A Hero Lost: Spencer Wurst 1924-2015

Spencer Free Wurst, age 90, passed away at UPMC Hamot, on March 16, 2015. He was born in Erie on December 19, 1924.

Among his many accomplishment, Spencer and his niece Gayle authored Casemate’s highly regarded DESCENDING FROM THE CLOUDS: A Memoir of Combat in the 505 Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Division. This  memoir of his war experiences  was a Main Selection of the Military Book Club and a History Book Club selection.  Library Journal stated that Spencer’s book “ranks as one of the best war memoirs written by a World War II veteran.” Spencer will be missed by all.

Spencer joined the National Guard in Erie at age 15. He quit school at 15 and trained with the 112th Infantry Regiment, 28th Infantry Division, before transferring to the newly-formed parachute infantry. In 1941, he was on a truck with other soldiers returning from maneuvers to Indiantown Gap Military Reservation when the attack on Pearl Harbor was announced.

After training in the newly-formed Parachute School at Fort Benning, Georgia, at age 17, he was proudly wearing his wings as a newly-qualified paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division. As he once put it, “The United States had no doctrine about airborne warfare, and the Army had never written anything about parachute operations. We wrote the book as we went along, and we added, changed, and deleted as we matured.”
spencer 1
Spencer served in the European Theater of Operations from North Africa in 1943 through Germany in 1945. For most of this time, he was a squad leader or platoon leader in Company F, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, the famous unit that liberated the first town in Normandy, France, Ste.-Mère-Eglise (portrayed in the classic film The Longest Day). Spencer made three of the four combat jumps with the 505th PIR, earning two Purple Hearts in Normandy, the first one on D-Day in the perimeter defense of Ste.-Mère- Eglise.
spencer 2
He was awarded the Silver Star for his role in the battle for the highway bridge in Nijmegen, Holland, and is featured in Cornelius Ryan’s famous account of the Holland Campaign, A Bridge Too Far. In the Ardennes Campaign, his unit participated in some of the fiercest fighting on the northern shoulder of the Bulge, before crossing over into Germany in the murderous Hurtgen Forest.

Near the end of the war, Spencer attended Officer’s Candidate Training School in Fontainebleau, France, and graduated first in his class. After V-E Day, he elected not to remain with the Division for occupation duty in Berlin, and was flown home on the “Green Project,” as one of the highest of the “high point” men in the 82nd Airborne.

Back in his native Erie, Spencer was eager to settle down and raise a family. “First I wanted to find a wife,” he stated. “Next, I would take off my chutes.” In 1946, he married 20-year-old Mildred Shugart, of Erie, whom he described as “the most devoted, kind, and gentle wife a man could ever ask for.” In 1974, Spencer and Millie moved to Clymer, N.Y., after raising their family in Harborcreek (1946-1974). Spencer retired from General Electric in 1982 after 35 years as a metallurgic technician.

Spencer rejoined the 112th Infantry, 28th Division, where he had a successful career in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard as a platoon leader, company commander, regimental S-3 and finally, commander of the 112th Infantry, the unit he first joined as a 15-year-old boy. His service included two years active duty as a tank company commander in one of the first four American divisions of NATO. He ended his military career in 1975 as Assistant Chief of Staff, G-3, and retired with the rank of Colonel after 35 years of service.

In 1990, Spencer F. Wurst was named a “distinguished member of the 505 Parachute Infantry Regiment” by the Secretary of the Army, in recognition of his “special place in regimental continuity, tradition, and esprit de corps.” He was inducted into the OCS Hall of Fame at Fort Benning in 2000.

In 2004, he served as President of the 112th Infantry Regiment Association. For the 60th anniversary of the Holland Campaign, World War II magazine published his account of the ferocious fighting in Nijmegen, “Against All Possible Fire” (September 2004).

