edward K. Rogers. “They may forget the church and God, but the church and God’s pastors or priests did not forget them.” Chaplains were integral to America’s victory in Europe and the Pacific. This is the argument put forward in Serving God and Country: US Military Chaplains in World War II by Lyle Dorsett.
Outside of the famous four U.S. Army chaplains who sacrificed their lives to save fellow military and civilian men when the transport Dorchester sank in 1943, there is very little popular historical assessment of the enduring role of chaplains in the war and how they helped shape a post-war society. Chaplains broke new ground when it came to racial desegregation in training classes and contributed to greater ecumenical understanding between churches, denominations, and synagogues. “The clergy integrated well and became pioneers in the integration of the U.S. Armed Forces before President Harry S. Truman’s executive order 9981 of July 1948,” declared Dorsett.
Integration of ideas and practical ecumenicsm also flourished. For example, some Protestant pastors, while well educated, previously may have had limited interpersonal contact with other traditions and faiths like Judaism or Catholicism. As one chaplain pointed out, “It was harder to speak ill of one’s faith when that person was a friend.” Chaplains also had to be trained in the basic rudiments of other faiths in order to offer proper religious counsel for servicemen.
Undeniably, the United States on the eve of Pearl Harbor in 1941 was remarkably less secular than today. Chaplains or “chappies” were, with very few exceptions, Protestant, Roman Catholic, or Jewish. Parents, especially mothers, were comforted by the fact that their sons had professional shepherds to guide them in the field and throughout their military service. World War II was the first American conflict where published images, especially from the Pacific at bloody battles like Tarawa, would relay disturbing images to Americans at home. Chaplains were pressed to the limit on both fronts of the war, but the savage fighting of the Pacific island hopping campaign tested military chaplains to minister in what many combatants called “the depths of hell.” “By their patient, sympathetic labors with the men, day in and day out and through many a night, every chaplain I know contributed immeasurably to the moral courage of our fighting men,” added Admiral Chester W. Nimitz. (more…)
The history of America is filled with heroic tales of courage and sacrifice. At the outset of World War II, most of the world was under tyranny. Sixteen million Americans served the country during World War II. Four hundred thousand of those Americans died in the war. They made history at places like Wake Island, Guadalcanal, Okinawa, Salerno, Normandy, and the Ardennes. Most of the men who freed the world from Nazi and Imperialist Japanese aggression have now passed from this earth. But while almost 1,000 veterans of the conflict die a day, there are still about a million living in this country.
The “Honor Flight” documentary is an incredibly moving film about a few of these men from the Midwest. It captures American history and pride, and their trip to visit some of our nation’s monuments in Washington. And for many of them, this will be a last day of tribute that they will remember in their lives.
A recurring theme throughout the film is that many veterans did not talk about their experiences when they came home from the war. This fact was touched upon in a previous PowerBlog post about Marine veteran E.B. Sledge, who was a great writer and author of With the Old Breed. Admiral Chester Nimitz paid tribute to Americans like Sledge when he said of the men who took Iwo Jima, “Uncommon valor was a common virtue.”
Fortunately over the last couple of decades there have been a number of popular books, films, and new museums that have raised awareness of this war and its importance for liberty around the world for a new generation. There are great places like the National WWII Museum in New Orleans, and the book and film Band of Brothers, which tells the riveting and heroic story of “Easy Company” and their combat experience in Europe. “Honor Flight” is another important tribute that raises the awareness of the heroics of many of these men and the sacrifices they made for America and the world.
The goal of the Honor Flight program is to help “every single veteran in America, willing and able of getting on a plane or a bus, visit their memorial.” Since it is at no cost to the veteran a lot of money has to be raised. This film touches on some of the monumental fundraising efforts that made this trip possible.
Featured in this film are the stories of Harvey Kurz, Orville Lemke, Julian Plaster, and Joe Demler. These are humble men. Almost humorously, the film features footage of Kurz, holding down a job and bagging groceries at his local Pick n’ Save. Kurz, of course, is probably at least in his late 80s. Demler, also known as “the human skeleton,” wasted away to 70 pounds in a German POW camp during the conflict.
What is so amazing about this film is the way it brings veterans and families together to reap so many memories and moments of joy. So many men are reunited and given a worthy and tremendous tribute. They share stories for the first time and take us back to a time when the world was at war and American blood was shed on the soil, beaches, skies, and oceans across the world. This film is worth seeing and while many have come before “Honor Flight” to give World War II veterans their due and tell their story, this is a reminder of just how many we are losing and that they are indeed “The Greatest Generation.”
One of the powerful things about Memorial Day is that we live in a community and an America that is worthy of sacrifice. Many feel, for good reason, the foundational ideals of our Republic are in peril. The proclamation of the first Memorial Day by General John A. Logan in 1868 stated the importance of guarding the graves of those slain in battle with “sacred vigilance.” It is a calling bestowed upon all of us to toil for improvement of the common good and a better nation. We should constantly ask ourselves how do we sustain freedom and what can we do to spread liberty across our land? The Liberty Bell in Philadelphia bears an inscription that comes from Leviticus 25:10: “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.”
