Lt. Gen. Harold G. Moore and journalist Joe Galloway, who once accompanied Moore into the field, wrote the acclaimed book We Were Soldiers Once … and Young about a battle in the Ia Drang Valley of Vietnam. The book, published in 1992, was a New York Times Bestseller. We don’t often think of our military leaders as writers outside the very narrow realm of treatises on war or leadership, but that would be a mistake. Indeed, many of America’s most famous (and infamous) military leaders have left behind stacks of papers, speeches, and articles which have been collected and published over the years. But some also wrote poetry and authored books of note, often sharing how their early life, their education, and their mentors helped make them the men they were and prepared them for what fate sent their way.
A quick search of the men who served at the highest echelons during World War II produced the following list of works.
Dwight David Eisenhower (1890-1969)
General, Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in Europe
President of the United States
Graduated from West Point.
Led the planning and execution of the invasion into Normandy, driving the Nazi’s from France. He later served two terms in the White House during the Cold War and later the Korean War.
The general and president penned his memoirs, including Crusade in Europe (Doubleday, 1948), an account of the events of the war in Europe, and Mandate for Change (Doubleday, 1963), and Waging Peace (Doubleday, 1965), a summary of his administration as 34th President. It is his book, At Ease: Stories I Tell to Friends (Eastern Acorn,1981) however, that offers a more personal side of the man who was less well known as a writer and storyteller. The book brims over with tales of his early life, meeting his wife, Mamie, their wedding and first years together, as well as numerous life lessons.
William Frederick “Bull” Halsey (1882-1959)
Fleet Admiral, US Navy
One of four military leaders to attain the rank of fleet admiral.Graduated from the Naval Academy and was an expert in warfare using carrier-based aircraft. He became known for his tactics and played a critical part in the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the largest naval battle of World War II.
Halsey co-authored his own story titled Admiral Halsey’s Story with J. Bryan (Whittlesey House in 1947). The book begins:
“My life reached its climax on August 29, 1945 I can fix even the minute, 9:25 a.m., because my log for the forenoon watch that day contains this entry: “Steaming into Tokyo Bay COMTHIRDFLEET in Missouri. Anchored at 0925 in berth F71.” For forty-five years my career in the United States Navy had been building toward that moment. Now those years were fulfilled and justified.”
(Note: The USS Missouri is the battleship on which representatives of the Empire of Japan officially surrendered on September 2, 1945.)
Curtis LeMay (1906-1990)
General, US Air Force
Implemented America’s effective air campaign in the Pacific Theater during the Second World War. His detractors point to the controversial firebombing of Tokyo and the bombing of highly populated areas. Nevertheless, LeMay was known for leading from the front and later became the Chief of Staff of the US Air Force.
Le May also chronicled his story, Mission with LeMay: My Story, which he co-authored with MacKinlay Kantor (Doubleday, 1965). Reviewers say the book is at once personal and outspoken. In the book, LeMay writes:
“I managed to get the words out, ‘Sir, I would like to enlist in one of your batteries, in case you have a vacancy.’
He looked me over slowly. ‘Why all the eagerness to enlist in one of my batteries, son?’
Seemed like it was best to come to the point without any stalling around. ‘Sir, the reason I want to– I want to get up on the eligibility list to get into the Air Corps flying school.’”
LeMay would make it to flying school and to the head of the US Air Force.
Douglas MacArthur (1880-1964)
General, US Army
Graduated at the top of his class at West Point.
Served as General of the Army for the US and Field Marshal to the Philippine Army during World War II. Awarded the Medal of Honor. And although he was removed by President Truman for insubordination, MacArthur was popular and celebrated as a hero on his return to the US in 1951.
While most who know anything of the general might quote his most famous line, “Old soldiers never die, they simply fade away,” from his farewell to Congress in 1951, MacArthur also wrote a prayer sometimes referred to as a poem titled, “Build Me a Son.”
Selected verses, include:
“Build me a son, O Lord, who’ll be strong enough to know
When he is weak, and knows enough to face himself when he’s afraid;
Who’ll be proud and unbending in honest defeat,
And humble and gentle in victory.
Build me a son whose heart will be clear and whose goal will be high,
A son who will master himself before he seeks to master other men;
One who will learn to laugh, yet not forget to weep,
One who will reach into the future, yet never forget the past.”
George Smith Patton, Jr. (1885-1945)
General, US Army
Attended Virginia Military Institute and West Point.
Commanded the 7th US Army in the Mediterranean Theater and then the 3rd US Army after the Normandy invasion. He achieved much success when allowed to pursue aggressive offensive action, but his accomplishments were overshadowed by his abrasive personality, controversial positions, and unapproved public statements.
Another flamboyant and controversial figure, Patton, wrote a number of books, including, War as I Knew It (1947), Cavalry and Tanks in Future Wars (Dale Street Books 2019), and The Poems of General George S. Patton, Jr.: Lines of Fire (Edwin Mellen Pr, 1991). His memoir, while mostly a compilation of his letters, includes his memories as he swept through Europe at the head of the Third Army. In the book, he writes:
“In forty hours, I shall be in battle, with little information, and on the spur of the moment will have to make momentous decisions, but I believe that one’s spirit enlarges with responsibility and that with God’s help, I shall make them and make them right. It seems that my whole life has been pointed to this moment.”
And, said to believe in reincarnation, in his poem, “Through a Glass Darkly,” Patton recounts battles he might have fought in past lives. The last verses are:
So as through a glass, and darkly
The age long strife I see
Where I fought in many guises,
Many names, but always me.
And I see not in my blindness
What the objects were I wrought,
But as God rules o’er our bickerings
It was through His will I fought.
So forever in the future,
Shall I battle as of yore,
Dying to be born a fighter,
But to die again, once more.”
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Coming soon, military leaders who are writers too from Korea, to Vietnam, to the Middle East.