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The Few Da Capo Press Alex Kershaw

18th January 2013 History Books 45 Comments

By the summer of 1940 World War II had been under way for nearly a year. Hitler was triumphant and planning an invasion of England. But the United States was still a neutral country and, as Winston Churchill later observed, “the British people held the fort alone.” A few Americans, however, did not remain neutral. They joined Britain’s Royal Air Force to fight Hitler’s air aces and help save Britain in its darkest hour. The Few is the never-before-told story of these thrill-seeking Americans who defied their country’s neutrality laws to fly side-by-side with England’s finest pilots. They flew the lethal and elegant Spitfire, and became “knights of the air.” With minimal training and plenty of guts they dueled the skilled pilots of Germany’s Luftwaffe in the blue skies over England. They shot down several of Germany’s fearsome aces, and were feted as national heroes in Britain. By October 1940, they had helped England win the greatest air battle in the history of aviation. At war’s end, just one of the “Few” would be alive. The others died flying, wearing the RAF’s dark blue uniform-each with a shoulder patch depicting an American eagle. As Winston Churchill said, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

With his customary narrative drive, Kershaw (The Bedford Boys: One American Town’s Ultimate D-Day Sacrifice) spotlights the handful of American pilots who joined the Royal Air Force and its fighter squadrons during the Battle of Britain. They have been overshadowed by or confused with the better-known Eagle Squadrons, which formed in the autumn of 1940 with the tacit consent of the U.S. government. Kershaw’s “few” were a vanguard, enlisting individually to operate the British Spitfire planes as early as May 1940, when England stood alone and her odds of survival seemed long. Crusaders and adventurers, the pilots ignored U.S. neutrality acts to fight from a mixture of principled opposition to Nazism, vaguely defined Anglophilia and sheer love of air combat at a time when it still seemed glamorous. Scattered by ones and twos among different squadrons, each had his own story, which Kershaw admirably contextualizes within the climate of the Battle of Britain. Using personal vignettes to convey the extraordinary routines of life in the cockpits, in the squadrons and in England, Kershaw evokes the heroism of these pilots, only one of whom survived the war whose tide they helped turn. (Nov.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. –This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

In the summer of 1940, World War II was in its second year and Adolf Hitler was planning to invade England. The U.S. had not yet entered the war, but a few Americans joined Britain’s Royal Air Force. Flying Spitfire planes, they became known as the “knights of the air.” In doing so, they would break several neutrality laws and became what Kershaw terms “outlaws in their own country.” Kershaw, author of The Bedford Boys (2003) and The Longest Winter (2004), tells the story of these pilots; 244 U.S. citizens eventually flew with the RAF Eagle Squadrons. Only 1 survived the war. But according to the RAF’s official roster in 1940, just 7 Americans belonged to “the few.” These were the Americans who fought during the greatest air battle in history, labeled the Battle of Britain. Like his other books, Kershaw has written a rousing tale of little-known heroes. With 32 pages of black-and-white photographs, The Few marks Kershaw as a master storyteller. George Cohen
Copyright American Library Association. All rights reserved –This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

The Few

  • 45 responses to "The Few Da Capo Press Alex Kershaw"

  • Daniel MHall
    4:05 on January 18th, 2013
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    This is the third World War II book from Alex Kershaw. Unlike many other writers who seem to want to cover the big stories of mighty armies, Mr. Kershaw seems to find small bands of American soldiers who just happened to be at a pivitol point in the war. I think this is an excellent approach. By concentrating on just a few men you get the feeling that you know them. And by knowing them you better understand the overall battle, even though you only see their little part.

    In ‘The Bedford Boys’ he tracks a platoon of infantry from the very small town of Bedford, VA. 34 Bedford Boys were with the unit when they were the first to hit Omaha Beach. 19 were killed in the first few minutes.

    In ‘The Longest Winter’ he writes of the Recon platoon of the 394th Infantry Regiment, 99th Infantry Division. They were ordered to hold a crossroads against the advancing Germans during the Battle of the Bulge while the rest of their unit pulled out.

    In ‘The Few’ he talks of the American’s who violated a whole bunch of international laws to fight with the British Eagle Squadrons during the Battle of Britain.

    I highly recommend all of his books, and sincerely hope that he continues this approach of finding interesting small units to write about.

  • Khotso
    5:01 on January 18th, 2013
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    June 6, 1944 has been written about extensively by American authors almost from the moment it happened. The invasion to free western Europe has filled perhaps more pages than any other event in history. Beyond books, D-Day has been the subject of more movies than one can count. Among the most famous films about D-Day was The Longest Day and a generation later Saving Private Ryan. What else can be said about the invasion of Europe?

    Somehow, the story of the young men from Beford, Virginia has been overlooked. When you read the book you’ll ask the same question I did….Why didn’t Stephen Spielberg make his movie about WWII using this story instead of the fictional story of Private Ryan. When you read the Bedford Boys by Alex Kershaw you’ll ask the same question.

    Bedford, Virginia is a small blue ridge mountain town of 3000. Before WWII jobs were scarce. Most of the men of the town joined the national guard unit to augment their meager incomes. Most earned a dollar a day for the days they trained. When the war started their unit became part of the 116th Infantry, one of the most battered units in Europe. On D-Day twenty-one of Bedford’s sons would die on the beaches of Normandy. No other town of any size would suffer such a devastating loss. Twenty-one sons, brothers, fathers, boyfriends all lost; lost as completely as anyone can be lost….erased with the sweep of an hour hand. It boggles the mind even today nearly 60 years later.

    Alex Kershaw does a wonderful job of bringing these young men to life. These young soldiers aren’t just characters on the stage of history. As you learn about them, wome in more detail than the others, they become real people. The book follows them from prewar Bedford, through training, and on the a blood stained beach in France. The book is brutal. The book is poetic. You won’t soon forget it.

    The Bedford Boys is well researched. While Kershaw’s coverage of the landings is strong on details it is never the less accurate. He uses the narratives of the few survivors to great effect.

    If your a student of history you’ll most assuredly want to read this book. It is a landmark story.

  • Silkroad silk
    6:39 on January 18th, 2013
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    “The Few: The American ‘Knights of the Air’ Who Risked Everything to Fight in the Battle of Britain” is Alex Kershaw’s third foray into the Second World War non-fiction genre, and once again he has amply demonstrated his abilities to weave a story and capture the attention of the reader.

    With his first book, “The Bedford Boys: One American Town’s Ultimate D-Day Sacrifice”, Kershaw had as his centerpiece the story of National Guardsmen from the little town of Bedford, VA who comprised Company A 116th Infantry Regiment (29th Division) who took part in the initial Omaha Beach landings on 6 June ’44, and lost 19 of its members KIA on D-Day alone. In the “Longest Winter: The Battle of the Bulge and the Epic Story of World War II’s Most Decorated Platoon”, Kershaw’s sophomore effort, the historical centerpiece was the Intelligence and Reconnaissance (I&R) Platoon, 394th Infantry Regiment, 99th Infantry Division – a small group of men whose heroic stand at the small Belgian town of Lanzerath on 16 December 1944 against an overwhelming force (1st Battalion, Fallschirmjager Regiment 9) significantly stalled one of the main German efforts of the Ardennes Counteroffensive. So what is the ‘small unit theme’ of Kershaw’s current effort “The Few”?

    From the subtitle one would assume that the story in “The Few” revolves around a group of American aviators who flew with the RAF during the Battle of Britain. While this is not an entirely incorrect assumption the subtitle oversells the reality a bit. Certainly the central characters through which the string of narrative is connected are this small group of American fliers. Yet, in reality the overall story gains its real momentum and bite from the prose dedicated to the bigger picture of the Battle of Britain as told from the perspective of RAF fliers they fought with, and Luftwaffe fliers they fought against. By using this latter approach Kershaw weaves a fabulously engaging story of the Battle of Britain. This is a book that is hard to put down. It is unfortunate that Da Capo Press has chosen subtitles for Kershaw’s last two books that don’t fairly represent the book’s contents. Kershaw however should not take the rap for his publisher wanting to sell books. Hopefully Da Capo now recognizes that they have a winner in their stable and they no longer need to hype Kershaw’s books to sell them.

