Works illuminate ‘the war to end all wars’
April 6 marks the 105th anniversary of the U.S. entry into the First World War. These books help us remember and appreciate those who served.
Never in Finer Company: The Men of the Great War’s Lost Battalion, by Edward G. Lengel, 368 pages, Hachette Books paperback, 2021
Chief historian of the White House Historical Association, D.C. native Edward Lengel, has written a moving account of New York City’s 77th battalion and other Army units who were surrounded and cut off by German troops when they advanced into the Argonne Forest in France.
In addition to the broad overview of the Lost Battalion, Never in Finer Company portrays the lives of four doughboys: journalist Damon Runyon, Sergeant Alvin York of movie renown, attorney Major Charles Whittlesey and stockbroker Captain George McMurtry. Through their stories, we learn of the trauma of battle and the challenges that veterans face when they return home to peacetime society.
The Lafayette Escadrille: A Photo History of the First American Fighter Squadron, by Steven A. Ruffin, 288 pages, Casemate paperback, 2020
Before the United States entered World War I, the country maintained a policy of neutrality. Nevertheless, a small band of idealists and adventurers volunteered to aid the Allied cause.
The most illustrious were the aviators — 38 Americans who served under French command — flying open cockpit biplanes in the unit called The Lafayette Escadrille.
Beginning in April 1916 for 22 months, they flew more than 3,000 patrols over the French sectors. After the U.S. entered the war, the unit was transferred to the U.S. Air Service in February 1918.
Miraculously, 27 aviators survived the war and became famous for their service. Eight of the 38 American volunteers lost their lives in aerial combat, one was captured, and several suffered crippling wounds.
Aviation historian and U.S. Air Force veteran Steven Ruffin has painstakingly compiled a comprehensive history of the unit. More than 230 photographs accompany the text.
On July 4, 1928, the imposing Lafayette Escadrille Memorial was dedicated on a 10-acre plot in the suburbs of Paris (read how you can contribute to its upkeep at worldwar1.com/pdf/Lafayette_Project.pdf).
At the book’s conclusion, you’ll find a list of nine museums in the United States and France that feature artifacts or exhibits about the Lafayette Escadrilles. The closest is the Udvar-Hazy Center of the National Air and Space Museum in Chantilly, Virginia.
A Military Atlas of the First World War: A map history of the War of 1914-18 on land, at sea and in the air, by Arthur Banks and Alan Palmer, 340 pages, Pen and Sword Military paperback, 2021
This prodigious compilation of the course of the First World War illuminates the hostilities that raged beginning in July 28, 1914, through subsequent U.S. entry, until the armistice of Nov. 11, 1918.
With the ingenious use of maps, diagrams and statistics, this indispensable work explains the strategies of the combatants and the diplomatic history leading up to the conflagration.
The Atlas describes military maneuvers with precise map-placements of such famous battles as Ypres, Verdun, Somme, Gallipoli and Jutland. It analyzes military mistakes, identifies major commanders and delineates the organization of rival military units — cavalry and infantry.
The Atlas, a new edition of the out-of-print classic first published in 1975, includes 300 hand-drawn black-and-white maps and diagrams by Arthur Banks. Prolific nonagenarian British author and historian Alan Palmer provides an erudite introduction to each chapter of maps.