Colonel Wurst’s combat decorations and awards include: Silver Star Medal; Bronze Star Medal; Purple Heart with one Oak Leaf Cluster; Europe-Africa-Middle East Medal with an Invasion Spearhead, one Silver Campaign Star (5 campaigns), and one Bronze Campaign Star for a total of Six Campaigns; Combat Infantry Badge; Parachute Wings with Three Combat Jump Stars; and Presidential Unit Citation with Cluster (two awards). He also received the following Foreign Combat unit Awards: French Fourragères (three awards); Dutch Orange Lanyards (two awards); Belgian Fourragères.

In 2008, Spencer was admitted into the French National Order of the Legion of Honor and received the Croix de Guerre, France’s highest military decoration. During his years of service from 1940 to 1975, he received 12 Non-combat Army Service Awards and numerous Pennsylvania Army National Guard Awards.

Spencer was preceded in death by his wife, Mildred, in 2007. “In our case it is really true that ‘they lived happily ever after,'” Spencer said on the occasion of their 56th anniversary in 2002. Spencer Free Wurst is survived by three children, Chris Wurst (Lane), Spencer R. Wurst (Debra), and Carolyn Fialkowski (Ed); seven grandchildren; 10 great-grandchildren, and two nieces, Gayle Lynne Wurst and Karen Kay Wurst.

Friends may call at the Dusckas-Taylor Funeral Home & Cremation Services, Inc., 5151 Buffalo Rd. (at Hannon Rd. in Harborcreek Township) on Thursday from 4 to 8 pm. Further visitation will be held on Friday at Faith Lutheran Church, 5414 East Lake Rd., from 10 a.m. until the time of the Funeral Service there, at 11 a.m., conducted by the Rev. David Laakso. Burial will be at Arlington National Cemetery at a time to be determined.

Memorial contributions may be made to Clymer Library, 564 Clymer-Sherman Rd., Clymer, NY 14724 or EUMA, 1033 E. 26th St., Erie, PA 16504, to benefit the Liberty House for veterans. To send an online message of sympathy or to view the Wurst Family tribute wall, please visit www.dusckas-taylorfuneralhome.com.  

Leave a comment

Filed under Author Interviews, Books, Military History, World War II

Fun facts for Saint Patrick’s Day

We all know about four leaf clovers and shamrock shakes- but did you know  St. Patrick wasn’t Irish? The biggest misconception about St. Patrick was that he was Irish. He was actually born in England around  385, St. Patrick didn’t make his way to Ireland until Irish pirates kidnapped him at age 16.


There were no snakes for St. Pat to banish in Ireland. Legend has it that St. Patrick chased away snakes in Ireland,  however Ireland didn’t have snakes at the time. Surrounded by icy water, Ireland was the last place that these cold-blooded reptiles would want to go. It’s much more reasonable to think that the “snakes” that St. Patrick banished were representative of the Druids and Pagans in Ireland since they were considered evil.

The original color for St. Patrick’s Day wasn’t green. .When The  Order of St. Patrick was established in 1783, the organization’s color had to stand out from those that preceded it. And since dark green was already taken, the Order of St. Patrick went with blue. Green was associated with the country later, presumably because of the greenness of the countryside, which is so because Ireland receives plentiful rainfall. Today, the country is also referred to as the “Emerald Isle.”

St. Patrick’s Day in the US has a strong political history. In the mid 19th century, the Irish faced discrimination. In a few rare instances, prejudice against the Irish was even more fierce! The Irish were culturally unique, Catholic, and because of deplorable conditions in Ireland, flooded into the US in large numbers. They were perceived as a potentially disloyal and were treated harshly. To combat this, the American Irish began to organize themselves politically. By the end of the 19th century, St. Patrick’s Day was a large holiday for the Irish and an occasion for them to demonstrate their collective political and social might. While the political emphasis has faded along with the discrimination, the holiday remains ever popular as an opportunity for festivity regardless of one’s cultural background.

St. Patrick’s was a dry holiday in Ireland until 1970. Aside from the color green, the activity most associated with St. Patrick’s Day is drinking. However, Irish law, from 1903 to 1970, declared St. Patrick’s Day a religious observance for the entire country meaning that all pubs were shut down for the day. That meant no beer, not even the green kind, for public celebrants. The law was overturned in 1970, when St. Patrick’s was reclassified as a national holiday – allowing the taps to flow freely once again.

