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Once Upon a Time in War: The 99th Division in World War II

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Once Upon a Time in War: The 99th Division in World War II. By Robert E. Humphrey. Volume 18 in the Campaigns and Commanders Series. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman: 2008. Pg. xix, 366. B & W Illustrations, Maps.) ISBN: 978-0-8061-3946-3.


Reviewed by Herbert White - December 9, 2008

World War II may seem like a distant memory to many, but to those whose lives were touched by the war. In Once Upon a Time in War: The 99th Division in World War II, Robert E. Humphrey chronicles the lives of the men who served in the 99th Infantry Division during World War II and the many engagements in which these valiant men fought. In writing this book Humphrey interviewed more than three hundred veterans of the 99th, and has incorporated their stories and their reminiscences into this detailed and dynamic history of the 99th Division.

Humphrey, is a Professor of Communication Studies at California State University in Sacramento, California and he is a regular contributor to The Checkerboard, the newspaper of the 99th Infantry Division. During World War II, the 99th fought in some of the most horrific battles of the war, including the Battle of the Bulge. By telling the story of the 99th, Humphrey is not only chronicling the history of this division, but at the same that of the men who fought alongside them in other divisions and units.

The 99th Infantry Division was one of the forty-two American Divisions that fought in Northern Europe. It was also one of the numerous, new divisions, that were created to meet the needs of the war. In telling the story of this division, Humphrey begins at the beginning - of the war, and the creation of the division. Formally activated in November 1942, and commonly known as the Checkerboard Division, the 99th consisted of 14,208 men when at full strength. This history of the division is told from the perspective of the common solider, and it mirrors the experiences of many American GIs during the war.

Once Upon a Time in War: The 99th Division in World War II is written chronologically, beginning with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the entry of the United States into the war. Written in a narrative style that relies heavily upon first person reminiscences and interview excerpts, this book takes you from the fields and schools where young men around the country rushed to enlist or where drafted, and follows them through the induction procedure and basic training. Humphrey then moves onto the creation of the 99th and the training the division received in preparing it for war, and its journey to Europe.

The bulk of the book is devoted to the division's exploits during and after the Battle of the Bulge. In gripping detail, Humphrey chronicles the division's combat experiences and the dangers they faced after the battle during the 'mopping up' exercises, and their push into Germany to help finalize the defeat of the German Army. The book concludes with information on what happened to the division, and its surviving members, after the end of the war and the bittersweet journey home for the men of the 99th Infantry Division.

Filled with gripping details, forthright opinions about the war from the men who fought it, and offering keen insights into the mind set of the American GI's who fought the Nazi menace, Once Upon a Time in War is essential reading for anyone with an interest in the American military experience in Western Europe during World War II. This book will find a ready audience with general readers who enjoy books such as Band of Brothers, by Stephen E. Ambrose, and other popular narrative histories of World War II military units. It will also be of use to scholars and social historians. In addition, this book can be used as a supplemental text in University courses on social, military, and American history courses, as well as general survey courses on World War II.


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