    Anyone with even a passing interest in the Battle of Britain should give “The Few” a chance, they may find a deeper interest in the topic and delve deeper into the plethora of books out their dedicated to this topic. “The Few” is a 5 star read as primmer to the Battle of Britain from the perspective of individual and small groups of aviators on both sides of the Channel.

  • Janks LeBeau
    7:43 on January 18th, 2013
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    Do the names; Arthur Donahue, John Haviland, Vernon Keough, Phillip Leckrone, William Fiske, Andrew Mamedoff, Hugh Reilley or Eugene Tobin ring a bell in your Roledex of WW 2 history? Probably William Fiske may strike a cord with you if you are fan of bobsleding and Winter Olympic history.

    To most of us who think we are knowledgeable of WW 2 and the Battle of Britian, these not familiar names, yet these eight selfless young men risked everything and paid the ultimate price in defense of liberty. These few were the first Americans to fly for the RAF and the only ones to fight in the Battle of Britian.

    What Alex Kershaw has done is told a story most of us have never heard, about eight men who loved to fly and who risked the loss of their American citizenship to come to Britian’s aid in its most trying time of the war. From their recruitment by the mysterious Colonel Sweeney to intially fly for the French, their escape to Britian as France fell, winning their acceptance into the RAF and lastly details of their wartime deaths; this is an intriguing fast moving tale that is well written and a read that is hard to put down.

    Kershaw has done a superb job of showing us the human aspect of the Battle of Britian through lives of these 8 aviators. In addition he takes the reader into the squadrons of the Luftwaffe and we are afforded the opportunity to view the German air campaign through the lives of Germany’s top aces as they competed to be their nation’s top fighter pilot.

    This is a book well worth reading, so aviation buffs, strap into your Spitfire and head off into combat.

    9:41 on January 18th, 2013
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    Having read Kershaw’s two previous WWII narratives, The Bedford Boys and The Longest Winter, I was interested to read the stories he’d collected for The Few. As he’s done previously, he scored some great stories of real people, real lives and unreal heroics in the face of the global tragedy of WWII as the Germans sought to destroy England.

    I’ve read some minor criticisms of Kershaw’s writing that state he doesn’t give enough detail to overall contexts of the battles he references or that his historical facts seem to sometimes be in error. Well, anyone looking for names, dates, places, etc., can look in some dry old history text book for that kind of information. However, if you’re interested in reading the personal stories about the people who made history and, in this case, who faced down the evils of those who sought to destroy Britain in 1940-41, then this narrative from Kershaw will be worth your time. Kershaw hasn’t just devoted these stories to the American fly boys that skirted American neutrality laws for the chance to fly with the RAF (and mostly were killed long before America even entered the war), but also their British counterparts in the RAF as well as stories from pilots of Germany’s Luftwaffe who flew against the RAF.

    What I find most intriguing about Kershaw, who is English, is how he has chosen in each book to highlight a small group of Americans. Given that he’s a Brit, I would think he might highlight stories from the history of the UK’s involvement. If I could ask Kershaw only one question, I’d be most curious to find out his motivation for researching and writing about these small groups of Americans.

  • Austin David
    12:44 on January 18th, 2013
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    Alex Kershaw’s “The Bedford Boys” is about people. It is a history of what war does to individuals and those left behind. We are told that 5,000 Americans died on June 6, 1944, D-Day, but that is a statistic. This narrative is about folks who died trying to cross the beach code named Omaha  Bloody Omaha. It is the names that make this volume uniquely harrowing, singularly distressing, exceptionally depressing. It is similar to the effect Maya Lin’s Vietnam War Memorial in Washington has on people, 58,000 names memorialized in polished stone. Touch a name; contact a soul.
    Bedford, Va, lost a higher percentage of its sons on D-Day than any community in America and that is the main reason the National D-Day Memorial was dedicated in the tiny village of Bedford in June, 2001. But 56-years of time and the presence of the president of the United States were not enough to salve the losses on Omaha Beach. Mothers and fathers were emotionally wounded by their losses, siblings permanently disheartened, widows and fiancees everlastingly scarred. Mr. Kershaw’s book relentlessly reminds us that war is about humans.
    The Bedford boys were shaped by the Depression, and the young men of Company A of the first Battalion of the 116th Regiment of the 29th Division had joined the National Guard in the 1930s for social purposes and also for the essential dollar-a-day they were paid when they were in training once each month and for two weeks in the summer. Many other Bedford inhabitants  more than 1500  served in the armed services during World War II, but Company A was special. These men had grown up, gone to school, played baseball, and worked together, dated each other’s sisters, trained and deployed as a group, and were in the first wave to assault Omaha Beach at H Hour on June 6.
    Of the 28 troops from Bedford who left the landing craft, 22 were killed, most before they reached the sand, by murderous machine gun fire. Nine others also from Bedford did not reach the beach: five because their landing craft sunk on the way to shore and four others who were in support capacity and did not get ashore on D-Day.
    Mr. Kershaw tells of the men trying to swim or wade with packs of more than 60 pounds on their backs, desperate to get ashore while the Germans from barely damaged bunkers and pillboxes laced the beaches with deadly fire: “The Germans had cut Company A to ribbons but they were not satisfied. They now riddled wounded men with arms outstretched in supplication. They peppered soldiers who could not crawl and American teenagers risking their own lives to save them. The . . . machine gunners shot rescuers in the back. Snipers aimed for the forehead.” In all,102 men from Company A were killed in the first wave, about one third of the company.
    In time, these horrors were brought to Bedford. Back home, the letters stopped a few days before June 6, and when correspondence did not start again soon after the sixth, families agonized over the lack of news.
    Elizabeth Teass, one of the town’s few telegraph operators, six weeks later “switched on the teletype machine.” She read “We have casualties,” and read the “first line of copy. ‘The Secretary of War desires me to express his deep regret.’” Elizabeth had seen these words before, about once each week, but this time the machine did not stop. “Line after line of copy clicked out of the printer. . . .”
    Mothers, fathers, wives learned from Western Union that day, and on other days soon thereafter of the death of Leslie Abbot, Wallace Carter, John Clifton, John Dean, Frank Draper, Jr., Taylor Fellers, Charles Fizer, Nicholas Gillespie, Bedford Hoback, Raymond Hoback, Clifton Lee, Earl Parker, Joseph Parker, Jack Powers, Weldon Rosazza, John Reynolds, John Shenck, Ray Stevens, Gordon White, John Wilkes, Elmer Wright, Grant Yopp. Every name spoke trauma and tragedy.
    Understand this about D-Day, dear reader. The air bombardment of German fortifications was crucial, even if not as effective as hoped, and the naval attack on German defenses was essential, even if it did not silence most of the German guns, but at H-Hour when the landing craft lowered their ramps the success or failure of the greatest amphibious attack in the history of warfare, the event upon which the success of the Allied effort in World War II depended, all came down to the Bedford Boys and thousands of men like them scrambling in chest high water, weighed down with equipment and ammunition, and the water they splashed into was crimson with their blood and that of their buddies. And they advanced. Bless them all. Bless them all.

  • Susan Fielding
    13:40 on January 18th, 2013
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    The genius of The Bedford Boys is how Kershaw takes a goliath-sized subject, D-Day, and scales it down to a level that you connect with on a personal level as the reader. This is not a grand picture of the actions of D-Day. If you are searching for that then I’d recommend Ambrose’s “D-Day” and other works like it. This book takes the large picture and focuses on one specific part of that picture: the boys from Bedford, Virginia who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country as part of the first waves on the beaches. You get a sense for what those young men went through as the first ones to hit the beaches in the mission. Kershaw also beautifully connects the scene back home in Bedford and forces you to share the heartache of those families as the news pours in and does not seem to stop. In my opinion the author strips away some of the “glorifying” of WWII and reveals how it was both for those going into battle and what their families went through as their boys both came home and never came home. It gives insight into why many WWII vets have not talked about their experiences until their later years and why some never did.

