Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Book Released Today!

The day has finally arrived. Today we released The Boldest Plan is the Best: The Combat History of the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion during WWII. I say “we” because a lot of people helped with the book, not the least of which is my wife, Sheila, who did the maps, the cover design, and helped with the proofing and editing.

I’ve been working on this project for about ten months, but a lot longer when if you add in the time I thought about it, talked about it, and casually researched it, before finally sitting down to write it. I haven’t talked a great deal about it on this blog because I wanted to have the project completed before bringing it out to the public. After all, it was bad enough having my dad ask me once a week when the book would be done. ;-)

Before writing this book I had no affiliation to the 509th Parachute Infantry, the “Geronimos,” other than being tortured by some of their members when I went through an air assault school they were running at Fort Rucker, Alabama in 1984. But in 2009 I did meet a former “gingerbread man” by the name of Mike Ponzini of Helper, Utah. Mike told me about the history of the unit and really sold me on the idea. Here’s some points on why this unit history is so compelling:

- They were the first American Airborne unit to deploy to England in WWII.

- They were the first American Airborne unit to make a combat jump during WWII (North Africa).

- The unit fought as an independent battalion alongside other elite units like Darby’s Rangers and the First Special Service Force at Anzio, in southern France, and at the Battle of the Bulge. The 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion was awarded three Presidential Unit Citations during the war. Twice, at Anzio and during the Battle of the Bulge they held off attacks by superior numbers of the enemy, which had they not, would have arguably changed the outcome of the battle.

In the coming weeks I’ll post more information on the 509th PIB and some excerpts from the book. Soon we’ll have a companion website for the book with some extra pictures and copies of some of the primary source documents. In the meantime, I truly hope you’ll give it a read and let me know what you think: jim@rovinghistorian.com.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Pretzels, Chocolate, and History: Lititz, Pennsylvania

Where has this guy been for two months?! Not roving, I’ll tell you that much. A couple of weeks got shot down when we moved from Hagerstown, MD up to Mechanicsburg, PA. No offense, Maryland, but we like it a lot better up here in Yankee-land. Besides, now I’m only a twenty minute drive from the AHEC!

The rest of the time I’ve been finishing up the manuscript for the book on the 509th Parachute Infantry. When I say “finishing up” I mean editing, which seems like it’s taking as long to do as it did to write the book. We are also now in the layout stage, which means formatting and putting in pictures and maps. All very exciting. I’ll tell you more about that later.

In the meantime, Sheila and Meaghan convinced me to take a day off a couple of weeks ago, so we went for a drive over to Lititz, Pennsylvania, “Lancaster County’s Sweet Spot.” Lititz is a charming (yes, I said charming) little town about ten miles north of Lancaster. Our first destination: The Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery.

In 1861, Julius Sturgis established the first pretzel bakery in the New World. It says so on the plaque outside, dedicated by the National Pretzel Bakers Institute. So you know it’s true. Go early, it’s a popular tour and worth it. Our tour guide, Ivy, was very knowledgeable, articulate, and friendly. During the presentation, that lasts about 30 minutes or so, the tour group gets a lesson in how to twist a pretzel. I think “hands on” history is great. And fun too. But it probably wasn’t for the 19th century pretzel makers who had to stand there twisting pretzels all day. After the tour, stop by the shop and pick up a bag for the way home. They also have fresh baked soft pretzels for sale, my favorite.

I admit that I had forgotten that the Wilbur Chocolate factory was in Lititz. That turned out to be a pleasant surprise. I had seen Wilbur featured on one of the Travel Chanel shows. They weren’t kidding, the chocolate is better than Hershey’s, in my humble opinion. So from the Sturgis Pretzel Bakery it is worth a stroll through Lititz a few blocks to the house of chocolate. For over 125 years, Wilbur has been making chocolate in Lititz. Their signature product is the “Wilbur Bud” (not to be thought of as the other guy’s “kiss,” this is waaaay better!). Admittedly, the majority of the square footage in Wilbur’s is devoted to the store. But in the back there is a viewing window where you can watch the chocolate treats being made. On the way is a self-service museum of sorts with lots of antique kitchen utensils and Wilbur ephemera on display.

I know this is sounding a lot like a travel piece, but I have to give a shout out to the girls working at the Sandwich Factory, located about a block north of Wilbur’s. Fantastic burgers, sandwiches, and my personal favorite, batter-dipped and deep fried onion rings. The service with a smile was even better than the food.

You know that every once in a while you have to take a break from military history, for family harmony, if nothing else. I highly recommend a trip to Lititz, PA. A little food history with some samples to bring home, what’s not to love?

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