Top Young Historians: 69 – John C. McManus


Edited by Bonnie K. Goodman

69: John C. McManus, 10-1-07

Basic Facts

Teaching Position: Associate Professor, University of Missouri-Rolla
Area of Research: US Military History, World War II, Americans in Combat, and 20th Century US History.
Education: Ph.D. in History, University of Tennessee, 1996.
Major Publications: McManus is the author of Alamo in the Ardennes: The Story of the American Soldiers who made John C. McManus JPGthe Defense of Bastogne Possible (John Wiley and Sons, March 2007); The Americans at Normandy: The Summer of 1944, the American War From the Beaches to Falaise, (New York: TOR-Forge, 2004); The Americans at D-Day: The American Experience in Operation Overlord, (New York: TOR-Forge, 2004); Deadly Sky: The American Combat Airman in World War II, (Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 2000); The Deadly Brotherhood: The American Combat Soldier in World War II, (Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 1998)
McManus is also the author of the following forthcoming books: The 7th Infantry: Combat in an Age of Terror, Korea through the Present, TOR-Forge, (May 2008); American Courage, American Carnage: The 7th Infantry Regiment and the Story of America’s Combat Experience, 1812 through World War II, TOR-Forge, (forthcoming); U.S. Military History for Dummies, John Wiley & Sons, (November, 2007); Tipping the Balance: The United States in World War II, University of Missouri Press, (forthcoming pending review), and Grunts: The American Infantry Combat Experience, World War II through the Present, Signet/Penguin USA, (Fall 2009).
McManus has contributed numerous articles and reviews to World War II, and has contributed reviews to The Journal of Military History, Georgia Historical Quarterly, Military History of the West, among others.
Awards: McManus is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including among others:
Edgar and Jeri Wilson Fellowship Recipient
Bernadotte Schmidt Fellowship Recipient
German Public Radio Fellowship Recipient
Normandy Scholars Fellowship Recipient
Who’s Who Among American Teachers
Arts and Sciences Excellence in Teaching Awards: 2001-2002, 2002-2003, 2003-2004, 2004-2005, 2005-2006;
Class of 1942 Alumni Outstanding Teaching Award: 2003-2004;
UMR Outstanding Teacher Award: 2003-2004, 2005-2006;
W.E. and Peggy Wiggins Faculty Excellence Award: 2004, 2006;
UMR Faculty Excellence Award: 2005, 2006;
Edgar and Jeri Wilson Research Fellowship;
Bernadotte Schmidt Research Fellowship, 1998;
College of Arts and Science Dean’s Research Grant, 2001-2002;
UM System Research Board Grant, 2004;
The Americans at Normandy named to St. Louis Post-Dispatch best books of 2004.
Additional Info:
In 2004 McManus worked as a tour guide and historian with Stephen Ambrose Tours, leading groups to various beaches in Normandy for the 60-year commemoration ceremony, then throughout Europe touring other battle sites.
He is a member of the editorial advisory board of World War II magazine.

Personal Anecdote

Why am I a combat historian? Many people have asked me that question. To be honest with you, I ask myself that question all the time. There are, after all, many more pleasant topics for an American historian to address than delving into the terrible realities of modern war. Sometimes it can be difficult to spend your days immersed in studying the horrible waste, bloodshed and tragedy of war and then somehow let all of that go when the day is done. Chuck Johnson, my mentor at the Center for the Study of War and Society at the University of Tennessee, used to say of combat studies: “If it doesn’t break your heart, you shouldn’t be doing this.” Well, it breaks my heart and, yes, that’s precisely why I do it. In fact, I am quite passionate about it. That passion began when I first studied World War II as a boy, and it has only grown throughout my professional career.

More than anything else, I am fascinated by ordinary Americans in extraordinary circumstances, and no circumstance is more extraordinary than combat. Everyday Americans are the ones who have fought America’s wars. They come from all regions, all creeds, and all races, if not exactly both genders. Studying them is a wonderful vehicle into understanding the American past. I suppose I also cling to the hope that, by understanding war, we can eventually prevent it or at least curtail it significantly.