  • Pigeon Farmer
    14:41 on January 18th, 2013
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    Wow. As an avid reader of World War II history, this book stands out with the likes of “Band of Brothers” and “Flags of Our Fathers” as one of the greats. This book appealed to me on several levels. First and foremost, I’m a living historian with the 29th Infantry Division re-enactment group and therefore have special feelings for that particular units sacrifice on D-Day. Also, I used to go to college twenty miles from Bedford, so I could relate to things like climbing Sharp Top mountain and strolling through the town. Other than that, the story pretty much sells itself. It’s hard not to fall in love with the Bedford boys with all of the anecdotes and intimate stories that Kershaw tells in the book. The writing is crisp and sucks you in to the point where you really feel like you’re there, struggling with them. Even though I knew what was going to happen, I still gasped a few times. In short, if you’re a World War II buff or just someone who appreciates the cost of freedom, you should definitely grab this book. It’s well-written, factually correct, and tugs at the heart — just the way a good history book should. 29th, Let’s Go!

  • Brent Noorda
    15:41 on January 18th, 2013
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    Having enjoyed Kershaw’s earlier “Bedford Boys” and “Winter” and having written my first term paper forty years ago in high school about the European air theatre in World War II, I was eager to read “The few.” The primary story features three men, more adventurers or mavericks than anti-Nazis, itching for a fight but even more eager to just fly in combat, the three make their way from a neutral United States to join the Royal Air Force. Two of them arrive early enough in 1940 to try to join the French, only to see the French wilt and surrender in May 1940.

    Billy Fiske is perhaps the most famous of the group, youngest American Olympic medalist, a bobsledder with a taste for speed. Fiske joins up, marries an English beauty and becomes an early, memorable casualty of the Battle of Britain. Most Americans date the start of the war to Pearl Harbor but the English – and these American heroes – turned the tide against Germany sixteen months before America declared war – and Germany declared war on the United States. By the time three Americans die in the summer of 1940, three more quickly die in training accidents or in simple operations, showing just how dangerous it was to fly, period. Of course, much of the danger can be attributed to a stellar set of German aces and, to my taste, Kershaw offers more about these German “few” than I though the story really needed. So, yes, there were a very few Americans engaged in the air war over Britain in 1940, and about as few German aces building their scores at the same time, but the true few, the ones Churchill refers to when he spoke of so many owing so much to so few, were the English pilots who carried the vast majority of the burden and the casualties in 1940 (although their overall force was sprinkled with a number of foreign nationals), and who saw this battle for what it was – the survival of England is we knew and know it.

    Some faded photos help convey details. Limited maps lay out the terrain of the battle. As in any air battle, adding the fourth dimension of time to three-dimensional battles in the air make descriptions of engagements sometimes hard to follow – you need to know “deflection” from a boom and zoom” (if you need a glossary, try [...]. Despite the limits and losses of memory over sixty-six years, this remains a story worth telling and one worth reading.

  • kljuulif
    16:34 on January 18th, 2013
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    The Bedford boys

    The Book the Bedford boys was an ok book. It was really boring until the D-day scene. And after it was really boring also. The Author Alex Kershaw interviewed all of the people and just sort of jumbled the interviews together. He would also repeat a lot of sentences that he already used in the book for another section. But the D-day scene was very interesting, but it was also hard to follow because of the amount that the author jumped from person to person. The book shows the price of war in great detail. If you don’t like history and aren’t interested in war don’t read this book.

  • Nowshade Kabir
    18:32 on January 18th, 2013
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    Few dates in history have seen more tragedy than June 6, 1944. Thousands of American families and even entire towns grieved their losses after D-Day, but none more so than the tiny town and 3,000 inhabitants of Bedford, Virginia, who lost 19 of its’ sons that fateful day and 3 more before the war would conclude. BEDFORD BOYS: ONE AMERICAN TOWNS ULTIMATE D-DAY SACRIFICE, by Alex Kershaw, tells their story. This book, unlike most others on the account of D-Day, tells the story of the Normandy invasion from the viewpoint of the families left behind.

    Much of the book chronicles the lives of the young men prior to the invasion. Particularly, the year they spent together station in England, preparing for the invasion. Kershaw recounts their stories through photographs, letters home, and interviews with survivors and family members.

    When the day of the invasion arrives, Kershaw gives concise narrative as to how some of them survived, and how so many of them perished. Their story is riveting. You will laugh at their antics, and mourn at their sacrifices. This is a very well written account and should serve to remind all Americans of the cost of freedom.

    They went into battle as the Boys of Bedford, and boys they were, indeed, but in my eyes, they will forever be the MEN from Bedford, Virginia.

    Monty Rainey

  • Roxanne Kment
    19:26 on January 18th, 2013
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    When Winston Churchill eloquently spoke of the men who fought in the Battle of Britain, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few,” he wasn’t just referring to British airmen. As Hitler spread his dominance throughout Europe, the Royal Air Force was the beneficiary of pilots from foreign lands looking to continue the fight.

    Among the foreign contingent were seven Americans. Having violated US law, travelling from the US, in some cases first to France, then on to England, Alex Kershaw masterfully writes about their lives as fighter pilots for the RAF.

    Don’t read this if you are looking for a history of the battle of Britain. While Kershaw does an excellent job giving the reader a sense of the overwhelming odds faced by Britain just after the fall of Paris, this is the story of the American airmen who flew for the RAF during that crucial period in the war. The most famous of the airmen, as has been referenced in other reviews was two time bobsled gold-medalist, Billy Fiske. But although lacking in fame but not in courage were his fellow airmen Eugene Tobin, Charly Keough, Andrew Mamedoff, Hugh Riley, Art Donahue, and Phil Leckrone. Ultimately, they were the first of some 500 plus Americans who would fly for the RAF.

    Kershaw certainly writes of heroism, but wonderfully shows how the Battle of Britain, the immense casualties suffered by the RAF, and the constant calls to get airborne, frayed the nerves of these very human, fliers. And not stopping with the Americans, the author provided some very interesting color on their enemy, the Luftwaffe, or the Huns as they were monikered. Included is the almost surreal competition among the top German aces to be the “heir” of Baron von Richtofen. And of course, Herman Gorring’s leadership during this campaign is discussed.

    Of the original seven, all but one made it through the war. Kershaw ends the book just as the 71 Eagle Squadron, the All-American squadron was just being formed and Pearl Harbor just occurred.

    I would also suggest for any reader to scan through the endnotes. There are some truly classic stories that are revealed in detail. Among some of the things one learns is that the Luftwaffe had a much more capable search and rescue operation than the RAF. You also read about Billy Fiskes sqwuadron, the 601, also dubbed the millionaires. In an effort to ensure that their cars had sufficient gasoline, one of them bought a local gas station. Read for yourself, as the story is quite amusing (Page 252, note 54.). There are also some historical references of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force that highlights their crucial role during the war.

    I picked this up at the Newark Penn Station Bookstore, a mandatory stop while waiting for my train.

    The Few was truly a pleasure to read. Not mired in tradition military history minutae, Kershaw masterfully illustrated some of the bravest and often forgotten men of WWII. I highly recommend.

  • Jarrod Semke
    20:31 on January 18th, 2013
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    I was almost put off buying this book because of some of the reviewers’ comments about misrepresentation. I think the book title is appropriate. The eight people whose progress is followed in the book were the first American pilots who joined the RAF at the outset of the WWII. The American Eagle squadron which followed is also mentioned but not in great detail. The author offers a day-by-day account of the Battle of Britain and the involvement of this small group of American heroes. He also described the overall progress of the battle and even matches the events with those of the key German pilots and their hierarchy. This makes the book even more interesting and does not detract from its original purpose.

