By: Paul Schwartz
For: Red Rock News
Date: May 29, 2015
Books Brought Comfort to World War II Servicemen
Memorial Day, which today is merely a day off that marks the beginning
of summer, was originally a solemn holiday intended to honor those
who died in the military service of our country. This year, 2015,
marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, so it is especially
appropriate that we remember those who served and died in that conflict.
16 million Americans served in the Armed Forces in World War II.
We tend to see that war through the eyes of the innumerable movies made
about it—all combat and chaos. But
for every hour of combat our soldiers and sailors endured, there were many
more hours of sheer boredom spent in foxholes or at sea. Realizing this,
the U.S. Armed Services decided to provide them with what was then state-of-the-art
At first, citizens were asked to donate hardcover books to be sent overseas,
and millions of books were collected. But it soon became apparent that a
soldier with an 80-pound pack on his back, a heavy rifle over his shoulder,
and many more pounds of ammo hanging from his person did not need an additional
10 pounds of books to carry around as he slogged through the mud. So, mobilizing
the best minds in U.S. publishing, the Services embarked upon an amazing
program: the mass publishing of lightweight, easily carried paperback books
that were distributed free of charge to servicemen. They were published
in two sizes, one to fit in the shirt pocket and one to fit in the back
pocket, and they were set in four columns across the spread instead of the
usual upright format. Over the course of the program, an amazing 1,322 titles
While Hitler was busy burning books, we were busy publishing and distributing
them. The slogan of the program was “Books Are Weapons in the War
of Ideas.” There was something for every taste: fiction, nonfiction,
poetry, biography, sports, mysteries, Westerns, classics, and best-sellers.
The very first book in the series was Ross’s “The Education
of Hyman Kaplan.” Perhaps this was the Services’ way of acknowledging
that those who served came from every walk of life and every ethnic background.
You can read about this amazing program, which ushered in the paperback
revolution, in “When Books Went to War: The Stories That Helped Us
Win World War II” by Molly Guptill Manning. It's available in our
On a personal note, when I read this book I imagined my father reading
these specially produced paperbacks. I never met him (he died in combat)
but I know from the books he left behind that he was an avid, eclectic reader.
I like to think that in his foxhole in the frozen Apennines he was deep
into “Moby Dick,” “Candide,” or “The Grapes
of Wrath.” But I would forgive him if, wanting to get away from the
awful miseries of war, he chose “My World and Welcome to It,” “Hopalong
Cassidy Serves a Writ,” or “The Big Sleep.” There was
truly something for everyone!
Sedona Public Library is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, supported
by donations and grants. Your tax deductible donation may be sent to: Sedona
Public Library, 3250 White Bear Road, Sedona, AZ 86336.
Sedona Public Library is located at 3250 White Bear Road in West
Sedona. Library hours are Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Public Library in the Village is located at 7000 Highway 179, Suite
D-100, in the courtyard of Tequa Plaza. Library hours in the
Village are Tuesday through Friday from 1 to 5 p.m. and Saturday
from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
You may call the main Library at 928.282.7714 and SPL-V at
928.284.1603 for more information about exhibits and services
that we offer.
Library News appears each Friday in the Red Rock News and is
also presented on Sedona
Paul Schwartz is a Member of the Library Board of Trustees of
Sedona Public Library.