Regardless of what war we’re talking about, nothing more can ever be asked of an American than to risk his life in combat. I believe it is important that we understand, as realistically as possible, what that combat experience entailed, without resorting to flowery euphemisms or political slogans. For those who have fought our wars, the least we can do is remember what they did and understand something about what the experience was really like for them. We should know, for instance, that American combat soldiers in the Battle of the Bulge existed in sub-zero temperatures, dealing with frostbite and the threat of hypothermia. We should know that, at Peleliu, Marines often fought their Japanese enemies at handshake distance, to the death, in one hundred degree heat. We should know that, in Vietnam, an infantry soldier on an average patrol carried seventy pounds of gear, in grinding heat, all while watching out for booby traps or a Viet Cong ambush.

The focus of my teaching and research is to make these realities come to life for the larger analytical purpose of bettering our understanding of American history. Actually, that brings me to the most compelling reason why I study combat. As a modern historian, I’ve had the precious opportunity to meet and know my sources, from geriatric World War II veterans to college-age soldiers in the Iraq War. My goal is to make sure to collect and tell their stories before they are lost in the mists of time. I encourage them to write down their memories. I conduct personal interviews with them.

Much of my work, of course, is done in such research treasure troves as the National Archives, the United States Army Military History Institute and the World War II Museum in New Orleans, to name only some of my archival haunts. But nothing is more rewarding than melding the after action reports, orders, unit diaries and other official sources I find in these archives with the personal recollections of the soldiers themselves. My books are the product of this mixture of the official and the informal.

Over the years, I’ve logged a lot of miles in pursuit of my research, archival or otherwise. This has included a wide range of moving experiences–conducting battlefield tours from Normandy to Germany, with many of the veterans who fought in these places; studying the Bastogne area minutely, with the help of an amazingly knowledgeable local expert who lived through the war and lost his home to shellfire; attending more veterans reunions and visiting more military bases than I could ever count; giving an untold number of lectures, gathering many thousands of stories. I’ve even conducted group after action combat interviews with Iraq War infantry soldiers. What stands out to me about all this is the people I’ve met and, in some cases, befriended, from guys who jumped into Normandy on D-Day, to Vietnam vets who fought in the anonymity of faraway jungles, to volunteers who repeatedly left their families behind to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan. They did these remarkable things yet they are just ordinary Americans with homes, families, jobs, mortgages and personal problems like everyone else. That’s what is truly fascinating about them. I’m simply their storyteller. That’s why I do what I do.