    As author Len Deighton pointed out, in the Battle of Britain, pilots from the British Commonwealth, Poland, France and America were more successful that native British flyers. Many of them were from pioneering stock, more adventurous and less likely to stick with the formal engagement rules and the European’s had invariable developed a strong hatred of the enemy . Kershaw suggests that the British public was and is generally not appreciative of the brave efforts made by the foreign volunteers. I do not agree; at the time the American volunteers were idolised but with the passage of time, it is possible that the efforts of eight in one thousand can be overlooked. Few Brits will deny the considerable material assistance which America offered Britain early in WWII and that the eventual intervention of American forces enabled the war to be won.

    I thoroughly enjoyed the book. I have read many Battle of Britain books and this was one of the best. The author vividly describes the neat formations of German bombers flying along the Thames towards central London on a perfect summer day, each awaiting the attacks by The Few which will reduce their numbers by one quarter every day they fly across the Channel. Most of the American pilots described in this book were attracted to the RAF because they wanted to fly fast aeroplanes. Nevertheless, when they were given the opportunity to fight, they did so with great determination and bravery.

    Buy the book, you will not regret it.

  • Unreal
    21:14 on January 18th, 2013
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    This is the story of the first American pilots who were in combat against Germany during the Second World War. These individuals traveled by various routes to England and joined the RAF to fight Hitler’s Luftwaffe, and wound up in the middle of the Battle of Britain. A few of them were in the thick of things from the start. The book is well-written and informative, and there are a lot of photos of the participants in the story.

    I hadn’t ever read anything by Kershaw before. He’s made something of a splash the last few years, writing books about the human side of World War II, without avoiding the military side of the war. This book is, from what I’ve read of the others, the most personal of the bunch. For most of the story, there are only a few participants, and so the author gets to spend considerable time with each of them, telling us of their backgrounds and characters. The one fellow, a rich guy who could have stayed a mogul on Wall Street, but wound up getting killed during the Battle of Britain, is the sort of self-sacrificing individual we just don’t see that much of any more. The whole thing is very well-done, if a bit heartbreaking.

    I really recommend this book, especially to anyone interested in pilots, flying, or the Second World War. If I had a misgiving about it, it’s that the focus of the book is so narrow that it’s hard to get an idea of how the Battle of Britain went, even in outline. That aside, it’s a good book, and very entertaining.

  • Daddy
    23:19 on January 18th, 2013
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    Rural Bedford, Virginia, suffered the highest per capita D-Day casualty rate of any American town. Nineteen of its residents, or residents of Bedford County, in which the town is located, were killed at bloody Omaha Beach on that longest day, the first day of the Allied Normandy invasion. Three more residents were killed within the next few days. These Bedford soldiers were members of Company A, 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division–the first troops to go ashore on H-Hour at Omaha Beach. The book is well written, a balance of contextualizing historical narrative and oral history of survivors and relatives. This work is not a history of D-Day, nor of the Omaha Beach attack, nor of the Normandy campaign–nor is it designed to be, there are other books which deal with these larger topics. Rather the author skillfully narrates the story of the Bedford boys who joined the National Guard during the Depression to earn a few extra dollars, were called into federal service and endured extended training in the U.S. before deployment to England for the invasion of France. The author portrays an emotionally compelling story of the devastating effects of the loss of so many sons, husbands, lovers, and fellow soldiers by the people of Bedford, reminding us both of the horror of war, its brutal and lasting effects, as well as the unfortunate fact that at times it may be necessary for the liberation of the oppressed and the preservation of freedom. Anne Frank, whose family in hiding learned of D-Day by their radio, entered in her diary that “the best part of the invasion is that I have the feeling that friends are approaching.” (Bedford Boys, page 170) Today Bedford is the home of the National D-Day Memorial, a site well worth visiting, as is the National D-Day Museum in New Orleans. The valor and sacrifice of those young men who perished so quickly in the massive D-Day invasion cries out to be remembered by every generation of Americans and citizens of the free world–especially since soon there will be no living survivors of D-Day, with the death each day of thousands of World War II veterans. This book, this D-Day Memorial, this D-Day Museum, and the lives of these brave young men and their families from rural Virginia, deserve a remembrance wherever that perpetual vigilance which is the price of liberty is honored. It was Erwin Rommel who called D-Day the longest day. And it is this day, and every day in which great sacrifices are made for freedom, from the American Revolution to soldiers today bravely defending freedom around the world, that deserves the longest of memories.

  • Sun Dobb
    1:14 on January 19th, 2013
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    “The Bedford Boys” by Alex Kershaw is a solid telling of Bedford, Virginia’s sacrifice on WWII’s most crucial day: June 6, 1944. Kershaw’s style of writing is quite engaging; his books definitely focus on the human interest aspects of the war, opposed to the many formal histories which are based on military tactics and technical details. Kershaw does cover the critical moments on Omaha Beach with a blunt honesty and attention to detail, focusing rather on individual actions amidst the chaos of battle instead of strict adherence to objective history. There are some reviews which claim he is given to fictionalizing and overlooking or misstating certain facts. I do not claim to have encyclopedic knowledge of all things WWII, but I did notice a few statements that I thought could be a bit off. That said, whether these minute details are slightly off or not, I certainly do not think that it detracted from the book. Taken for what it is, a personal rather than technical look at D Day, I found Kershaw’s work to be quite a moving and thorough telling of the monumental and tragic effort of a rural Virginia community during WWII.

    One of the great strengths of this book was its probing look at how the war affected entire communities. The spirit of the times drew people together in towns and cities all across the nation in the drive to defeat the Axis powers, and Bedford proved to be a great example of this unity. I found Kershaw’s book to have some precedence with the masterful documentary of Ken Burns aired on PBS in 2007. Burns was able to draw reality from both internal growth in the US and involvement in international affairs. He did this through focusing on four portions of America (Alabama, Minnesota, California and Connecticut) and the people from certain communities that contributed to the war effort. Kershaw’s work (published in 2003) has the same spirit in showing the all encompassing drive that brought towns together but could also bring great devastation to them. Sacrifices from every state in the country were felt, but perhaps those of Bedford, Virginia were among the most important and heartbreaking to a small farming town in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

    Kershaw’s book begins with the makeup of the 1st Battalion of the 116th Infantry, a Virginia National Guard unit that was to be the “sacrificial wave” on Omaha Beach. He is able to set the stage in a bittersweet sort of way, showing the simple and honorable roots of the many sons of Bedford that were to die on June 6 (19 were killed). As the 116th joins the 29th Division and heads to England, Kershaw establishes a pattern of alternating chapters between the boys in Europe and the families back home. This forms the essential foundation of the book and Kershaw succeeds in showing a multi-dimensional look at the costliest day in US Army history since the battle of Antietam (where many ancestors of the 116th fought with Robert E. Lee). Kershaw is a writer suited for both the combat and home front aspects of the story, striking a pretty good balance between the two.

    His chapters on D-Day are quite vivid as he sticks with the basic facts of the assault on Omaha beach and builds his story on the personal deeds of the Bedford boys. Whether or not he embellishes (as some naysayers will claim) to make for more interesting reading is uncertain, but I did not find it sensationalized or glossed over to glorify the deaths of these men, many of which were quick and awful. He is pretty clear about the helpless moments that defined the first waves on Omaha. Eventually, good leadership proves to win the day as the 116th’s Col. Canham and 29′s Gen. Cota punch a few holes with the help of accurate naval gunfire and the decimated ranks are able to work their way into the beach exits from the rear. Kershaw is consistent with all other records of the 29th’s costly victory at Omaha Beach, but his writing is somehow more personal with an “on the ground” feel to it. I thought this book was pretty good taken as a bittersweet look at the costs of war for the communities involved, not as a definitive account of D Day.

