Twenty-Five Yards of War: The Extraordinary Courage of Ordinary Men in World War II

Twenty-Five Yards of War: The Extraordinary Courage of Ordinary Men in World War II


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From the sinking decks of a navy cruiser to the cockpit of a doomed B-25 bomber, Ronald J. Drez takes us to the front lines of World War II.

Through Drez's gripping narrative style, we meet twelve men, all ordinary soldiers, and learn what the war was like through their eyes, experiencing their own 'twenty-five yards of war.' The men in these pages represent all branches of the military who were sent on impossible missions, where they witnessed triumphs and tragedies. As a result of Drez's ten years of research and over 1,400 interviews, Twenty-Five Yards of War is a tribute to all of the soldiers who fought in World War II—those who walked away with amazing stories to tell, and those who did not make it home.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780786886685
Publisher: Hachette Books
Publication date: 03/05/2003
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.69(d)
Age Range: 17 - 18 Years

About the Author

Ron Drez is a decorated combat veteran of the Vietnam War, a former Captain of Marines, and an award-winning, best-selling author.

Read an Excerpt


In September 1982, Ron Drez arrived twenty minutes late to my seminar, where we would meet for the first time. The seminar was on the Eisenhower Administration and life in general in the 1950s. As he was leaving at the end of the class, he stopped to apologize to me for his tardiness. He explained he was a businessman and had to complete his work for the day. I said, "You are a businessman and you're going for a Master's degree in History?" He said yes. I said he could be late any time.

There was a spark in that meeting. Instantly, we knew that a deep friendship had begun. We were so different yet so alike. Ron was forty-two years old. I was forty-six. He was a former marine company commander in Vietnam. I had been opposed to the war. He was Tulane, I was University of Wisconsin.

What we shared was more important. We were fascinated by history. We wanted to know what happened, and try to figure out why.

We had a respect for the men of World War II that impelled us to talk to them, read memoirs or books, talk to members of the unit, and gather and preserve their experiences. That is what we do. That also started at our next meeting. Ron said he wanted to write about the life of Jack Nicklaus as his Master's thesis topic. I waved that away and steered him toward his experiences during the Vietnam War, then handed him some documents I'd just received about Khe Sanh and told him that there was his thesis -- what happened at Khe Sanh.

He did the work. He turned out a solid result. I was so pleased and impressed that I hired him as Assistant Director of the Eisenhower Center. It was part-time, in pay at least, but almost full time with Ron. He went to reunions all over the country of World War II units, whatever service. He explained who he was, why he was there, and when the word got out that a rifle company commander from Vietnam wanted to interview them about their war, the men descended on Ron. He was interviewing veterans of D-Day in Normandy. All on tape. We would have student workers to transcribe the tapes and the interview would go to the Eisenhower Center Archives. I drew from that archive much of the material I used in my own book on D-Day, while Ron edited a script with the perfect title, Voices of D-Day. It was published by Louisiana State University Press, to flattering reviews and continuing sales. It is often cited and frequently quoted.

In the seven years after the D-Day anniversary, Ron has broadened his reach. He began interviewing Vietnam War veterans, especially those from Khe Sanh. And then he got going with World War II veterans on their war -- what it was like, how it felt for them. All of those interviews are in the Archives. What he gives us here is the best of them.

For Drez and myself, our friendship has grown. In 1989 Ron and his wife, Judy, came to Normandy and my wife Moira and I guided them around for a week. Also in 1989 Ron and I taught a course on the Vietnam War. He had fought in it. I had worked to shut it down. He lectured the first hour, I did the second. His subject was the war, how it was fought, why it was lost. Mine was the politics of the war, how it fit into the policies of the Cold War, and how it almost tore America apart at home. The auditorium was full, with students sitting in the aisles or standing at the back. Not one of them ever moved, at least in my memory. It was mesmerizing, for them and for us. I learned, Ron learned. It was one of my best teaching experiences, ever. At the end, to sustained standing applause, the Marine and the Professor embraced.

In the years since that occasion, Ron has started leading tours of battlefields in Europe and America, covering World War II and the Civil War. The participants in the tours cannot find the words to express how much they like him: He knows so much, is so enthusiastic, speaks with quiet authority but offers loud opinions, never tires, is eager to share what he knows with you, wants to learn. These qualities are also evident in his writing. In this field, I'm the teacher, he is the pupil. I've taught him something about pace, timing, organization, sticking to chronology, being always aware of his readers. He has added to what he has learned from the Professor and what he learned in Vietnam as a Marine in combat.