By John C. McManus

  • Beyond the obvious pride they exhibited in looking back at their service, many combat airmen also became wistful as they thought of days past. In so doing, they articulated the essence of what they as combat airmen had been all about — pride, sacrifice, fear, humor, teamwork, anguish — and what they had become as old men. At the very end of his postwar memoir, Jim Lynch, a radio operator in the 379th Bomb Group, provided some particularly moving prose to describe this essence: “Germany’s devastated cities have long since been replaced by modern architectural wonders. The abandoned airfields are grown over by weeds. The sagging, moss-covered buildings of our former home base are quiet. The friendly banter of the laughing young crewmen and the staccato roar of the starting engines are long since silenced. We . . . are no longer the flat-tummied kids who rode the skies with romantic notions that we could save the world from self-destruction. We’re older and wiser. We’re tired senior citizens who have sent our sons off to war twice after fighting the war to end all wars. We have . . . raised families and lived a very normal American way of life, for which we were grateful.
    Another combat airman, writing five decades after the war in a veterans’ publication, perhaps expressed best the experiences of American combat airmen in World War II — and, in so doing, the kind of people these men were: “All air combat crewmen in World War II were the same. We all groaned when the curtain in our briefing room was pulled aside, and the long red ribbon stretching from our bases . . . to the target . . . was revealed. We all grabbed our mikes and our masks and our Mae Wests and heaved ourselves into the throbbing, shaking aluminum tubes of death, which smelled of high-octane gas, cordite, and urine. We all prayed a bit when the flak . . . whomped around us. We all cursed a lot when the fighters slashed in, wings aglow with our death candles. We all grieved for our buddies who didn’t make it.”
    Truly, no greater and more appropriate epitaph to the American combat airman in World War II could ever be written. — John C. Manus in “Deadly Sky: The American Combat Airman in World War II”
  • At last, here is a book that tells the full story of the turning point in World War II’s Battle of the Bulge-the story of five crucial days in which small groups of American soldiers, some outnumbered ten to one, slowed the German advance and allowed the Belgian town of Bastogne to be reinforced. Alamo in the Ardennes provides a compelling, day-by-day account of this pivotal moment in America’s greatest war.
    Alamo in the Ardennes JPG In December 1944, when the Germans launched their last-ditch offensive now known as the Battle of the Bulge, they badly needed to capture the Belgian city of Bastogne as a communications center, supply depot, and springboard for their drive to Antwerp. The city’s defense by the 101st Airborne is often cited as the battle’s most desperate and dramatic episode, but these heroics never could have happened if not for the unsung efforts of a ragtag, battered collection of American soldiers who absorbed the brunt of the German offensive first along the Ardennes frontier east of Bastogne.
    Alamo in the Ardennes tells the powerful, poignant, yet little-known story of the bloody delaying action fought by the 28th Infantry Division, elements of the 9th and 10th Armored Divisions, and other, smaller units. Outnumbered at times by as much as ten to one, outgunned by Hitler’s dreaded panzers, and with no hope of reinforcement, they bore the full fury of the Nazi onslaught for five days, making the Germans pay for every icy inch of ground they gained. — John C. McManus, “Alamo in the Ardennes: The Untold Story of the American Soldiers Who Made the Defense of Bastogne Possible”
  • D-Day was just the beginning Never before has the American involvement in Normandy been examined so thoroughly
    or exclusively as in The Americans at Normandy. D-Day was only one part of the battle, and victory came from weeks of sustained effort and sacrifices made by Allied soldiers. Here is the American experience from the aftermath of D-Day to the slaughter of the Falaise Gap, from the courageous, famed figures of Bradley, Patton, and Lightning Joe Collins to the lesser-known privates. The Americans at Normandy honors those Americans who lost their lives in foreign fields and those who survived. Here is their story, finally told with the depth, pathos, and historical perspective it deserves. — John C. McManus, “The Americans at Normandy: The Summer of 1944, the American War from the Beaches to Falaise”