  • opmtvldsb
    2:05 on January 19th, 2013
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    This is an utterly engrossing chronicle of one Virgina town’s supreme sacrifice during the Normandy invasion. Bedford, VA lost 19 sons within minutes of their landing at Omaha Beach. Three more died later in the campaign. Among those to perish were two pairs of brothers. Five Bedford Boys –including one whose twin brother was among those cut down on the beach — were spared when their landing craft sank on the approach to Normandy, and they narrowly survived the chilly, roiling Atlantic swells.

    Bedford is very much a microcosim of America — a sleepy town of 3,000 — whose sons and their loved ones paid an inordinate price for freedom. The Bedford Boys never intended to be heroes — or warriors, for that matter. (Most joined the National Guard in the 1930′s for the few extra dollars to supplement Depression-era wages.) But heroes they became, and Alex Kershaw has paid them fine tribute with this vivid, heart-rending account of their experiences.

    “The Bedford Boys” is a particularly timely read now, with young Americans once again being asked to bear the ultimate sacrifice.

  • Hailey Kaehler
    3:27 on January 19th, 2013
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    1. I’m aware of the Battle of Britain during the early phases of WWII, but I wasn’t aware of “the few” Americans that joined in the fight as well as prohibition via America at that time in regards to having US citizens fight abroad.

    2. All in all, this is a well written (engaging and interesting) and well documented book recounting the “the few” who… basically did the right thing, when America was in the isolationist mode. Highly recommended.

  • A Berman
    5:04 on January 19th, 2013
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    This book is very great because it goes into detail about each and everyone of the Bedford boys. It gives a lot of info about the invasion itself, and it tells about the grim truth of the human cost of war. The author interviewed the families, and the survivors of the war. It talks about all the sacrifices of all the people of the U.S during the war. And it just touches your heart. I would recremend this book to anyone who likes war, or just the fact that it is something the american public needs to know about the sacrifices that our men and women make for us to be free.

  • chuck bower
    6:30 on January 19th, 2013
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    If you like individual stories with little reference to the overall historical picture then you would like this book. Personally, I thought there was too much on specific pilots with out the context of the Battle of Brittan.

  • Cherry Bruce
    8:01 on January 19th, 2013
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    Provides an outstanding insight into how a couple of American airmen defied their country’s stand on involvement in WW II, and, as the subtitle suggests, “risked everything” to assist in the defense of freedom and democracy.
    They are to be commended not scorned!

  • Shrewd
    8:30 on January 19th, 2013
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    This is an account of the people of Bedford, VA; those who went to war and those that stayed behind in WWII. I found that this account complements so many other great books on the invasion of Normandy. Where it excels is in how it continually ties the lives and loves of the soldiers back to their families and friends in the Bedford area. It also provides a very good picture of the impact of the death of soldiers on their families.

  • Max Tennant
    11:20 on January 19th, 2013
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    I just did not think there was much here in this book. It felt like a puffed up magazine article. The book focuses very tightly on the Americans who fought with the RAF before America entered the war, and I think that was too tight a focus. The book stays tightly on the scene in England, but it would have been better if we had learned more about the other foreign pilots who fought for a country other than their own. If it had to focus on just the Americans, than maybe taking the scene back to the home front would have been a good idea. I am sure each dogfight is a little different but reading about one aerial combat after another got to be too much for me.

  • Fatimah Phelps
    12:10 on January 19th, 2013
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    I learned much about the “Battle of Britain” and the eight Americans (one was listed on the RAF rosters as Canadian) who faught in it. Occuring before the US entered the war, this account is about the people who defended Britain from Hitler’s attempt to destroy the RAF and London before invading the island. Hitler almost succeeded but for the heroism of the entire RAF including the eight Americans who, against the laws if the US enlisted and fought. Well written. Battle accounts are riviting. I highly recommend this book.

  • waitasecond
    12:38 on January 19th, 2013
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    June 6, 1944. Many books have appeared about this famous date in history. However, none quite like this one. It details the town of Bedford Virginia and the lose of 22 of its young men in Normandy. No other town in America gave as much as Bedford.

    The book starts in pre-war Bedford and follows the yong men from training through battle to coming home. Sadly, most never saw Bedford again. The research that went into the battle chapters is impressive. It is some of the best battle writing I have read.

    Having grown up in a town like Bedford, I could understand the small town feeling the boys grew up in. I highly recommend this book. You will not soon forget it.

  • Joe Blow
    13:03 on January 19th, 2013
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    The Bedford Boys tells the heart-wrenching story of the Virginia town of Bedford (and surrounding Bedford County) and how nearly all families in that small rural community of strong faith were touched by the horrors of D-Day. The central characters in this engaging narrative by journalist-author Alex Kershaw are the Beford men of Company A, 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division. Their’s is a story of ultimate sacrifice to the extreme. The majority of A Company landed in the first wave of Operation Overlord, the invasion of Western Europe on 6 June 1944, departing their landing craft at Dog Green, Omaha Beach near the Vierville draw. Within minutes nearly all the Company A men were dead in the hail of MG-42 machine gun fire from Wehrmacht positions above the beach that provided the defenders with superior interlocking fields of fire. It was a slaughter – the Germans shot anyone who moved and some who didn’t. The Americans were on the continent but not cheaply.

    Kershaw writes in a lilting style that makes The Bedford Boys (as well as his more recent The Longest Winter) quite enjoyable and easy to read. The story of the Bedford men and those at home they left behind is one that embodies the human spirit, patriotism and sacrifice for country. Kershaw’s tells this amazing story in three parts. In the first second of the book he describes the events leading up to the American entrance into the Second World War and what lead these Virginians to be part of the National Guard unit that would fight with the 29th Infantry Division. One common theme seems to have played a large role: the Great Depression and desire of these mean to make a few more dollars by being part-time “weekend warriors”. Most were farm boys from large families where every dollar mattered.

    The second section of the book details A Company’s training for war, year and one half in England prior to the invasion, and finally the invasion itself. This section is quite detailed up to the invasion proper but this may not be surprising as nearly all the men who landed in Captain Taylor Fellers Company A unit (the Bedford boys) were killed on the beach and thus haven’t been able to tell their stories. Kershaw struggles somewhat through this section of the book to make a historical impact but ultimately fails. This is not to say that his narrative is not engaging – it is. Yet it fails to provide new insight into the first wave battle for Omaha. Readers interested in understanding more about this critical battle are encouraged to read Joseph Balkoski’s recent Omaha Beach, which is quite possibly the most thoroughly researched and fullest account of this component of the Normandy landings. By combining Omaha Beach and The Bedford Boys a reader can get both historical “meat” and a touching human saga.

    The last section of The Bedford Boys is by far the most significant contribution to the genre Kershaw has made here. This last section is dedicated to ETO events after D-Day, the home front and post-war issues. Kershaw has crafted a story full of human characters with which the reader and feel empathy. He has captured the pain and pride of those surviving the A Company men. Although not dealing with military actions per se in this section, Kershaw does an admirable – if not great – job expressing the emotions of proud American families who sacrificed nearly a whole generation of young men to make the world free once again. One can see, hear and feel the angst, anger and sorrow of Bedford County, and WWII-era America in Kershaw’s words. Even those expecting or wanting a detailed discussion of battles can’t help but be moved by these passages. This portion of the book makes the whole thing worth buying!

    All in all The Bedford Boys is a solid 4 star book. Despite some factual problems Kershaw has crafted a fun read that oozes the heart and soul of the Greatest Generation. If combined with Omaha Beach by Joseph Balkoski readers will walk away with an appreciation for the battle and sacrifice that resulted in an American foothold in the section of Normandy beach between St. Laurent and Vierville-sur-Mer.

  • Android Drone
    13:14 on January 19th, 2013
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    Excellent book and the true story of the first American pilots in WWII. The air war battles are discribed in great detail – makes you feel as if you are in the cockpit. How much we owe to these and the brave British and other pilots that made up the RAF in 1940.

  • skipe
    15:33 on January 19th, 2013
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    This book is easy to read, accurate (but for use of a few terms) and engrossing. As a 20 year member of the 116th Infantry Regiment, former unit historian and current librarian, this is the single best book I know of about this unit and “The Bedford Boys” from 1940 to 1945.

