Writing Wednesday – Book Review “When Books Went To War”

I suspect I’m like many people with a stack of books 10 feet high next to their beds or on their desks. Currently I am reading four books which I do intend to finish and review on my blog in the next couple of months. I worked so much in the fall completing client books there was just no desire to read anything else even though this book in particular grabbed my attention.

When Books Went To warWhen Books Went To War The Stories that Helped us Win World War II by Molly Guptill Manning was a fascinating read. A part of World War II history I had barely heard of and knew nothing about. I am a lover of books and feel rich when I’m surrounded by them so a book about books was exciting to find! And, one which centers on World War II – even better!

Manning takes the reader on a journey through World War II from 1933 when Germany was banning and burning books to the late 1940s after the programs ended. Librarians and other groups of U.S. citizens were appalled by the Nazi book banning and burning across Europe and fought to first obtain donated books for our U.S. troops when we entered the war. Our troops were on one hand, fighting a war of ideas learned in books. Our country is about democracy, free speech, the spread of ideas and education, all to build a better country. What better way to accomplish this than providing books to our troops, many of which would have never attended college or likely picked up a book after their early education was finished.

Manning explains the history of the Victory Book Campaign (VBC) which obtained books through public donation, which was the first attempt at providing troops with books. She then moves to the changes which occurred with that program and publishers across the country to produce the Armed Services Edition (ASE.) The ASEs were small, paper, pocketbooks, easily manufactured and small enough to fit into a soldier’s pocket. These books were distributed to the troops before they departed the U.S. for overseas and millions of books were shipped overseas.

Throughout the histories of the book campaigns, the global war, and life on the homefront, Manning sprinkles in many examples and portions of letters sent to the publishers and authors about the books. Soldiers overall felt these books were one of, if not THE, best thing the military could have done to boost morale. During downtime, travel, or as one soldier wrote, he read while pinned down and injured in a ditch while bullets and shells exploded around him. All he could do was escape through his book until the fighting ceased and someone was able to find him. Many soldiers wrote letters telling the publishers they were never interested in books until the ASEs and were now readers for life.

One book was repeatedly mentioned as a favorite, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I have not read this book and had not heard of it until now but I plan to read it. The author does provide a lengthy appendix of all the ASEs produced by year and series number. Many books were reprinted year after year because of demand from the soldiers.

The program did have issues throughout the war as politicians and others tried to ban or censor what was read by the troops. Some books were seen as too arousing to send to troops. Books like Strange Fruit were banned in Boston (yes BANNED in a country fighting banning and book burning!) Strange Fruit was seen as scandalous with too many sexual scenes and therefore inappropriate. Ultimately the soldiers view won and the books similar to this were printed.

Late in the war as FDR was preparing to run for his Fourth Term, Congress wanted a bill passed to allow servicemen and women overseas to vote absentee. As part of this bill, the Taft brothers, both Republicans, began to toss in roadblocks. Title V was added to this bill restricting ANY publication and distribution to troops of literature, media, pamphlets or anything else that had any political issue or slant to it. the Republicans did not want FDR to have his Fourth Term so did all they could to make the bill and Title V a pain for everyone. Title V was meant to prevent political media to be sent to troops and the Army took this literally and removed all books from their curriculum with any political information, including classes and important training manuals. Publishers had to adjust which books were printed. Many groups fought for the right to read anything and not censor what the troops read overseas.

I laughed out loud at one section of this debate regarding the Soldier voting bill thinking about current events between the Democrats and Republicans. A poll was taken overseas and based on the results, FDR would have been re-elected. The author stated, “Thus, there was a political incentive for Republicans to complicate the procedures for overseas voting, while Democrats strove to simplify it.” If you think about political events the last few years, it seems history repeated itself. In the end, the Army and other major publishing and governmental forces made the Taft brothers look so bad, Title V was amended and all but repealed.

In the end, the ASEs were a resounding success and the author explained how reading helped win the war and go on to educate thousands of men after the war. With the help of the G.I. Bill, many who prior to the war would have never attended college, were able to go. The veterans WANTED to go and overall were better students than the civilians. The books they read for leisure, escape, to remember home, and learn something along the way, helped create a new future for them and our country.

I highly recommend this book even if you are not interested in World War II. It will provide a lesson in how important books are, not just for education, but for our spirits and hearts. Have you read this book? What did you think? Do you plan to read any of the ASEs listed in the appendix?

© 2015, Jennifer Holik, Woodridge, IL


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Military Monday – USMC Pvt. William F. Cowart, A Case Study Part 2

Cowart IDPF Photo

Pvt. William F. Cowart

The last few weeks I have been exploring USMC records related to the death of Pvt. William F. Cowart. Week one I gave a partial book review of Tarawa The Story of a Battle. This post brought up a lot of topics regarding USMC records for World War II and issues on which I believe we should all gain some education. Week two I provided a brief history of the Battle of Tarawa to provide some historical context through which we will analyze records.

Week three I discussed the USMC Casualty Cards and what Cowart’s card contained and what it means. This week we will look at the Service Record (OMPF) for Cowart as it relates to his death and determination of UNRECOVERABLE after the war. At the end of December I wrote a related post about a Marine Aviator and his gunner who were listed as MIA and then given a Finding of Death (FOD). You can read that to learn more about USMC death records.

