Thursday, September 19, 2019

Interview with Award-Winning Journalist on his WWII Book

80 Years After The Biggest War Started, A New Book By Award-Winning Journalist Reveals
The Hidden Places of World War II


Chicago – four decades after the launch of World War II, a new book journeys us to places few have been.

In The Hidden Places of World War II: The Extraordinary Sites Where History Was Made During The War That Saved Civilization (Lyons Press/Rowman & Littlefield), Navy veteran, award-winning journalist, and recognized historian Jerome M. O’Connor takes readers back to the world’s biggest and most significant war, to the overlooked places to describe little-known events where history was made. 

Many of the sites were thought to be closed or locked away forever or believed to never have existed.  Some of the war-changing events described here were ignored for decades by military historians.  With historical and contemporary photos, the book opens the eyes of both a new and older generation of readers, in an exploration of the actual locations that changed history.

O’Connor  ( has had many firsts over the years, as a contributor to the Chicago Tribune, Naval History magazine, British Heritage, and other publications, including being the first to write about Churchill’s secret war rooms in 1977. The U.S. Naval Institute, in 2000, awarded him “Author of the Year,” acknowledging his writings as “significant contributions to the history of World War II.”

The book, which is being promoted by the PR company that I work for,  brings to life the side of the war few have seen. Many military history readers are unaware that all five of the Atlantic Nazi U-boat bunker bases not only exist in nearly their original appearance but can also be visited.  Many of the one-time Army Air Force bases in England, contain parts of runways, crew quarters, chapels, and hangars.  In Nuremberg, Hitler’s vast parade grounds with intact grandstands, half-finished 50,000 capacity congress hall, and even his reviewing podium projecting into the grounds, remain three quarters of a century later.  In London, enter a grand mansion where fifty-nine captured Nazi generals had generous privileges and nearly open access to the house, with every word they spoke being secretly recorded from hidden microphones inside and out.  These are among the many places revealed that were overlooked by history.

O’Connor says: “Secret missions, hidden war rooms, code breakers, and top secret orders.  This book has it all. If you are a history buff, a war veteran, or just a curious student of the most significant time in this nation’s modern history, you will find many items to explore here.”

Here is an engaging Q and A with Mr. O’Connor:

1.      As we approach the75th anniversary of the conclusion of the war that saved humanity, what do you hope new generations will come to know and understand about it? All knew that the war would be fought to the death regardless of the sacrifices and losses ahead.  An unprepared nation joined together to invest vast amounts of money and also confront the loss of thousands of their sons.  There were no doubts about the need and no option except victory.  This generation should know that Americans then knew that they were part of a grand purpose and were equal to the resolve needed.  It was the only time when all Americans had a single objective - the ending of tyranny and restoration of democracy.  Many today either take the war for granted or are unaware that its loss would have ended the forward march of civilization. 

2.      The U.S. Naval Academy declared you its Author of the Year in 2000 for making “significant literary contributions to the history of World War II.”  How would you describe your writing style?” I assume that readers share my inquisitiveness. If others are merely revisiting what is already well known, such as the D Day invasion, I look for the origins of what other writers overlooked.  Thus, the reason for the chapter describing the anxiety faced by General Eisenhower in approving the date of the invasion.  It begins with Ike’s worry over a weather delay, and not on the beaches but in the existing house where he made the decision.   I write as a journalist and storyteller and avoid the use of dense descriptions present in so many works of history.  Sub-heads are included as in a magazine format, and to hint at the section ahead.  In revising copy, I tend to edit down and be simple and direct. Say less to mean more.    

3.      How can we teach history, especially about World War II, in an interesting but meaningful way? Begin by making WW II history more approachable and immediate than it is now, such as informing students that the war was one of the three most important events in American history.  Along with the founding of the country and the Civil War, no other event in American history shaped the world in which they live as students and in which everyone inhabits today.  This recognition will give the war the prominence it deserves in the curriculum.  Currently, it is lacking in importance in the teaching of American and world history.  Also, invite a vet to a class while they are still here.  Only about 3.5% of WW II veterans are still alive, but after decades of silence many are now willing to tell their story.

4.      What are some of the key lessons we should all take away about how nations come together, united against evil?  Consider lessons from the past.  In peace or war nations care about their own self-interests before any others.  Before WW II, European countries and America were divided by world depression, leading to both economic and social instability.  Adding to already unstable conditions was a revulsion against war following the slaughter of millions in World War 1.  This resulted in wholesale disarmament by the leading nations, especially Britain, France, and America.  When Germany began to re-arm the principle governments, including many in the US Congress, sought to appease dictatorship instead of uniting to confront the growing threat.  What emerged from the war, the United Nations and an economic union - the common market or EC - although imperfect, has kept the peace for 75 years.  