    A related book is “Eyewitness on Omaha Beach” by Dr. Harold Baumgarten.

  • Andy Eaton
    16:21 on January 19th, 2013
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    Kershaw’s books are very readable. Like “The Bedford Boys”, this book starts with some backstory of the principle characters. It’s enough so the reader gets familiar with the people; not so much that the writing bogs down with too much detail. As for the war narrative, Kershaw neither dwells on aeronautical detail nor completely omits it. A few choice pieces of information help to give the reader some insight into flying and fighting in WWII cockpits (for more detailed writing about WWII aerial combat, see the works of the author Martin Caidin, who wrote multiple books in the 60′s and early 70′s on the subject). I enjoyed the “comparative” pieces, in which he tries to synchronize the British side of a particular mission or day of fighting with the German perspective of that same day. I am an avid reader of WWII history, and I enjoyed this book. Kudos to Kershaw for shedding light on the lives of some men that we generally know very little about.

  • Addie Buchar
    17:56 on January 19th, 2013
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    When war broke out in 1939, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt quickly issued a proclamation, making it illegal for any American citizen to join a warring power’s military. Thankfully, a group of American men, committed to the cause of liberty, journeyed to Britain to do just that. And when the Battle of Britain raged, and that glorious “Few” saved Britain from Nazism, amongst them were a group of American pilots. This is the story of those wonderful young men who risked their lives, and often lost them, for the freedom of the world.

    This is a fantastic book! The author does an excellent job of telling the story of the Battle of Britain, and the American fighter pilots who were a part of it. I could not put the book down, but just had to keep reading. This is one of the best books that I have read this year, and I highly recommend it to everyone!

  • John Rosenberg
    18:40 on January 19th, 2013
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    The town of Bedford says it is “the best little town in America,” but there are surely other little towns that have the same boast. It is in southwestern Virginia near the Blue Ridge Mountains, and has one anomalous aspect that makes it different from all those other best towns. It is the site of the National D-Day Memorial. The memorial does not sit on the Mall in Washington, nor on the shores of Normandy. It is in this little town because, although thousands of soldiers perished in the D-Day assault, no other town gave as many of her sons. On 6 June 1944, nineteen Bedford boys died, and three more died in the days of follow-up fighting afterwards. There have been sufficient histories of D-Day already, but _The Bedford Boys: One American Town’s Ultimate D-Day Sacrifice_ (Da Capo) by Alex Kershaw focuses the global events onto the personal level. Not only does it describe the horrendous slaughter on the Normandy beaches, but it also tells the effects of the losses on the families within Bedford. It is a sad tale, of course, but full of heroism on both sides of the Atlantic.

    None of the boys would have said they had particularly volunteered for anything heroic. They were sons of the Depression, and many of them enlisted in the National Guard simply because of the money. They got a dollar for the one training day each month, and for each of the fourteen days in the summer. It was the luck of the draw that the Bedford boys were assigned to a company that had to experience the wickedest fighting of the most difficult assault of the day, on Omaha Beach. Before that, they crossed the Atlantic on the troop-converted _Queen Mary_, and the months before D-Day they spent in grueling training within England, the longest training of any American infantrymen in the war. There are good anecdotes here to tell the stories of these boys, many of whom were away from Bedford for the first time, and of course a harrowing account of the invasion itself. The most heartbreaking account is not of the boys’ deaths, but of the reaction at home. The D-Day invasion was in the headlines, of course, but the families in Bedford knew little of their boys’ participation in it. The letters stopped coming after 6 June, raising tensions in the town. Then letters to the soldiers started coming back in packs marked undeliverable. Finally, on 17 July, the telegrams started pouring in. Elizabeth Teass, on duty at the Western Union office at the rear of Green’s Drugstore on 17 July, expected to be getting sad announcements as part of her job, but was in shock as the machine clacked on and on, one official “deep regret” after another.

    Kershaw was writing about another project when he came across the Bedford story and realized it had not been told in full. He interviewed as many of the survivors as he could, and the family members still living; naturally, almost sixty years on, he has not gotten to interview all he would have wanted. He has documented meticulous research into official records and past books on the great assault, to make an account that is memorable for its degree of personal detail. D-Day was the greatest amphibious attack in the history of warfare. The Germans and the Allies both knew that the war would be won or lost on these beaches. It was the Bedford boys, and thousands of their counterparts, who made a difference and quite literally saved civilization. They deserve commemoration, and Kershaw’s fine history brings them home to us again.

  • Barfly
    19:47 on January 19th, 2013
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    This is the story of the first American pilots who were in combat against Germany during the Second World War. These individuals traveled by various routes to England and joined the RAF to fight Hitler’s Luftwaffe, and wound up in the middle of the Battle of Britain. A few of them were in the thick of things from the start. The book is well-written and informative, and there are a lot of photos of the participants in the story.

    I hadn’t ever read anything by Kershaw before. He’s made something of a splash the last few years, writing books about the human side of World War II, without avoiding the military side of the war. This book is, from what I’ve read of the others, the most personal of the bunch. For most of the story, there are only a few participants, and so the author gets to spend considerable time with each of them, telling us of their backgrounds and characters. The one fellow, a rich guy who could have stayed a mogul on Wall Street, but wound up getting killed during the Battle of Britain, is the sort of self-sacrificing individual we just don’t see that much of any more. The whole thing is very well-done, if a bit heartbreaking.

    I really recommend this book, especially to anyone interested in pilots, flying, or the Second World War. If I had a misgiving about it, it’s that the focus of the book is so narrow that it’s hard to get an idea of how the Battle of Britain went, even in outline. That aside, it’s a good book, and very entertaining.

  • Mary Joyce
    20:55 on January 19th, 2013
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    If you’ve read Ambrose’s D-Day then the battle descriptions here don’t present anything new or groundbreaking. The true value of Mr. Kershaw’s work is the glimpse of what the people at home went through. The agonizing wait and worry of those left behind to man the homefront are really conveyed extremely well. Finally, the shock and sorrow of the soldiers’ wives, girlfriends, mothers, fathers, and siblings are brought to the forefront. The scenes of a town bound together by tragedy are as emotional as they are fascinating to uncover. This is the purpose and point of Kershaw’s book and he delivers.

  • Former Softie
    21:10 on January 19th, 2013
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    Eighteen months before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, the United States was at “peace”, its citizens barred from joining the armed forces of any other nation. America’s cowardly, anti-Semitic Ambassador to England, Joseph Kennedy, (the father of John F. Kennedy) was telling President Roosevelt and everyone else that Britain would lose to the Germans, that the Germans were invincible.

    Eight Americans, however, made their way to England and joined the Royal Air Force (RAF). Some came simply because they wanted to fly Spitfires, one of the best performing aircraft of the day. A few were there to fight for freedom. All were liable to arrest and possible imprisonment at the time if they set foot in the United States.

    Kershaw follows these brave young Americans and their role in the fight for freedom. Today, almost 70 years after they fought the Germans to preserve British – and the world’s – freedom, you still want to suck in your breath at reading of their bravery.

    To Kershaw’s credit, he does not lionize these more-or-less typical American boys. Rather he presents them as young men, brave in that way only young men can be. Most were outgoing and ebullient. One of them came from a filthy rich family; most of the others were more typical of the Depression. All had flown small aircraft in their short civilian lives.

    Now they were flying in what came to be known as the Battle of Britain, a part of the amazingly small corps immortalized by Churchill as the few to whom so many owed so much.

    Kershaw is a marvelous writer, able to weave the stuff of ordinary life into a larger fabric of the constant fear these young men faced as their comrades spun into the English Channel or their planes dove into the ground. Kershaw captures the feeling of both sides of the conflict, spending considerable time on the German pilots. There are glimpses of the leaders: Churchill, Goring, Hitler.