Bonus Fact: Your odds of finding a four-leaf clover are:

About 1 in 10,000.

For more Irish History- check out these titles


Celtic Saints

Long Long War: Voices From the British Army in Northern Ireland 1969-98

Helmand Mission With 1st Royal Irish Battlegroup in Afghanistan 2008

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

WAR BONDS author Cindy Hval draws a huge crowd at first signing

Auntie’s Bookstore in hosted Cindy Hval’s first signing for WAR BONDS: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation on February 22.  Cindy had this message-

So thankful and humbled by the amazing turnout for the War Bonds book launch at Auntie’s yesterday.
Especially, delighted that so many family members of the couples featured in the book were in attendance.
I only wish that I’d been able to chat with all of you!
I also wish we hadn’t run out of books! But I will be signing all the books for those who pre-ordered as soon as they arrive.
I would love it if you could send me photos of yourselves reading War Bonds! You can email them to me at dchval@juno.com
Also, feel free to post reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.
I truly believe word-of-mouth helps to make books successful!
Thanks again for your amazing support and embrace of War Bonds.


In case you missed it, here are some more opportunities to meet Cindy:

Leave a comment

Filed under Author Interviews, Books, eBooks, Military History, World War II

Ground breaking analysis of America’s interventions, peacekeeping operations and insurgencies

AMERICA’S MODERN WARS arrived Friday, and author Christopher A. Lawrence took some time out of his busy schedule to talk with Casemate.

While the past half-century has seen no diminution in the valor and fighting skill of the U.S. military and its allies, the fact remains that our wars have become more protracted, with decisive results more elusive. With only two exceptions—Panama and the Gulf War under the first President Bush—our campaigns have taken on the character of endless slogs without positive results. Christopher Lawrence’s soon to be published America’s Modern Wars: Understanding Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam takes a ground-up look at the problem in order to assess how our strategic objectives have recently become divorced from our true capability, or imperatives.

The book presents a unique examination of the nature of insurgencies and the three major guerrilla wars the United States has fought in Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam. It is both a theoretical work and one that applies the hard experience of the last five decades to address the issues of today. As such, it also provides a timely and meaningful discussion of America’s current geopolitical position.

It starts with the previously close-held casualty estimate for Iraq that The Dupuy Institute compiled in 2004 for the U.S. Department of Defense. Going from the practical to the theoretical, it then discusses a construct for understanding insurgencies and the contexts in which they can be fought. It applies these principles to Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam, assessing where the projection of U.S. power can enhance our position and where it merely weakens it.

It presents an extensive analysis of insurgencies based upon a unique database of 83 post-WWII cases. The book explores what is important to combat and what is not important to resist in insurgencies. As such, it builds a body of knowledge based upon a half-century’s worth of real-world data, with analysis, not opinion. In these pages, Christopher A. Lawrence, the President of The Dupuy Institute, provides an invaluable guide to how the U.S. can best project its vital power, while avoiding the missteps of the recent past.

Why did you decide to write this book?


            I decided to write this book because it was new and unique analysis that had never been done before. From 2004 to 2009 we did extensive work on insurgencies for three different U.S. government agencies. This started with an estimate done in 2004 on the situation in Iraq, included the development of a large insurgency data base, and ended with a series of over a dozen reports detailing the nature of insurgencies. Then the work stopped abruptly in wake of our assumed success in Iraq and Afghanistan and the declining defense budget. Therefore, it was time to try to summarize a dozen insurgency reports into one smaller readable cohesive book. It was the desire the present work that was unique that forced me to put pen to paper.

When did you first realize that you wanted to become a writer? What is it about writing that appealed to you?


It was the realization that I was sitting on research and material that was unique is depth and scope that finally led me to start writing. It was a desire to present this unique material that forced me to write, not a desire to write. This was first done with my extensive 1600-page book Kursk: The Battle of Prohorovka (Aberdeen Books, Sheridan, CO., 2015) and has continued with America’s Modern Wars: Understanding Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam (Casemate Publishing, Philadelphia & Oxford, 2015) and the completed but not yet published War by Numbers: Understanding Conventional Combat.

