Gunner’s Run: Bringing World War II history to life

History with Heart of Dakota

Pilot to gunners. Keep your eyes open. We’re almost to target. By now every German fighter in the area knows where to find us.”

These are the opening sentences in one of my favorite living books ever: Gunner’s Run. Gunner’s Run tells the story of Jim Yoder, a fictional waist gunner for an American B-24 Liberator bomber during the Second World War. One day, during a fateful raid on the German shipyard at Kiel, Jim’s plane is struck by flak and he is forced to parachute out.

Upon landing, he is captured by the Germans, but soon manages to escape captivity. Following his successful escape, he quickly realizes that he is alone…and hundreds of miles deep into enemy territory. Undaunted, he sets out on a journey across Western Europe in an effort to reach England. Along the way, he comes into contact with members of the French resistance and learns how to evade detection in occupied Europe. Will he make it out? Will he be recaptured or – even worse – shot as a spy? You’ll have to read the book to find out!

Why I love this book

First and foremost, Gunner’s Run is a Charlotte Mason-style living book. Better than most textbooks, it makes the history come to life and stays with you long after you turn the last page. It’s one thing to know the facts regarding the air war and the underground resistance during World War II. It’s entirely another thing (and much more memorable) to vicariously experience it for yourself!

Second, Gunner’s Run is historically-accurate. As both a history major in college and a lifelong World War 2 history buff, one of my pet peeves is to read books where the historical backdrop is portrayed incorrectly. Maybe it’s just me, but reading books that do this is like hearing the proverbial nails on the chalkboard. I have a really hard time enjoying those books! At the same time, I’ve also read countless books where the history is correct, but the books have no life in them. Reading those books is comparable to eating sawdust…something to be “gotten through” rather than enjoyed. Gunner’s Run falls into neither of these pitfalls. It is a book that accurately reflects the time period yet still is insanely-immersive to read.

Content notes

Content-wise, Gunner’s Run is very tasteful. For instance, while swearing and profanity were common enough in World War II bomber crews, the author makes reference to it but tactfully leaves it out of his characters’ dialogue.

With regard to violence, in my opinion the book takes an appropriate balance. Given that it is a story set during one of the most widespread wars in mankind’s history, combat violence is inescapable. Nonetheless, the main character does not relish in it. As a defensive gunner in a bomber aircraft, despite his elation at shooting down a German fighter bent on blasting them from the sky, he is relieved to see the pilot bail out successfully.

Also, while the author doesn’t shy away from mentioning war violence (such as the “bloodstained bodies” that were unloaded from bullet-torn bombers following each mission) he does not glorify the violence by describing it in minute, gory detail. Because of this, even young teenage readers can truly empathize with the hazards the main character faces without danger of becoming unduly traumatized.

Literary quality

Author Rick Barry isn’t afraid to use the correct names for things (Focke-Wulf 190, anyone?) but his penmanship carries readers through – even if they don’t necessarily know all of the period-correct lingo. This is no easy feat, but he pulls it off with flair. His style of writing naturally flows, making it easy to read without sounding choppy or “dumbed-down.” His main character, Jim Yoder, is relatable and genuinely likable. As the story progresses, Jim also grows in maturity. During his time behind enemy lines, Jim is not only portrayed as an Air Force gunner trying to survive his way through World War II, but also as a young man trying to make sense of where God is in all this.

Where in HOD can you find this book?

You can find Gunner’s Run in the Extension Package for Missions to Modern Marvels and the Living Library Packages for US History II.

References:

Barry, Rick. Gunner’s Run. (Bob Jones University Press, 2007).

PS: Want to learn a little more about the B-24 Liberator bomber (and its connection to actor Jimmy Stewart)? Check out this short 3 minute video!

Indomitable: The Faith and Principles of Theodore Roosevelt

History with Heart of Dakota

Who was Theodore Roosevelt?

“The problem with meeting Roosevelt face to face is that you have to go in hating him an awful lot not to come out liking him even more.” – unknown political opponent of Roosevelt’s (Grant 137)

When it comes to American heroes, few accomplished as much as Theodore Roosevelt did in his lifetime. Over nearly 61 years, Theodore Roosevelt…

…the list of his accomplishments goes on and would be worthy of their own blog post. However, today I am going to focus on what fueled all these exploits: Theodore Roosevelt’s indomitable spirit, his principles, and his faith.