    But the focus is always on the “few”, that handful of Americans who were first to reach out in the cause of freedom by putting on the uniform of the Royal Air Force.

    It’s a moving book and Kershaw is to be thanked for reminding us all that true heroism does exist and that freedom is worth fighting – and dying – for.


  • ProInvestor
    21:38 on January 19th, 2013
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    This is well-written book that is enjoyable to read and interesting all the way through even though it bogs now here and there.

  • bullethead
    23:05 on January 19th, 2013
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    Deeply moving. Well written. Horrible. Kershaw again provides an eminently accessible, personal story, not belaboring the beach–a story told often and well in the past–but bringing a new and awful poignancy to the context in community and family of each of a commander’s casualty report numbers.

    He still hit one of my pet peeves by using the phrase “dead and wounded,” which as a soldier and war veteran I find an offensively trite and naive lumping of two very different things under one heading–to a man under fire, and to his family, “wounded” and “completely unharmed” are more similar than are “wounded” and “dead.” BUT he only did it once, and it really is a legitimate phrase, as it is the commander’s way to track effective fighting strength and attrition. I just find it more appropriate for a book about the generals in the headquarters than a book about the men in the experience. Off my soapbox.

    That was the only criticism. I loved the book, but it broke my heart. I found it particularly novel and important because WWII is perceived as being the classic Just War, with unanimous public support. It was not. Like every war, it had its detractors, and rightly so, for as horrific as wars are. Like every war, men on both sides committed atrocities and it is no service of history or of the memory of those who fought and died to mythologize the horrors of WWII, or to edit public and political dissent to American involvement out of the history books. Kershaw provided us with a non-evaluative, uncensored history of the social context, including the social dynamic of conscientious objectors and the criticisms of the administration, the commanders, the policies, the war, and even the survivors, by the families of the bereaved.

    This book was a touching and excellently told account of an event unfathomably tragic regardless the strength of the justification or the accomplishment. True tale of Pyrrhic victory.

  • Odessa Turrie
    0:28 on January 20th, 2013
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    Dog Green sector at Omaha Beach, D-Day, 6:30 a.m. (Note for those who like visual images: It’s the setting for the landing scene in Saving Private Ryan, the scene of the worst carnage on June 6, 1944. Steven Spielberg donated to the Bedford memorial.) The Americans were going to put eleven divisions ashore in Normandy — ten of which had never seen combat — most of them after a stormy crossing of the English Channel, the last eleven miles in small, pitching landing craft. Planners estimated casualties of 25%. For the small town of Bedford, Virginia, population 3,000, things were going to get a lot worse, very fast. By noon, 19 young men from Bedford were dead. More would die later in the month. June 1944 was a disproportional tragedy for Bedford.

    Kershaw takes us from the formation of the company in the 1930s to interviews with the survivors sixty years later. The three years leading up to D-Day earn the most attention. Following the number of men killed makes the story difficult to write and to follow at times. There are so many names, stories, and relationships, and many of the characters are dead and those who remember have fifty- or sixty-year-old memories. Nonetheless, Kershaw brings the people and their stories to life. Kershaw’s story and style reminded me of the memorable “Flags of our fathers”. The stories of rigorous training, demanding officers (especially Norman Cota and Charles Canham), preparing in England, dying with other heroes — had the sepia tone of HBO’s Band of Brothers.

    Most of the men of Bedford’s Company A enlisted in the local National Guard unit in the Depression. Sharp uniforms and training pay were attractive alternatives for an impoverished time. Few of the men ever expected to go to war. Some of their parents resisted letting the young men join the unit. After D-Day and years later, some questioned as to whether the poor soldiers of Virginia were cannon fodder for war profiteers. Kershaw allows the survivors to wonder or comment about the decision to send young, untested men into battle: Should experienced troops been at the lead? Should, could — Eisenhower have waited for better weather? Could the navy and air force done a better job of softening up the defense? Should the landing parties have been required to carry sixty pounds of pack? Was the intelligence about the defenses bad (better German units replaced poorer ones only days before) or shaded (some were told it would be ‘a cake walk’)? And several people offer different perspectives on heroes: Were they all heroes on Omaha Beach? Or was it those who died? Or was it those who returned home and had to live with and explain the memories? Or was it the families of the dead men? Some chose September 11, 2001 as a moment to realize the magnitude of the localized loss.

    Reading the entire book in one day made me realize how compelling and moving a story could be. We need to read and remember yet also reflect on both the heroics and the humanity of such personal and patriotic history.

  • American Patriot
    1:38 on January 20th, 2013
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    I thought that I knew quite a lot about the Eagle Squadrons and Battle of Britian before I read this book. The author does a very good job of providing a comprehensive account of the very first (pre eagle Squadron) Americans who flew for the RAF during this epic battle. He covers their motivations and aspirations in a very interesting fashion which keeps the book at a good pace. Considering the subject matter this book could have very easily come off like a text book. Thankfully that’s not the case here, the author makes vital facts and details flow in such a way that even non WW2 enthusiasts would likely enjoy this book. My only criticism is that the author seemed to end the book too soon (time period wise), but I guess he had to end it somewhere.

  • Hason
    1:58 on January 20th, 2013
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    In “The Bedford Boys”, Alex Kershaw gives a human face to the anonymous soldiers we’ve seen killed in countless WWII films. I had forgotten that the story of the Bedford soldiers was at least part of the inspiration for “Saving Private Ryan”, and I agree with the implication made by some other reviewers that the true story would have made an even more powerful film. “The Bedford Boys” is touching, upsetting, and, when Kershaw describes the tribute finally paid to Bedford’s fallen heroes, ultimately uplifting. Without suggesting that the U.S. should not have participated in WWII or the D-Day invasion, Kershaw dramatically points out the sacrifices that have been made by soldiers, their loved ones, and their entire communities to protect freedom in this country, and around the world.

  • penguin
    5:18 on January 20th, 2013
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    They came from all walks of life. Each with his own personal story and reason for being there; but, the one theme that ran constant throughout. They cherished freedom and love for country even if it was not their own.

    Alex Kershaw documents the courage and tenacity of 8 American flyers who defied the odds by circumventing America’s neutrality to become ” The Few” to serve in the RAF prior to, during, and after the Battle of Britain. Their story has, for the most part, been only a footnote in the titanic struggle that took place in the skies over England. The author, known for his recognition of near-forgotten men in WWII, has once again featured the contributions of men, undistinguished but for the fact that they forsook the safety and security of their country to answer a higher calling, namely to aid in the vanquishing of a world tyrant. The defeat of the German Luftwaffe was the first step in achieving that goal.

    The story of the legendary two time olympic gold medalist, William Fiske, was particularly fascinating. The man had everything one could hope for or dream of; but instead, chose to devote his last days to what was then thought of as a losing cause. In addition to his considerable athletic achievements, he is now remembered as the first American airman to die in combat flying for the RAF in Europe.

    Prime Minister Winston Churchhill said it most eloqently and appreciatively when he stated: ” Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few. ” This was in marked contrast to the cowardly utterings pacifist Charles Lindbergh and the defeatist ambassador Joseph Kennedy.

    Mr. Kershaw keep writing! The noble warriors of WWII deserve the best and you have neither forgotten or forsaken them.

  • John Francis Higgins
    5:38 on January 20th, 2013
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    The other reviews and comments on here suggest that this is a remarkable book containing a wealth of insight and information about the handful of American pilots who flew with the RAF in the Summer of 1940 and afterwards. Besides a few tantalizing snippets of primary documents and descriptions of specific aerial battles, Kershaw really doesn’t do much to provide his chosen subjects with a lot of depth.

    The book starts off strong with an account of how three American civilian pilots secretly signed up with the French air force, first traveling to Canada and from there to Brittany and eventually Paris, all while the Germans were busy invading and the British army was evacuating at Dunkirk. To liven things up, Kershaw frequently tells events from the perspective of Churchill or a number of German pilots. This was the most interesting part of the book to me, because it was the part I hadn’t known of before — that American pilots risked losing their citizenship by breaking the neutrality laws.

