The Dead of Winter – Book Review
Book Review: The Dead of Winter: How Battlefield Investigators, WWII Veterans and Forensic Scientists Solved the Mystery of the Bulge’s Lost Soldiers
Chamberlain Bros., 2005
Calvin Coolidge stated, “The nation which forgets its defenders will itself be forgotten.” Certainly, this quote is as powerful today as when Coolidge rendered it over 80 years ago. It is these words that ring throughout the pages of Bill Warnock’s The Dead of Winter and provide a common thread that binds the book together.
The Dead of Winter is a fascinating volume that has several key themes and storylines. Warnock utilizes the beginning of the book to set the conditions for his remaining chapters. In it, he introduces his readers to Belgian’s Jean-Louis Seel and Jean-Philippe Speder. He describes their experiences searching for WWII artifacts in the Ardennes regions of Belgium and Germany. During one of their searches in September 1988, they discover the dog tags and later the remains of a U.S Soldier. As it turns out, this soldier fought with the 99th Infantry Division during the Battle of the Bulge. He was one of many soldiers who were never found in the brutal fighting which epitomized the battle.
This action later connects the Belgians with the author (who served in the U.S Air Force in Germany), other artifact hunters and Bulge historians, and a network of 99th Infantry veterans. Warnock vividly discusses how this diverse group bonds to achieve one task – find the remains of those missing soldiers from the 99th Infantry who fought during the Battle of the Bulge. This task in turn would allow them to achieve their ultimate objective of giving these soldiers a final tribute and providing their families closure. As Warnock states, “We did that in the steadfast belief that all of America’s war dead should be accounted for no matter how many years have passed.”
Throughout the book, Warnock describes how the team planned (this planning included hours of research to reconstruct battles to narrow down their focus areas), prepped and executed their hunts. The author goes in significant detail on each of these phases and readers will truly comprehend the difficulty of this work. I personally marveled on the precision of the team’s work, their persistence, and dedication to a noble cause. Together these attributes allowed the team to achieve an amazing success rate in an extremely challenging endeavor.
Although this discussion is very interesting and written superbly, it is not the true strength of the book. I would suggest the major strength is Warnock’s ability to pay tribute to the soldiers of the 99th Infantry and in particular those missing from the Battle of the Bulge. For each of the soldiers that the team finds, Warnock gives the reader a detailed synopsis of his life (including excellent pictures of the soldiers and their surviving family members). Next he recreates how the soldier died on the battlefield and how he paid the ultimate sacrifice for his country. It is certainly a fitting tribute to these men and their accomplishments.
One of the added benefits of the book for readers is Warnock’s treatment of the 99th Infantry Division and the Battle of the Bulge. The author gives an excellent overview of the 99th and their contributions during WWII. His treatment is greatly strengthened by first hand accounts. Additionally, Warnock provides considerable detail of the Battle of the Bulge at both the operational and tactical level of war. This history allows readers to further personalize the actions of the soldiers and is an excellent touch.
In summary, The Dead of the Winter is an outstanding book that is a highly recommended read. Future readers will admire not only the sacrifices of those soldiers who died in the Ardennes, but will also respect the work of Warnock and his friends. We should all reflect on the words of Bill Warnock in his introduction when he states, “The young men who fell while carrying the weight of battle earned our grateful remembrance. And so we continue searching for those perished warriors who remain on bygone battlefields. Death took more from them than most. They patiently wait in faraway fields and forests, places where no memorials stand, places where no visitors leave flowers. May each man one day find his rightful quarters among hallowed acres of marble crosses.” Thanks to the work of Warnock and his team, many more soldiers have received this final tribute they so rightfully deserve.
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