Each of these books brings forth some part of the work I have been doing at The Dupuy Institute since 1993.

What are you working on at the moment?
I have just completed a third book War by Numbers: Understanding Conventional Combat. This book is built off of our work on conventional war that we did for the Department of Defense and the U.S. Army. In the meantime I have started a fourth book, co-authored with Niklas Zetterling, called Understanding World War II, which I hope to have done before the end of 2015.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation

We’re pleased to announce that War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation is now available from Casemate!


From blind dates to whirlwind romances to long separations, War Bonds highlights stories of couples who met or married during WWII. Each of the 30 stories begins with a World War II-era song title and concludes with a look at wartime couples in their twilight.

Read an interview with author Cindy Hval below and make sure to download a chapter sample about Pearl Harbor Survivors Warren and Betty Schott here.

What kinds of books did you read growing up? Which had the greatest impact on you?

The Little House on the Prairie series dominated my childhood. I loved those books and the plucky Laura Ingalls, but what I loved even more was that the stories were based on her own life.

What fascinates you about revisiting the past and bringing it to life in a book?

I think it stems from my fascination with Laura Ingalls Wilder and the Little House books. Her stories made a bygone era so real to me. I hope that in sharing the stories represented in War Bonds, others will get that magical sense of time and place.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Author Interviews, Books, World War II

Marine Corps Tank Battles in the Middle East

We’re pleased to announce that Marine Corps Tank Battles in the Middle East is now available from Casemate!


In this new release, Oscar Gilbert describes how Marine Corps tankers have been used to wage a smarter kind of war during our fights in Iraq and the post-9/11 years.

You can download a free chapter excerpt from this book here.

An Interview with Oscar E. Gilbert:

What fascinates you about revisiting the past and bringing it to life in a book?

In my professional life I was always something of an iconoclast, and that carries over into my writing. I never accept anything as the final word on a subject. I like to re-examine history based on interviews with veterans, read original period documents, and if at all possible to tour the old battlefields, and not just recycle previous accounts. In doing this I have found that much of historical “common knowledge” is just plain wrong. It’s also supremely important to view historical events, attitudes, and behaviors through the eyes of the historical participants, and not filter them through our own culture and personal attitudes. For example it is easy to condemn the surprisingly common practice of killing prisoners without understanding what drives men to murder. “One captain was sitting in the front line eating his lunch with one hand and shooting the snipers with the other as they came out to surrender.….he said he had had several wounded Jocks shot on their stretchers.” (Peter Hart, The Somme, p. 179)

When and how did you become interested in Military history?

I was always interested in military history since childhood. One of my longest assignments in the Marine Corps Reserve was as a battalion training NCO, teaching the required annual “refresher” courses on a number of subjects, including history of the Marine Corps.

More titles from Oscar E. Gilbert:

Marine Corps Tank Battles in Korea Cover Marine Corps Tank Battles in Vietnam Tanks in Hell Cover
Marine Corps Tank
Battles in Korea
Marine Corps Tank
Battles in Vietnam
Tanks in Hell

Leave a comment

Filed under Author Interviews, Tanks

Surprised at Being Alive


We’re excited to announce that Surprised at Being Alive is now available from Casemate! In this new release, Robert F. Curtis provides a fascinating account of his service flying helicopters in Vietnam through his experiences with the National Guard, Marine Corps, and Royal Navy around the world.

Download a free sample chapter to learn more about this great book.

To learn more about this new release, we talked with author Robert F. Curtis about his time in the military, his experience with writing, and why this his book is worth reading.

Could you tell us a bit about any history of military service in your family? 

All the men in the previous generation of my family served in some branch of the military, five  blood uncles on my mother’s side and four on my father’s. All of my blood Aunt’s husbands served too. My father served in the Army just after WWII. In my generation I am the only one who served one minute of military time. No one in my son’s generation served either. My family has very much become a reflection of the country, in that less than one percent of American’s serve in the Armed Forces now.