An indomitable spirit

“He was forever defying the odds, defying all reason, defying the very physical realities of life in this poor fallen world.” – biographer George Grant (31)

Theodore Roosevelt never had it easy in life. Although many people think of him as being “fit as a Bull Moose,” (Grant 29) as a young boy, he suffered from severe asthma. “I was a sickly, delicate boy,” he would later recall. “[I] suffered much from asthma, and frequently had to be taken away on trips to find a place where I could breathe.” (Grant 32) Concerned that Theodore might live his whole life an invalid, his father told him, “Theodore, you have the mind but you have not the body. And without the body the mind cannot go as far as it should. You must make your body. It is hard drudgery to make one’s body, but I know you will do it.” (Grant 34) Theodore’s response was characteristic: “I’ll make my body. By heaven, I will.” (Grant 35)

Principles of a leader

“Right is right and wrong is wrong. Woe be unto the man who shies away from the battle for justice and righteousness simply because the minions of injustice and unrighteousness are arrayed against him.” – Theodore Roosevelt (Grant 113)

One thing that stands out about Theodore Roosevelt is his unflinching dedication to principles. The circumstances of his life varied wildly – from frontiersman to American President. However, the way he conducted his life never changed. He treated each person with genuine interest, regardless of their race or cultural standing. Also, although he believed in peace, he was willing to fight for worthwhile causes. “I abhor unjust war,” he once commented. “I abhor injustice and bullying by the strong at the expense of the weak, whether among nations or individuals. I abhor violence and bloodshed. But it takes strength to put a stop to abhorrent things.” (Grant 129)

Because of his unwillingness to advocate peace at any price, some critics labeled him a “warmonger.” Nonetheless, although Roosevelt built up America’s military might, his two terms as president were “among the most peaceful and harmonious in all of American history.” (Grant 128)

Christian faith

“Walk humbly; you will do so if you study the life and teachings of the Savior, walking in His steps.” – Theodore Roosevelt (Grant 186)

Unlike some historical figures, there is no doubt as to whether or not Theodore Roosevelt was a Christian. He once said, “A thorough knowledge of the Bible is worth more than a college education.” (Grant 167) His own life proved this to be correct. The principles he lived by owed their roots to none other than the Bible. For Theodore, the Bible contained truths that deserved to be lived out, whether he was enacting public policy or capturing boat thieves in the Dakota territories. “Every thinking man…” he argued, “realizes that the teachings of the Bible are so interwoven and entwined with our whole civic and social life that it would be literally impossible for us to figure ourselves what that life would be if these standards were removed.” (Grant 168)

A legacy worth carrying on

“Before a man can discipline other men, he must demonstrate his ability to discipline himself. Before he may be allowed the command of commission, he must evidence command of character. Look then to the work of his hands. Hear the words of his mouth. By his fruit you shall know him.”  – Theodore Roosevelt (Grant 163)

As I studied to write this blog post, I was struck by how practical Roosevelt’s principles still are today. We all have people who look up to us in some way, shape, or form. From Roosevelt’s dedication to leading by example, we can learn how to better influence those people. We all fear failure sometimes. To us, Roosevelt says, “There is no disgrace in a failure, only in a failure to try.” (Grant 142)

Finally, there are times – especially when raising a family – that we feel insignificant when we consider our personal successes. After a lifetime of personal success, Roosevelt tells us, “No other success in life – not being President, or being wealthy, or going to college, or anything else – comes up to the success of the man and woman who can feel that they have done their duty and that their children and grandchildren rise up to call them blessed.” (Grant 91)

In a day and age when relativism and narcissism rules, we would do well to emulate Roosevelt’s solid faith and selflessness. More importantly, Roosevelt’s example should cause us to look up and see the Savior that he so loved. In the end, just as it was with Roosevelt, so it is with us; in Christ alone can we find the strength to live with indomitable greatness.

Which HOD guides can you find Theodore Roosevelt in?

You can find Theodore Roosevelt in several of Heart of Dakota’s guides! He can be found in Little Hearts for His Glory, Missions to Modern Marvels, and US History II. You can also find a more in-depth study of him in George Grant’s excellent book The Courage and Character of Theodore Roosevelt, which students read in the Boy Living Library package in US History II.

