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3 profound looks at front lines of bloody U.S. wars

As we observe Memorial Day some of us will be recalling the courage of those who have served our country during wartime. Here are some recent books that provide readers with some in depth insights into what it was like to be on the front lines during the most savage wars in our nation’s history.

“The Second World War” by Antony Beevor (Back Bay Books, 863 pages, $20)

My dad, Victor C. Mickunas, was one of the U.S. Marines who fought to extricate the Japanese invaders from the Pacific island of Saipan during World War II.

Following the Japanese surrender he was a member of the first USMC survey crew that surveyed the city of Nagasaki following the massive destruction caused there after the United States dropped the atom bomb. My father didn’t like talking about his wartime experiences.

The historian Antony Beevor has written what some critics are calling the definitive history of WWII. His book “The Second World War” was recently issued in paperback. This was a global war. Beevor transports us across the numerous flash points and battle scenes through a whirlwind of precise prose.

The author guides us from the outbreak of war to the atomic windstorms that ultimately ended it. Along the way we make frequent stops in places such as Poland, Norway, Denmark, France, the Balkans, Africa, Moscow, Pearl Harbor, China, the Philippines, Stalingrad, Casablanca, Burma, Sicily, Normandy, Berlin, Okinawa, Dresden, Yalta and Konigsberg. He delivers all of it in a compact, pithy package.

“The Great War: A Combat History of the First World War” by Peter Hart (Oxford University Press, 522 pages, $34.95)

World War I had been under way for a couple of years when the United States entered the conflict. My grandfather Amos C. Lee and his identical twin brother Orrin enlisted in the USMC. Soon thereafter they were enroute to France, the location of the worst battles of that war.

Amos never wanted to talk it. Now all those soldiers are gone, a long time passing.

Peter Hart just published “The Great War: A Combat History of the First World War.” Almost a century ago this horrific conflict began.

Some observers believe that WWI was a pointless war. This historian thinks otherwise. He begins his book with this statement: “the Great War was the single most important event of the twentieth century, shaping the world that we live in today.”

The primary focus of this book is the slowly shifting carnage across the Western and Eastern fronts. The flower of French youth had been sacrificed on the killing fields in places like Ypres and Verdun. The author asserts that the sacrifices of the French were a crucial bulwark in holding back the advances of the Central Powers led by Germany. The British were just beginning to tip the balance of the struggle when the Americans came surging in.

“Gettysburg: The Last Invasion” by Allen C. Guelzo (Knopf, 630 pages, $35)

Our American Civil War was raging 150 years ago. The first week of July will mark the 150th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg, This was the crucial turning point in the hostilities between the Union and the Confederate States.

Allen C. Guelzo, the director of Civil War Studies at Gettysburg College has published this account of the final desperate Confederate invasion of the north. This book takes us deep into the strategies of the opposing generals. And we see how seemingly minor decisions impacted the outcome of a monumental battle that ultimately turned the tides of war.

When the Confederate forces under Gen. Robert E. Lee crossed the Potomac River and headed north they cut themselves off from their railroad connection with Richmond, Va. This disconnection was just one factor that contributed to their stunning defeat.

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