Cowart’s Casualty Card stated his death date was taken from a Certificate of Death. This is included in his Service File and is shown below. It contains his vital information, the name of his next-of-kin according to the most current records available on file. The USMC and Navy did not have the proof of marriage to his wife in New Zealand which is likely why she is not listed as the next-of-kin. His wife did not send the military a copy of her marriage certificate until 26 Nov 1943.[1] It shows his original admission place as his final unit with his death date and location. The cause of death is NOT KNOWN on the certificate. It was later determined he died by gunshot wounds.[2]

Cowart Death Certificate

Cowart’s widow received a telegram from the Navy on 11 January 1944 which gave general information about her husband’s death. No specifics were provided as to date, location, cause of death or burial location for security reasons.[3] Soon after, official letters were sent to both Cowart’s widow and parents which stated Cowart had been IDENTIFIED and the USMC knew where he was buried.

Cowart telegram to widow re deathThe AIRMAILGRAM referenced in the Casualty Card was included in the service file. It is shown below and confirms what was typed in the Casualty Card.[4]

This is the point where things change regarding the records. Usually, many of the documents and letters from family to the military regarding the death, temporary burial location and final interment of the Soldier Dead, would be included in the Individual Deceased Personnel File (IDPF.) Due to the hasty burials on Tarawa and lack of records created because the Graves Registration Service was not present, some of these records appear in his service file.

Prior to the end of the war, both Cowart’s widow and mother asked about the final interment of his remains. It wasn’t until 1947 that the military began asking families about their wishes. Cowart’s file contains many letters from his widow and mother regarding this issue. His widow stated in one letter she wished for his remains to be returned home where he had lived prior to the war. Both women were under the assumption he was identified, the USMC knew where he was located, and his remains would be sent home.

This was not the case.

On 10 November 1947, Cowart’s mother received a letter from the Commandant of the USMC explaining in detail the loss of Cowart’s remains.[5]

Cowart 10 Nov 1947 ltr pg 1Cowart 10 Nov 1947 ltr pg 2

Can you imagine receiving a letter like this after receiving word the military knew where you son or husband was buried? On 24 February 1947, the County Service Commissioner of Carrollton, Alabama, on behalf of Cowart’s mother, wrote a letter to the Headquarters of the USMC. In this letter he referenced the book Tarawa The Story of a Battle by Sherrod and included a snippet and page number on which Cowart was named.[6]

Cowart 24 Feb 1947 ltr naming book

A letter was sent to Mrs. Cowart by Captain Edwin Clarke, of the USMC, explaining based on all documentation received at that point in time, Cowart’s remains were unidentified. He explained all remains on Tarawa were being removed and taken to Hawaii for further identification. The Central Identification Laboratory (CIL), which attempted to identify remains after World War II was located in Hawaii.[7]

As of the date of this post, Cowart’s remains have still not been identified.

Next week we will examine the IDPF of Pvt. Cowart.


[1] OMPF, William F. Cowart, serial no. 471443, Letter from Lesley A. Cowart to Commandant USMC dated 26 Nov 1943, National Personnel Records Center, St. Louis, MO.

[2] OMPF, William F. Cowart, serial no. 471443, Certificate of Death, National Personnel Records Center, St. Louis, MO.

[3] OMPF, William F. Cowart, serial no. 471443, Telegram to Lesley Cowart regarding death of husband dated 11 Jan 1944, National Personnel Records Center, St. Louis, MO.

[4] OMPF, William F. Cowart, serial no. 471443, AIRMAILGRAM received 29 Jan 1944, National Personnel Records Center, St. Louis, MO.

[5] OMPF, William F. Cowart, serial no. 471443, Letter to Mrs. Cowart (mother) dated 10 Nov 1947, National Personnel Records Center, St. Louis, MO.

[6] OMPF, William F. Cowart, serial no. 471443, Letter to USMC HQ from County Commissioner dated 24 Feb 1947, National Personnel Records Center, St. Louis, MO.

[7] OMPF, William F. Cowart, serial no. 471443, Letter to Mrs. Cowart (mother) from Capt. Clarke, USMC dated 1 Apr 1947, National Personnel Records Center, St. Louis, MO.

© 2015, Jennifer Holik, Woodridge, IL

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Writing Wednesday – I Found My Writing Tribe

Early in January I joined another local writer’s group on MeetUp.com. This group meets every week for two hours and each person writes their own projects. At the end of two hours we gather together and talk about what we worked on, struggles we are having, plans for the future, and anything else we want to discuss.

I left this MeetUp feeling accomplished because I finished writing a chapter of my new book and I started on a second chapter. The stopping point came at a good time because I needed to stop and think about where the new chapter was headed. Right as we ended I realized it was not going where I initially thought it would and I ended up the next day, moving it into a different chapter. The energy of the location and group was fantastic.

The group changes every week based on who can attend but the first night I met a poet/screenplay writer, a spiritual writer, an academic, and fantasy novel writer, and a woman who wants to write short stories. I walked out of there so excited because I finally found my Writing Tribe. A group of people who seem to fit together, are positive, and all working to better their writing. I also believe the universe conspires to give us what we need and this particular group of people and their writing types are what I need right now.

I learned a few things after attending this group. They were:

1. I write better outside of my house in the company of people with whom I either interact or do not. Their energy and the energy of a place help push me forward. I call these magical places and I have written in some (usually coffee shops) which are not magical and their energy is not good.

2. I had no WiFi at this restaurant where we met. No distraction of email, FaceBook, Twitter, etc. I put my phone on silent and left it in my purse until we were done. Eliminating the distractions and for what I was doing that day, not needing to search things online, I wrote more.

3. Everyone shared about their writing or what they did those two hours and we discussed fears, struggles, successes, and plans without judgment. Positive conversation was held and encouragement was given.

I cannot attend this group every week due to other commitments but I plan to go as often as possible. If you have ever thought about joining a writing group, I encourage you to check them out and see how they work for you. You may have to attend a couple sessions or different groups to find the tribe that fits you, but it is worth the time.

Have you joined a writing group? What has your experience been?

© 2015, Jennifer Holik, Woodridge, IL

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