Bibliography

Grant, G. The Courage and Character of Theodore Roosevelt. (Cumberland House Publishing Inc., 2005).

 

PS: Want a closer look at Theodore Roosevelt’s childhood and homeschooling? Have a look at this excellent video playlist by Notgrass History

Alexander the Great: Brilliance and Brutality

History with Heart of Dakota

Who was Alexander the Great? 

Conqueror, explorer, leader, and visionary. These are just a few of the words that describe Alexander the Great. Born the son of legendary warrior-king Philip II of Macedonia, Alexander went on to outshine his father.  Philip transformed Macedonia from an unremarkable country to a ruling power in Greece; Alexander made Macedonia the ruling power in the entire known world. His conquests would stretch the Macedonian empire from the mountains of his homeland, to the sands of Egypt, to the expanses of Persia, all the way to the banks of the River Beas in India.

Personality of a Genius 

Alexander was a genius in more ways than one. First, his grasp of military tactics was unequaled in his day. He perfected the use of the phalanx – a tactic which his father had introduced. The phalanx was an infantry formation where soldiers grouped tightly together with each man’s shield protecting himself and his neighbor. In addition to this, each man also carried an 18-20 foot pike which he would thrust outwards from the shield wall. (Wasson) In a time where armies usually fought in a haphazard manner depending on sheer force of numbers to win, the phalanx gave Alexander’s soldiers a huge advantage. Oftentimes, enemy soldiers would simply break off his phalanxes like water off a rock. In addition to this, Alexander had distinct knack for sensing his enemy’s weakest position and massing his men to exploit it. Therefore, when his phalanxes came crashing through there was usually no stopping them.

Second, Alexander was a genius when it came to leading his men. He routinely made a point of leading the charge in battle rather than staying back in safety. Initially, he also insisted on sharing his men’s hardships. For instance, while marching his troops through the desert, according to biographer Peter Green, “…when a helmetful [sic] of muddy water had been found for him in some nearby gully – but no more was to be had – he laughed, thanked the donor, and then tipped the water out into the sand. So extraordinary was the effect of this action that the water wasted by Alexander was as good as a drink from every man in the army.” (434) Alexander lead by example, as all great leaders do. When his men saw him facing and overcoming the same challenges they faced, it inspired greatness in them as well.

Fatal Flaws

Nonetheless, Alexander was far from perfect. “Like many brilliant men,” historian John Gunther writes, “he was unstable…he ran from one extreme to another…” (46) While he could be caring and understanding, he also could be irrational and violent. He had a burning temper which resulted in him murdering some of his most faithful soldiers, such as Clitus and Parmenion. Also, during his final years he firmly believed himself to be descended from the Greek god Zeus. Those who did not acknowledge this were executed. (Gunther 138-139) Sadly, with no god to serve except himself, Alexander – once great – ended his life in drunkenness and confusion.

Lasting Impressions

Even though Alexander’s life was dramatically short (he only lived to be 32!) what he accomplished in that time has had repercussions that affect us to this day. His use of soldiers as disciplined units formed the gold standard in military tactics for hundreds of years afterward. In addition, by bringing many different countries under one empire, he spread the use of a universal language – Greek. Many scholars believe this was instrumental in spreading the Gospel 400 years later. He also founded many different cities – some of which remain to this day. (Many of these he named Alexandria, after himself.) Ultimately, much like God had used prior civilizations and kings to carry out His purpose in history, God used Alexander the Great to mold the world according to His own plan.

Which HOD guides can you find Alexander the Great in? 

Alexander the Great can be encountered in several of Heart of Dakota’s guides! You can find him in Little Hearts, Preparing Hearts, Creation to Christ, World Geography, and World History. You can also find a more in-depth study of him in John Gunther’s book Alexander the Great, which students can read in the extension package for Creation to Christ.

Bibliography 

Green, P. Alexander of Macedon, 356-323 B.C. (University of California Press, 2013).

Gunther, J. Alexander the Great. (Sterling Publishing, 2007).

Wasson, D.L. The Army of Alexander the Great. (Ancient History Encyclopedia, 2014).