About John C. McManus

  • “McManus’s absorbing and forthright narrative will hopefully dispel several myths, namely that Bastogne was the decisive engagement of the Battle of the Bulge, and give long-overdue credit to the many brave Americans, some of them still alive today, who made victory possible in America’s greatest ever battle. You can’t ask for more. Bravo!” — Alex Kershaw, author of “The Longest Winter: The Battle of the Bulge” and “the Epic Story of WWII’s Most Decorated Platoon” on “Alamo in the Ardennes: The Untold Story of the American Soldiers Who Made the Defense of Bastogne Possible”
  • “John McManus has deftly woven a wide range of previously untapped sources into a dramatic and finely detailed account of events that set the stage for the successful defense of Bastogne during the Ardennes Counteroffensive. In doing so, McManus pays a long overdue and heartfelt tribute to the brave men of the 110th Infantry Regiment, Combat Command R, 9th Armored Division, and CCB, 10th Armored Division without detracting from the epic stand of the “Screaming Eagles” of the 101st Airborne Division.” — Lt. Col. (Ret.) Mark J. Reardon, U.S. Army Historian and Author of Victory at Mortain on “Alamo in the Ardennes: The Untold Story of the American Soldiers Who Made the Defense of Bastogne Possible”
  • “A comprehensive and vivid account of the heroic defense of Bastogne, the linchpin in the Battle of Bulge. With a scholar’s precision and a writer’s keen eye for the telling detail, John C. McManus has taken a great old story and made it new again.” — Rick Atkinson, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning “An Army at Dawn and the bestselling In the Company of Soldiers” on “Alamo in the Ardennes: The Untold Story of the American Soldiers Who Made the Defense of Bastogne Possible”
  • “I have read hundreds of books about men in battle but seldom have I seen one that comes close to the intensity that John McManus achieves in Alamo in the Ardennes. To an unparalleled degree, his amazing research has enabled him to get inside the minds and hearts of dozens of soldiers, from generals to privates. This is a book that will become one of the classics of the literature of World War II combat.” — Thomas Fleming author of “The New Dealers’ War: FDR and the War Within World War II” on “Alamo in the Ardennes: The Untold Story of the American Soldiers Who Made the Defense of Bastogne Possible”
  • “John McManus shines a light on the lesser-known battles that made the historic defense of Bastogne possible. His excellent research puts the reader on the icy battlefields of Belgium where threadbare American retrograde fighting frustrated Hitler’s last offensive in the west.” — Kevin M. Hymel, author of “Patton’s Photographs” on “Alamo in the Ardennes: The Untold Story of the American Soldiers Who Made the Defense of Bastogne Possible”
  • “Alamo of the Ardennes” reveals the largely unknown story of how small bands of American soldiers turned the tide during the early stages of Battle of Bulge. Through the words of the men, McManus weaves a brilliant story of courage and sacrifice. This definitive and eminently readable history is destined to be a classic among Bulge histories.” — Patrick K. O’Donnell, author of “We Were One: Shoulder to Shoulder with the Marines Who Took Fallujah” and “Beyond Valor: World War II’s Ranger and Airborne Reveal the Heart of Combat” on “Alamo in the Ardennes: The Untold Story of the American Soldiers Who Made the Defense of Bastogne Possible”
  • “An American Iliad” — Stephen Coonts on “The Americans at D-Day and The Americans at Normandy”
  • “Required reading on a bitter battle that won’t be–and never should be–forgotten.” — W.E.B. Griffin on “The Americans at D-Day and The Americans at Normandy”
  • “Awesome! A definitive account of a turning point in American and world history.” — Thomas Fleming on “The Americans at D-Day and The Americans at Normandy”
  • “Far more gripping than Saving Private Ryan. Comprehensively detailed . . . Utterly fascinating. McManus’ style fits the slam-bang fighting that characterized one of the most crucial periods of the war, and he makes every battle—and every soldier—count as if it were the last round in the clip.” — Walter J. Boyne, New York Times bestselling author of Operation Iraqi Freedom on The Americans at D-Day and The Americans at Normandy
  • “I thought I knew something about war and men at war until I read John C. McManus’ deeply insightfiul book. I stand humbled by what I consider nothing less than a definitive work on a subject whose scope is simply so vast that no writer until now has put it in perspective and made it real.” — David Hagberg on The Americans at D-Day and The Americans at Normandy
  • “This guy is simply the greatest. He actually makes History interesting, and that’s not an easy thing to do. He’s got a great sense of humor, and you learn a lot in his classes without having too high of a difficulty. I can’t stress enough the quality of this professor.”… “Very good prof. Easily one of the top five profs at UMR, and one of the top two in the history department.”… “Most awesome teacher EVER!!! I would seriously be a history major if he taught every class.”… “Absolute favorite teacher EVER. I have never loved a class more or learned more in one semester. Lecture was like listening to a story, I was just enthralled. I have a LOT of respect for him and would consider changing majors if he taught every class.” — Anonymous Students

Posted on Sunday, September 30, 2007 at 10:46 PM

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