The men and women of the Armed Forces often remind us of the best aspects of our nation. It is beneficial and a blessing to educate ourselves on the military history of this country. Lexington and Concord, Antietam, Belleau Wood, Tarawa, Khe Sanh, and Ramadi, Iraq are just a few of the places covered by American blood. In Europe, one can easily be overwhelmed by row after row and cemetery after cemetery of American dead from the great wars of the 20th century.
In so many ways America stands at a precipice. Our debt is crippling the nation, we have a bloated moral deficit, and we no longer share a common purpose. These are all serious and seemingly overwhelming obstacles. But America has faced overwhelming odds before.
One of the most moving books I ever read was The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors: The Extraordinary World War II Story of the U.S. Navy’s Finest Hour by James D. Hornfischer. Hornfischer, a naval historian, called it the greatest upset in the entire history of naval warfare. But of course victory came at a tremendous price. Known as the Battle off Samar (island), it is an epic David vs. Goliath story. Take time to learn the sacrifice of those sailors and what they endured for our country. The book of Deuteronomy declares, “Remember the days of old; consider the generations long past.”
Take time this weekend to remember and give thanks for the sacrifice of our Armed Forces, especially those who paid with their life in defense of this land and its ideals. Remember to pray for peace and for the families who recently lost loved ones in defense of this country. Below is an exceptional and haunting video with still photos from Arlington National Cemetery:
For our air superiority, which by the end of 1944 was to become air supremacy, full tribute must be paid to the United States Eighth Air Force. – Winston S. Churchill
The young pilots and crews that took to the skies to defend democracy and liberate a continent are among the most committed and courageous to ever serve this country. When the United States entered the war, it was the greatest Air Armada to ever be assembled. However, most pilots and crews before their training had never flown before. Many of them came from small towns and farms. They were extremely bright and well educated. Most importantly deep courage was needed for early missions that resulted in an 80 percent casualty rate for the crews of the Mighty Eighth in the early stages of the war. Their commitment to a free Europe was tested by horrific experiences and mental and physical anguish. There were no foxholes in the skies, nowhere to hide, only the duty to carry out the mission and deliver the bombs amid a sky littered with enemy fighters and flak. “Perhaps at no other time in the history of warfare has there been been such a relationship among fighting men as existed with the combat crews of heavy bombardment aircraft,” says Starr Smith, former Eighth Air Force intelligence officer.
In October 1943, fewer than one out of four Eighth Air Force crew members could expect to complete his tour of duty: twenty-five combat missions. The statistics were discomforting. Two-thirds of the men could expect to die in combat or be captured by the enemy. And 17 percent would either be wounded seriously, suffer a disabling mental breakdown, or die in a violent air accident over English soil. Only 14 percent of fliers assigned to Major Egan’s Bomb Group when it arrived in England in May 1943 made it to their twenty-fifth mission. By the end of the war, the Eighth Air Force would have more fatal casulaties -26,000- than the entire United States Marine Corps. Seventy-seven percent of the Americans who flew against the Reich before D-Day would wind up as casualties.
Below is a tribute video of The Mighty Eighth and links to past Veterans Day posts:
…my obsession has been that we should have a revolution that does not resemble the French or Russian, but rather the American, in the sense that it be for something, not against something. A revolution for a constitution, not a paradise. An anti-utopian revolution. Because utopias lead to the guillotine and the gulag.
Cohen observes the smooth constitutional transition of power upon the death of the Polish head of state, and points hopefully toward the potential for reconciliation between Warsaw and Moscow. In Cohen’s words, the show of grief by Vladimir Putin upon the anniversary of the Katyn murders signifies “the miracle of a Europe whole and free been built. Now that Europe extends eastward toward the Urals.”
The year is 1943 and Valkyrie, the second release under the revamped United Artists brand, opens with German officer Claus von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise) on assignment in Africa. He had been sent there because his opposition to Hitler and the Nazi regime had become dangerously explicit and bellicose. His promotion to lieutenant-colonel of the general staff and transfer from the European lines to Africa is intended to give him some protection from pro-Nazi officers who might make trouble for him.
An attack on a transport column in Africa leaves Stauffenberg badly wounded. He loses his left eye, the fourth and fifth fingers of his left hand, and his right hand above the wrist. Given director Bryan Singer’s resume (which includes X-Men) and the opening sequence, initial concerns that the film might be turned into an action movie are quickly dispelled. Given that the end of the movie is never in doubt, the movie never quite becomes a suspense thriller either. Yet Valkyrie still manages to deliver a thought-provoking and moving story of loyalty, betrayal, sacrifice, and doubt. (more…)