Looking back from the vantage point of a new millennium, it's clear that no other event of the twentieth century was as momentous — or as horrendous — as World War II.
Many countries, such as Great Britain and the Soviet Union, were fighting for their very existence against the military might of a fanatical madman bent on global domination. But even those lands not directly involved in the fighting felt the war's influence. At the height of the conflict, no nation was left untouched.
Officially beginning in 1939 with Germany's invasion of Poland and ending six years later with most of Europe and much of the rest of the world in crumbling chaos, World War II proved to be, in terms of lives lost and cities destroyed, the most devastating conflict in human history. When the big guns ceased and the smoke cleared, freedom had proved victorious over dictatorial rule, but the world as we knew it would never be the same.
Much has been written and said about World War II since its official conclusion with Japan's formal surrender on September 2, 1945, yet the war, its goals, and the stories of the men and women who fought it grow dimmer with each passing year. Two generations have grown up in its shadow, with each becoming more distant and uninterested.
World War II defined an entire generation. For the United States, it was the last “good war,” unmuddied by conflicting ideology or uncertain public opinion. The commitment to preserve everything all free countries hold dear can be traced back to those tumultuous six years.
It has been estimated that more than 22 million military personnel and civilians died over the course of World War II, and that another 34.4 million were wounded. Of that total, more than 408,000 deaths were those of American servicemen.
It is to them — and to all the military personnel throughout the world who fought so valiantly against tyranny and hate — that this book is dedicated.