All my childhood I saw the uniforms my uncles wore hanging the closets, the pictures on the albums, and listened to the war stories the men would tell as they played cards at family gatherings. I treasured the souvenirs of the military that they gave me: old cartridges, a WW1 and a WWII Victory medals, a Nazi party pin, shoulder patches, etc. When in the 8th grade we were asked what we wanted to be when we grew up I said, “A professional soldier”, although one of my Uncles was a career Marine and he was the most impressive one of the lot. The Marine was a crewman on jets and once when we went to pick him up at Cincinnati’s airport, he came in with the aircraft on fire. They didn’t crash and were even blasé about it afterwards, but it was a very impressive display of what a man should be to a kid. I wanted adventures like that.

When did you first realize that you wanted to become a writer? 

There was never a moment when I decided I wanted to be a writer. I have always wanted to be a writer, telling stories about what I see around me. Story telling is a family tradition, one at which my maternal grandmother was particularly. She had me writer her descriptions of life wherever my military travels took me, what their houses looked like, what they ate, how they dressed, etc. As a pilot flying stories are a part of everyday life, each pilot trying to outdo the other. My first professional writing came when I wrote a few journal articles for The Marine Corps Gazette, the officer’s journal. I also wrote one article for the Royal Navy Air crewman’s journal, TACAN and a technical article for the American Aeronautical Association Journal. I also wrote the script for the three one-man civil war shows I did. That bit of writing showed me that I can tell a written story, as well as tell oral ones, like flying stories.

What fascinates you about revisiting the past and bringing it to life in a book?

The past is the present. Thirty-three years ago I flew Chinooks in combat and they are still being flown today. In fact, as I was typing this on 11 April a flight of two Chinooks flew past my window, a good omen for sure. For all of time men have clashed, often at the same place over and over again. At one spot on the South Branch of the Potomac River, just outside Moorefield, WV, there were four battles during the Civil War, but there is no marker, no sign to tell of what happened there. The people who live there have no sense that they pass bloody ground every day. The same goes how the people feel about the military pilots flying today; no one knows what it is like for them unless they have been there. Telling the stories of the past will help take the 99% of the US population who have not served into the feeling of being there, a sense maybe, that there is something beyond the latest “reality” show.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Author Interviews, Aviation, Books, Vietnam War

I’ll be home for Christmas . . .

We at Casemate wish everyone the nicest holiday season. People are reconnecting with family now, taking long-overdue days off, and in general seeking to regenerate in pleasant circumstances for the next year to come.

While we all take a brief respite, nevertheless, a particular song has been going on in our heads that still resonates through the decades, and as a military history publisher it may be appropriate for us here to describe its context.

“I’ll Be Home for Christmas” was written by the songwriting team of Gannon and Kent, with credit to Buck Ram for its original lyrics. The song was recorded by Bing Crosby in 1943, right in the middle of World War II, just as America had flung literally millions of its men across its oceans—to Europe and the Pacific—to try to retrieve Western values against aggressive dictators who sought power through force rather than the universal principles to which Americans preferred to adhere.

At the time of the song’s release it was still unclear whether America and its allies—primarily the British Empire–could prevail. The climactic battles had then yet to be fought, and the German and Japanese empires, along with their subsumed nations, might have still been unassailable in 1943. Yet the Yultetide song beckoned for a positive resolution as early as possible, when U.S. forces could finish their job and return home.

By 1944 the song had become a favorite among Allied troops, and by then they had gained an upper hand. As the Christmas of 1944 approached Anglo-American forces had already caved in the Nazis’ Normandy front and had ridden across France. In the Pacific we had nearly gained the Philippines. In Europe we were at the very border of the Third Reich—while the Soviets were hammering them in from the other side.

“I’ll be home for Christmas” now seemed less a song than a logistical goal as our commanders began to think the war was nearly finished.