It is a fine gift Ron has. He can comment on or describe the individual's experience and achievement in World War II from the perspective of who he is and what he has done -- and he can do so eloquently, through his prose. He has a sense of the dramatic and an ability to make his readers feel that they are there. Twenty-five Yards of War is a great book.

--Stephen E. Ambrose


The idea for this book was a natural follow-up to the successful Normandy Project conducted by the Eisenhower Center at the University of New Orleans under the guidance of Dr. Stephen Ambrose, Distinguished Professor of History. In that project, which started in 1983 and lasted for ten years, it was my happy task to "get the stories" of the men who had landed at Normandy on June 6, 1944. We knew the stories of the generals and admirals and the high-ranking officers, but Ambrose wanted the stories of the men who had fought their own "twenty-five yards of war." As his assistant director I traveled the length and breadth of this country to gather testimonies of men who had fought at Normandy. Over the years we collected more than fourteen hundred memoirs and interviews. Since I was a combat veteran myself, the men were at ease with me and that facilitated the collection. The culmination of that ten-year research was the publication of Ambrose's book D-Day June 6, 1944. The Climactic Battle of World War II, and my own book Voices of D-Day: The Story of the Allied Invasion Told by Those Who Were There. Both books were released just before the dramatic Fiftieth Anniversary celebrations in England and France in June 1994.

D-Day was the talk of the year and any veteran who could get to Normandy was there to witness the once-in-a-lifetime celebration. Interest was again resurrected in 1998 with the release of the movie Saving Private Ryan by Steven Spielberg. Dr. Stephen Ambrose served as a consultant on the film, and both of our books were credited as references in the writing of the novel of the same name by Max Allan Collins.

This new interest in World War II led the Delta Queen Steamboat Company, headquartered in New Orleans, to contract with me to lead a speaker's program for World War II-theme cruises up and down the great rivers of the United States. From the summer of 1995 until the summer of 1997, the company presented ten such cruises.

Because of my long research during the Normandy Project, I had many contacts and along the way I met many more veterans who shared their experiences with me and the passengers of the Mississippi Queen. The speakers were not only veterans of Normandy, but represented all services and battles in this very big war and were a wonderful cross section of the generation who had served in the war with quiet valor. They presented to their enthralled audiences the stories of their own experiences in the European and Pacific theaters.

I was suddenly aware that this was a unique opportunity. I wanted very much to record these men's experiences for future generations. I was also aware that many veterans who had not fought at Normandy felt more than a little slighted that so much was made over June 6, 1944. Here was an opportunity to showcase other battles.

The question of how to bring these stories to the reader was a difficult one. I did not want to present an entire history of the war or even a detailed account of the various actions in which these men fought, fearing their own experiences would get lost in a forest of words. Still, the reader would need sufficient background to place the situation, time, and geography firmly.

I decided to provide only a brief historical background and basic information of objectives and tactics of the particular action (a luxury not afforded the participants) to allow the reader to come along for the ride and be a silent witness. The reader would learn of the mission as the veteran lived it, watching the planning and execution from the unit level. There would be no bird's-eye view as a commanding general might have, far away with a large map posted on the wall plotting positions.

The reader would know the veteran by name and would climb into the cockpit or landing craft or submarine with him. The events would be presented in separate chapters in the order in which they happened. So the idea matured, and research and interview revealed wonderful stories.

The men in these stories have become my friends. Each one took the time to relate to me his memories, and it is to them, and to all warriors, that I dedicate this book. Here are twelve men in action in this gigantic war. Their common bond? Valor against the odds.

One is the recipient of the Medal of Honor and all have personal decorations. Another waited almost forty years for his valor to be recognized. But medals are not the measure of valor -- courage and sacrifice are. All are ordinary men who faced adversity with courage in extraordinary times.

Copyright © 2001 Ronald J. Drez

Table of Contents

1The Halsey-Doolittle Raid--April 18, 19421
2The Battle of Midway--June 4, 194227
3Tonolei Harbor and Kahili--October 16-17, 194356
4Betio, Tarawa Atoll--November 21, 194384
5The Invasion of Normandy--June 6, 1944111
6The Battle of the Philippine Sea--June 19-20, 1944137
7The Battle of the Bulge, Lanzerath, Belgium--December 16, 1944161
8Namkwan Harbor, China--January 23, 1945191
9Death Valley, Iwo Jima--February 25, 1945215
10The Sinking of USS Indianapolis--July 30, 1945249

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