Most of us have been exposed to the exploits of the 101st Airborne in World War II because of the Band of Brothers HBO series and the book that it was based on. Nodoubt that the men in the 101st deserved all the praise they received, but there is another unit whose exploits were just as spectacular (actually even more so) – the 82nd airborne. The finest regiment in this vaunted unit was the 505th. Phil Nordyke, in his book Four Stars of Valor: The Combat History of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment in World War II, honors the men who fought and died in this unit during its World War II tour in the European Theater.
Nordyke traces the unit’s history from its formation and training in the United States to its deployment and preparation for combat in North Africa. He then follows the unit from its first combat on Sicily to its fight around Naples, Italy and on to more combat in Normandy, Holland, and Germany. Each step of the way, Nordyke chronicles the deeds of individual troopers. The individual troopers in the 505th (in the entire 82nd) distinguished themselves from foot soldiers in other divisions because the troopers were better trained and led and more motivated. However, this difference became less distinct as casualties mounted.
A theme that runs throughout the book is the gradual decrease in the number of men who were part of the 505th from its inception. Obviously, war means casualties and casualties means death and severe wounds, but it is still sad to read about “old timers” dieing in the final weeks of the war. after enduring so much. And they endured a lot during the Battle of the Bulge. This Battle was particularly costly to the 505th because they either defended against superior German forces in the beginning or were called upon to take towns that were heavily fortified.
Nordyke highlights the fact that the 505th, along with the rest of the 82nd, was often the lead unit in assaults. For example, the 505th led the air assault on Sicily. During the initial phases of the invasion of Sicily, the troopers of the 505th were scattered across the countryside and desperately fought to take their objectives. They went head to head with German Tiger tanks with some small antitank guns and bazookas – they were bloodied and bruised, but they also defeated more than a few of these monsters.
Nordyke’s writing is similar to Stephen Ambrose’s writing style. It is easy to follow what is going on and he relates the events to the common trooper. This style creates a bond with the common trooper and gives you a glimpse into the life of troopers who voluntarily jumped out of a perfectly good airplane to defeat the Germans.
The book is 417 pages and includes 16 pages of photographs. There are plenty of maps scattered throughout the text to give you better grasp of the tactical and strategic situation.
Nordyke’s book is a wonderful tribute to the men who gave their all not only for their country, but also for each other.