5.      Who are some of the unsung heroes that you shed a light upon? In general, the unsung heroes were the nine men in the rear who made it possible for the one man at the front to be equipped to fight, have food, ammo and supplies, and be evacuated if wounded.  I regularly talk to vets who say, ‘I didn’t do much; I only repaired planes or loaded trucks; I didn’t fight.’ Not so; you faithfully served and earned the victory as much as front line troops. Specifically, however, and this is in the book, were entire organizations overlooked by history.  This includes Women’s Airforce Service Pilots, who ferried the aircraft from the manufacturer to the US bases for handing-over to the crews who then flew them into combat.  It took until 1977 for the 1,000 women to be given veteran status and until 2009 for President Obama to award the surviving members the Congressional Gold medal.

6.      What did you term the “decision of the century” in your book?  Why? The success of the European war and the culmination of years of planning came down to decisions made by one man, General Eisenhower.  If he made the easy decision and delayed because of poor weather or landed the troops at easier-to-reach beaches, they could have been defeated at the water’s edge.  That would set back the war by at least 6 months, given the enemy more time to defend against the second invasion, and months more to learn Allied tactics and potentially an even more decisive defeat the next time.   Because Ike had confidence in the plans, equipment and the resolve of his troops, the order to invade on June 6, 1944 became the decision of the century. 

7.      What did you come to discover about the Nazi U-boat Sanctuary? Allied pilots were correct in their repeated assessments after years of bombing that the U-boat bases were indestructible.  They just didn’t know why.  After research and repeated visits to several of the bases, the reason was readily apparent.  The overhead or roof construction was so detailed and so ingenious in a diabolical way, that after seven decades the bases with the full seven-layers and twenty-three feet of protection had no damage.  German engineers had devised a construction process that contained or absorbed explosions, thus preventing penetrating damage to the lower interior parts such as dry and wet docks. 

8.      You have a chapter on the unknown odyssey of the SS America/USS West Point.  Why? Because America was officially neutral, FDR risked impeachment by approving Churchill’s urgent request to lend him seven US flagged ships to transport 20,000 British soldiers to the Far East.  One of the seven ships, the 35,440-ton and nearly new former SS. America, renamed USS West Point, had been the premiere US ocean liner between New York and Southampton.  She not only escaped sinking by the Japanese in Singapore but became the only US troop transport to sail in all war theatres.  Her 151 daring voyages carried over 500,000 troops over 436,000 miles.  Until I researched her heroic missions and to the present day, FDR’s gamble and the USS West Point’s contributions were overlooked in thousands of books about the war.

9.      Secret missions, hidden war rooms, code breakers, top secret orders.  Was the war won not just on power, courage, and strategy, but on the ability to shroud all actions relating to the war effort? Stealth and secrecy shroud every war but never had more meaning than in WW II.  Because the stakes were so high – a restoration of world order or entry into a new Dark Age – vast sums were invested in devising human and mechanized ways of ensuring secrecy.  Germany arrogantly invested its entire future on the presumed infallibility of the Enigma machine.  In turn, Britain launched an all-out effort to break Enigma and then shared the secret with America.  Breaking Enigma saved at least two years of additional fighting, and, before America’s entry, it also saved Britain from certain defeat. The war’s other major secret, the development of the Atomic Bomb, was as closely guarded as the Ultra secret, the breaking of Enigma. 

10.  America saved freedom in its darkest hour back then.  Do we still have what it takes to preserve democracy? Throughout history America’s sons and daughters have risen to the challenge, although to no greater purpose or in numbers than in World War II.  From the Revolutionary War to the current war on terror - the longest war in American history - the special character that is part of the American fabric, somehow produces the men and women who unhesitatingly step forward when needed. Perhaps the wide diversity in our ethnic background leads to an individuality that is needed in combat. The one constant in today’s divided electorate is that those who serve are among America’s greatest resources. 

11.  What is history’s view of President Roosevelt as a war leader? First, it is often overlooked how important FDR’s efforts were in bringing the Nation out of Depression when one in four were out of work.  At the start of the war unemployment was down to 14%.  As a war leader he had to resolve the often competing interests of his military leadership and those of Allied leaders such as Churchill and DeGaulle.  He needed to rally the American people to maintain confidence in themselves and in him.  He made vital military decisions that altered the course of the war and made them without boast or bravado.  He earned the distinction of being the greatest president of the 20th Century, and, along with Washington and Lincoln, one of America’s three greatest presidents. 

12.  Should America have intervened sooner? As is described in the book’s opening parts, America was secretly and deeply involved as FDR sidestepped or openly evaded the Neutrality Act’s requirements in giving aid to Britain.  He knew that America would eventually enter the war, but he also needed time to rearm the country, placate his political opposition, and bring the American people out of isolationism.  He knew long before America entered the war that Britain had to be kept afloat as an unsinkable aircraft carrier, to serve as the staging area for the American forces who would liberate Europe.  The actions FDR took repeatedly to aid Britain were all intended to buy time so that America would be ready.  Against all the odds he succeeded.

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Brian Feinblum’s insightful views, provocative opinions, and interesting ideas expressed in this terrific blog are his alone and not that of his employer or anyone else. You can – and should -- follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels much more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog ©2019. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he now resides in Westchester. His writings are often featured in The Writer and IBPA’s Independent.  This was named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby and recognized by Feedspot in 2018 as one of the top book marketing blogs. Also named by as a "best resource.” He recently hosted a panel on book publicity for Book Expo America.

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