But then in December 1944—precisely 70 years ago–the Germans launched a gigantic counteroffensive through the Ardennes Forest that took the Americans by surprise. Two panzer armies, supported by infantry, crashed through U.S. First Army in the center, and then a titanic month-long battle ensued as the Allies’ “broad front” strategy came to a halt. Every single resource was needed as our forces from the south and north needed to converge on the enemy’s 60-mile breakthrough, known to history as “The Battle of the Bulge.”

For evenhanded details of the battle, readers need only see our recently released “The Ardennes: Hitler’s Winter Offensive, 1944–45,” by the Swedish historian Christer Bergstrom. With hundreds of photos, diagrams and maps, alongside its deeply researched narrative, we have a more
comprehensive view of this battle than seen before.

Another thing that the battle entailed was nearly half a million American troops desperately fighting across a snowy landscape 2,000 miles from home. Gallantly they did so, in their freezing foxholes or small bridgeheads or winter entrenchments as the cream of the Wehrmacht sought to destroy them.

Back to the song: by December 1944, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” was more popular with the troops then ever. But now it was seen that at Christmas 1944, it was not yet. Instead 19,000 U.S. soldiers died in that horrific winter battle, over 60,000 more wounded, and some 26,000 captured. Our troops eventually did prevail and push the Wehrmacht back, whereupon Germany’s days were drastically numbered.

But in those bleak, fire-filled days amidst the snow of the Ardennes in December 1944 it was obvious that our troops would not be home by that Christmas. Instead on that very Christmas day they had to wage the greatest fight in our history as the Germans made one more lunge.

It’s a curiosity that “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” was initially rejected by its NY publisher since the lyrics were considered too depressing. The BBC banned it throughout the war. But then it became a wartime hit, and for many U.S. soldiers in the Ardennes that Christmastime—survivors or not–it is doubtless that the lyrics expressed their thoughts exactly:

Christmas Eve will find me
Where the lovelight gleams.
I’ll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams.

1 Comment

Filed under Author Interviews, Books, Civil War, Modern Warfare, Publishing, Uncategorized, Vietnam War, World War II

Casemate Spring 2015 Catalog

We’re pleased to present Casemate’s Spring 2015 catalog, featuring new and upcoming releases from our own line as well as from our great distribution publishers.

Take a look at all of the great new books by clicking on the image below!

S15 Cover


Filed under Books, Publishing

Casemate Group to Acquire International Publishers Marketing (IPM)

Havertown, PA, November 17, 2014. Philadelphia area based publisher and distributor Casemate is pleased to announce that on January 1, 2015 it will acquire the trade book distributor, International Publishers Marketing of Dulles, VA and that Jane Graf, IPM’s director will join Casemate at that time.

Casemate President David Farnsworth said: “Bringing IPM and their long-time director Jane Graf into the Casemate Group significantly increases our reach and enables us to provide a top-level service to distribution client publishers whose books fall outside of our traditional core subject areas of history, military, archaeology and art.  We will now move forward with renewed confidence and enthusiasm knowing that we are offering the best possible solution to publishers looking for expert third party sales, marketing, and distribution in the general trade. In addition to the key talents of the Casemate team – now enhanced by the many years of experience Jane Graf brings – we have our proven eBook sales and marketing operation and our in-warehouse print-on-demand capabilities to place at their disposal as well, all combining to make a very powerful package of services for our current and future distribution clients.”

“This is a marvelous way to celebrate IPM’s 25th anniversary”, said Graf, “as it will expand the market penetration for IPM’s client publishers, and will increase the exposure across North America for their wonderful books. IPM’s motto for years has been “bringing you the best books from around the globe” and this move will allow us to offer our clients an increased level of quality service. We are all very excited and know that the IPM and Casemate clients will benefit from this merger of talents.”

Founded in 2001, the Casemate Group is made up of Casemate Publishers, Oxbow Books, Casemate Academic, Casemate Athena and Casemate Art. In the United Kingdom, Casemate-UK was set up in 2007 and in late 2011 Casemate acquired Oxford UK based Oxbow Books and Oxbow’s US subsidiary The David Brown Book Company (since renamed Casemate Academic.)

Learn more about International Publishers Marketing by clicking below:

International Publishers Marketing

Leave a comment

Filed under Publishing