    After the three pilots reach England and are quickly accepted into the RAF, things get a bit simpler. Kershaw retells the familiar story of the Battle of Britain with plenty of action, dialogue, and other devices of creative nonfiction. But his original premise wears a bit thin. The five American pilots he focuses on didn’t seem to be very involved in things, and if they were Kershaw doesn’t really make this clear. By making his book such a quick and easy read, he’s left out many details of setting and background that would have fleshed out the story he’s telling. It reads largely like a rough draft or outline. Additionally, he intercuts his main narrative with a “Top Gun” story about two competing German aces – Adolf Galland and Werner Molders – which, rather than presenting the other side for reasons of even-handedness, merely distracts from the less famous people in the book.

    It’s the kind of book that makes you want to go out and read more, because it only scratches the surface. Billy Fiske, Eugene Tobin, Art Donahue, and the others surely deserve a book twice the length of this one.

  • Hattrick
    5:55 on January 20th, 2013
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    Do make the error of rating the book highly becasue you respect what the soldiers did in 1944. Having studied D-day for a long time, and knowing some of the people in this book, I was taken aback by many of the ommisions and mis-understandings in this book. I heard the author claim on TV he worked for 2 years full time on this book. If so the bibilography is pitiful and it shows in the details. But I don’t see much solid background research into the military aspects of the subject. Explain the 29th Rangers and their contribution, or more on the ATC reorganization. I would have liked a lot more discussion on the conversion from a Bedford unit to what landed on the beach (see Balkoski’s ‘Beyond the Beachhead’. What about the impact of non-Bedford types on the unit? Having worked with the 116th unit records I think a lot more should have been done tracking the company- to include the morning reports.

    I think the best aspect of the book is that it does preserve the memory of a lot of men who did not come home. I, however, think they deserve something better.

  • Ian Betteridge
    6:20 on January 20th, 2013
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    Twenty-two young men, all from a small town in Virginia, made the ultimate sacrifice. Nineteen died during the first wave on Omaha Beach; later, three more died in the campaign that followed. This is their story – theirs and the other young men from Bedford. It is also the story of the people they left behind and the country they were fighting for.

    This book is sad but inspiring and informative. You will follow these youngsters from a small- town childhood through the tragedy of Operation Tiger to the fierce brutality of Normandy, June 6, 1944. You will find out more than you ever really wanted to know about why you chose the top of six bunks on the Queen Mary (converted to a troop ship) instead of the more convenient lower ones. You will learn, perhaps with some comfort considering today’s news, that the country was not totally united during WWII, in spite of what we are now believe. John L. Lewis conducted his strikes, and there were race riots in Los Angeles and Detroit.

    This book inspired Saving Private Ryan . . . as it will inspire you.

  • Needs A Story
    7:49 on January 20th, 2013
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    In 1940 Germany seemed unstoppable as it rolled over its neighbors. American ambassador to England Joseph Kennedy (father of JFK) was outspoken in his belief that England would not last long, and urged Churchill and seek peace terms and FDR to keep out of the conflict. But while FDR declared American neutrality, a few pilots clandestinely made their way to England to volunteer their services in Britain’s Royal Air Force (RAF). They risked not only the law, which made it illegal to serve in the armed forces of other nations, but also their lives in flying against accomplished German Messerschmitt pilots. And while cheating the Grim Reaper was fun while it lasted, most of them gave their lives for the cause they made their own.

    This is a wonderfully inspirational history of the American pilots who flew for the RAF. But author Alex Kershaw adds depth by including not only the American experience but also the accounts of the British and German pilots. He presents the men as they were – not always brave and seldom fearless – but as heroes who helped turn the tide. Eventually the American government turned a blind eye and quietly “allowed” Americans to serve in “Eagle Squadrons,” but those few who broke the law for a higher cause get the star treatment here. And Kershaw’s account of the Battle of Britain is especially exciting as Hurricanes, Spitfires, and Messerschmitts tangle in the skies. I listened to the audio book, and while reader Scott Brick does an admirable job he often sounds a bit too dramatic in his reading. Additionally, I think reading the print version of this book would be a little easier to keep individuals separated in my mind. But I’m impressed with Kershaw’s ability to tell a story and will certainly look for his other books (I’ve had The Longest Winter on my shelf unread for too long already).

  • joel gomez
    8:54 on January 20th, 2013
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    Many readers may wonder why so many books about D-day are published and why so much more attention is paid to that battle than other battles in World War II. Certainly we landed on other hostile shores during the war, i.e. Tarawa, Salerno, Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Certainly we had fought the Germans already by D-Day in North Africa, in Sicily and in Italy so why is D-Day so special? The War in the Pacific was a war of self defense and revenge for Pearl Harbor and Bataan. We fought the Japanese for the most part on islands in the Pacific that most Americans had never heard of that were populated with little or no indigenous culture and certainly without a legacy of Freedom and Liberty. In Italy even though most Italians were grateful for us evicting the Germans we still were fighting a country that had at one point sided with Hitler and declared war on us. When we landed in North Africa we were occupying a French colony that had decided to side with the Nazi collaborationist Vichy regime.

    Overlord of which D-Day was the first day however was different. Here we were liberating a proud people with one of the most advanced civilizations in the world who had not wanted war and who had been conquered and brutally subjugated by the Nazis. And although ultimately it was in our best interests to beat the Germans we didn’t have to storm the shores so quickly to do so. We could have done what so many wished us to do and bomb Germany into annihilation and peck away at their empire on it’s fringes while letting the Red Army grind down the Wehrmact. Instead we flung our soldiers against the Atlantic wall and assaulted Festung Europa.

    These men were not professional, rather they were Citizen Soldiers. They were there because they had been drafted or because they had joined out of a sense of Duty. There were also those who had joined the National Guard before the war because they needed the extra money to survive the Depression and because their friends and brothers had joined also. When the National Guard was inducted into Federal Service in 1940 these men were taken away from their families and their homes and jobs and then eventually sent overseas.

    Therefore the unique significance of D-day is the story of a peaceful enslaved people being liberated by a peace loving bunch of citizens with no direct stake in the oppressed people’s fate. And these citizen Soldiers undertook this struggle without complaining and with great heroism. President Franklin Roosevelt summed it up in his prayer address to the nation on D-Day:

    “…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.”

    “…For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and good will among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.”

    The cost of that heroism was very high however, especially on Omaha Beach which was one of the biggest bloodbaths in American history. The cemetery above stands in mute testimony. Now many people have seen Saving Private Ryan which is a great movie. The opening scene takes place on a sector of Omaha Beach called Dog Green. That twenty minute scene is one of the most harrowing in the history of film.

    Now imagine that in reality it was far worst than depicted in the movie and lasted not twenty minutes but five hours. That was the real Dog Green. And one of the units that landed on that beach was Company A of the 116th Infantry Regiment of the 29th infantry division. Out of the 192 men that landed that day less than 10 members of the company could report for evening roll call. The rest had been killed or wounded. Over twenty of the members of Co. A came from the small town of Bedford, Virginia. Within minutes of the beginning of the battle over a dozen of the Bedford Boys were killed and by the end of the day a total of twenty one had been killed.

    This book is the story of those men and the town they lived in and how they grew up in the Depression and went to war and how the war affected that town.

    It is a great book. It is not necessary to be a knowledgeable student of military history to get everything from the book. Indeed the author makes a few very minor factual errors himself in the story which in no way detract from it. (He states twice that the pre-war US army was only 75,000 men. in fact it was about 140,000. He also mentions in one point armor piercing howitzers. Howitzers use indirect fire to lob high explosive, incendiary and smoke rounds; they do not fire armor piercing rounds- anti-tank guns do.) These two errors aside which many will not even notice this book is a highly accurate, emotionally packed well written powerhouse. Although I have read hundreds of books on WW2 and at least 20 on D-day I still could not put this down. Definitely one of my favorites

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