The New Year is always a good time for me to step back and count my many blessings. I feel especially privileged to write for Armchair General and to share my occasional ramblings with a dedicated audience of knowledgeable readers.
This time last year I was grateful merely to be free of a cast on my leg and broken ankle that hobbled me for six weeks during the initial healing process. If 2014 has taught me anything, it is to be very careful where I step.
When I began a second career as a military historian and biographer nearly thirty-six years ago, that journey has taken me to places I never expected to be able to visit and to meet people I’d only read about, including Princess Margaret of Britain and Pres. Bill Clinton in the White House.
I’ve also had the great privilege of meeting and getting to know some of the key players of World War II. Many of them I met while living in England during the research for my first book. Little did I know that it was perhaps the perfect time to be investigating World War II. Many of the top figures had recently died, and private papers (particularly their important diaries and letters, unpublished memoirs and recollections) were becoming more and more available to researchers like myself. Also, a number of years had passed since the end of the war, which seemed to make those men more inclined to talk freely about their experiences, and their impressions and recollections of many of the top players of the war, such as Montgomery, Eisenhower, Bradley, and others.
This is an excellent time to acknowledge what all of us in this profession have come to understand and appreciate is the lifeblood of what we do. In an age before the Internet, most on this list were contacted the old-fashioned way – by letter. What was so gratifying was that, virtually without exception, their responses were positive.
Among those who were instrumental in enlightening me were:
Air Chief Marshal Sir Harry Broadhurst (1905-1995) was a pioneer airman, fighter ace, the commander of the Desert Air Force in North Africa and the 2d Tactical Air Force in Northwest Europe. Sir Harry had a very successful postwar career both in the RAF and as the managing director of Hawker Siddeley Aviation.
Sir Harry Broadhurst was also the subject of a 2007 article on the Armchair General . Please click here to read it.
Gen. Sir Charles Leslie Richardson (1908-1994), a Royal Engineer officer, was one of Montgomery’s senior staff officers and a postwar full general, who also served on the staff of Field Marshal Sir Harold Alexander during the Italian campaign. Sir Charles was an invaluable resource not only of Montgomery and Alexander but also of the North African, Sicily, Italian, and Northwest Europe campaigns.
Brigadier Sir Edgar “Bill” Williams (1912-1995), Field Marshal Montgomery’s brilliant chief intelligence officer in North Africa and Northwest Europe was always affable, candid and forthcoming about his war experiences and his close relationship with Monty, and others such as Harold Macmillan.
Lt. Gen Sir Ian Jacob (1899-1993), a Royal Engineer, was the exceptionally effective Military Assistant Secretary to the War Cabinet of Winston Churchill, a post that brought him in frequent contact with not only Churchill but also many of the other key players of the war such as Montgomery, Alanbrooke, and the U.S. and British chiefs of staff.
Sir Ian’s life has been ably recounted by his friend and fellow Royal Engineer, Sir Charles Richardson, who also wrote Send For Freddie, a memoir of Montgomery’s chief of staff, Major General Sir Francis deGuingand.
Gen. Bruce C. Clarke (1901-1988), then a brigadier general, organized and led the gallant, undermanned and outgunned task force that defended St. Vith in the Bulge in what was one of the war’s finest small unit actions. In the postwar years Clarke became a four-star general and the Commander in Chief of U.S. Army Europe.
Gen. J. Lawton “Lightning Joe” Collins (1896-1987) was one of the few U.S. Army officers who served in both the Pacific and European theaters during World War II. He commanded VII Corps during the Normandy campaign, and the campaigns that followed. After the war he held a variety of increasingly important posts, including U.S. Army Chief of Staff during the Korean War.
Gen. Isaac D. White (1901-1990) was commissioned a cavalry officer in 1922 from Norwich University, my alma mater, and during World War II served in a variety of command positions, including the 2d Armored Division. I.D. White knew Patton well and was an excellent source during my research not only of Patton but also the Sicily and Northwest Europe campaigns. In the postwar years, Gen. White was commandant of the Armor School at Fort Knox, Kentucky, commanding general of X Corps and the Eighth Army in Korea, and the CG of the U.S. Army Pacific.
Gen. Andrew J. Goodpaster (1915-2005). I’ve also been privileged to have served with Gen. Andrew Goodpaster on the Eisenhower Legacy Committee that prepared an assessment of Ike for the new Eisenhower Memorial in Washington, DC. A self-effacing soldier and statesman, Gen. Goodpaster was one of the most remarkable men I’ve ever met. His record of service was extraordinary and included the Distinguished Service Cross received while in command of an Engineer combat battalion in North Africa and Italy during World War II (where he was severely wounded twice), Commander in Chief of the U.S. European Command, NATO Supreme Allied Commander, and Superintendent of West Point in the wake of the notorious cheating scandal. In that role he was instrumental in restoring the reputation of the military academy.
Gen. Goodpaster also served in the White House as a staff secretary and advisor to Eisenhower for seven years during his presidency.
On several occasions during my tenure with him on the Eisenhower Legacy Committee he telephoned me to discuss Ike. At the outset he always asked me to please call him “Andy.” I had too much respect for him and simply couldn’t do it. Instead, I called him “Sir” – it was the right thing to do.
A number of others who survived the war are not as well known but each helped me to tell their stories. Among them was Brigadier Shelford “Ginger” Bidwell, a veteran of the Italian campaign, and a brilliant postwar military historian who became one of my closest friends. His wise counsel was invaluable during my research not only for my Anzio book but also about all aspects of World War II and its personalities.
Lt. Gen. James M. Gavin (1907-1990). One of the finest battlefield commanders of World War II was Lt. Gen. James M. Gavin, who earned the nickname “Jumpin’ Jim” for his heroics and unflinching courage as an airborne commander in many of the war’s bloodiest campaigns. I’ve been blessed to have interviewed and known Jim Gavin, who excelled at everything he ever undertook, including writing.
As a rather forgettable year has now passed into history, I’m grateful to be able to give thanks for the privilege of having known and of being able to write about such exemplary men, several of whom will return in future articles.
Happy New Year!