So you want to write a book about World War 2 about a specific unit or Regiment? In this case you want to write about the US 317th Infantry Regiment and its exploits throughout Europe. So how do you go about it and more importantly how do you keep it accurate and truthful? Easy….. You co-write it with someone who was actually there. Simple but remarkable.
When I was contacted by Dean Dominique asking if I’d like to review his book I thought “err…hello… yeah!” So, having agreed to doing it and after a little research I quickly found out just how modest a man Dominique is. You see, what I didn’t know at the time was that not only was Major Dean Dominique, US Army (Ret), to give him his full title, a veteran of two combat tours of Afghanistan and Operation Desert Shield/ Storm but that he had co-written this fine book with the late Colonel James Hayes, US Army (Ret), himself a veteran of the 317th Infantry Regiment during WW2 earning a Silver Star, two Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart! I mean, I wanted to read a book just about these guys! When the authors of a book have credentials like these I just knew I was on to a winner the moment the book arrived. And I was right.
Now, the 317th may not have been classed as one of the elite or most spoken about regiments in the history of WW2 either here in the UK or in the States but they did have ‘One Hell of A War’ as the title confirms. Fighting under General Patton they fought and suffered heavy casualties throughout France, Germany and Austria. They were big players in the Battle of the Bulge and had the dubious honour of liberating several concentration camps including Buchenwald. The reason for the lack of information or written matter on the 317th is an easy one for me to decipher. They were absent on D-Day! Now this may sound brutal to some but to many people America’s war started on D-Day. I know this to be historically untrue of course but many see the D-Day landings as a badge of honour and to many ‘Hollywood Historians’ sadly it’s a case of ‘if you weren’t on D-Day you just weren’t in it at all’.
The 317th were tirelessly training in England during the actual Normandy landings and didn’t arrive in France until late July. The landings and embarkation of their troops may have been a picnic compared to some, but they were thrown headlong into the fighting around Argentan and baptised in the carnage of the Falaise Gap. That’s some welcome by anyone’s standards.
History often overlooks the ugly side of war and heads for a more presentable and cleaner image. People will always marvel at how sleek a sports car looks, few want to know how it runs and what keeps it moving! Patton’s oiled and greased warriors pushed on and soon ‘fell into line’ alongside their fellow countrymen. They drove the Allies forward with their clinical and precise fighting approach and took casualties along with everyone else. Patton was never one to shy away from an argument or back away from a fight and the soldiers like Hayes under his command were no different. They shed the tears, spilt the guts, dripped blood and buried their dead along the way.
Bruised, battered and broken, the 317th marched on. They never flinched, never faltered or forgot those they left behind. They were everything a regiment should be in combat, and they were Patton’s. An interesting thing of note I became aware of in the book was the difference between American and British rank structure and approach. Britain has always been excessively proud of its officer class and have hundreds of years of tradition and expected respect from the men below the pips and braid to their superiors above them. The Americans however seemed to have picked and promoted their officers on the basis of ability and proven experience in the field; a debate for another day, maybe?
‘One Hell of a War’ is one of those books you simply can’t put down. It should come with a carrying handle and a sign warning ‘Do Not Disturb’. It fills the hole left on the history bookshelf and leaves you wondering why on Earth it hadn’t been written before. Tin hats off to Dominique and Hayes for the research and time and effort put into producing one of the most enjoyable WW2 books to date. It truly is a gift. In short; if you’re looking for a book to buy for a loved one this Christmas, stop looking. You’ve just found it.
Reviewed by Phil Hodges for War History Online.
ONE HELL OF A WAR
Patton’s 317th Infantry Regiment in WW2
By Major Dean Dominique, US Army (Ret) & Colonel James Hayes, US Army (Ret)
Wounded Warrior Publications