We’re excited to announce that The Battle of the Bridges: The 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment in Operation Market Garden is now available from Casemate Publishers!
In this great book, author Frank van Lunteren sheds new light on the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment’s actions during Operation Market Garden.
To learn more about the research that went into this book, we asked Frank van Lunteren a few questions:
When did you first realize that you wanted to become a writer?
Actually from early age on. I already wrote short stories as a child and when I was about ten years old I knew that I wanted to study history and become an author. What fascinated me was the fact that I wanted to record events that I had never witnessed, but in describing them could better understand – like the Battle of Arnhem. This led as a college and later university student into my interest in the US paratroopers in World War Two.
What fascinates you about revisiting the past and bringing it to life in a book?
That you can ‘bring to life’ and by doing so ‘experience’ in a reconstructed way what happened in a time before you actually lived. Or as the famous German historian Leopold von Ranke (1795-1886) put it, to write “wie es eigentlich gewesen ist.”
When and how did you become interested in Military history?
Growing up in Arnhem I saw British and Polish veterans coming each year in great numbers for the annual commemoration. Taking part in the annual Airborne March (international one day walking event), visiting the Airborne Museum in Oosterbeek about the Battle of Arnhem as a child and later (age 15 and on) the annual commemorations at the Airborne Cemetery in Oosterbeek. During my study time in Nijmegen I would cross the Waal River by train five days a week and it made me reminisce about the scenes in the book and film “A Bridge Too Far”. Although I liked the way Robert Redford fought his way to the Waal Bridge in the movie, I wanted to learn more about the actual events back in 1944. Getting in touch with James McNamara, Jr. (son of a 504th PIR veteran) and Fred Baldino (A Company veteran) I really got interested in the 504th. I visited Fred in his house in California in October 2003 and from then on started to research A Company. It was I Company veteran Francis Keefe who asked me in August 2007 to expand my research and incorporate the entire regimental history in WWII.
How much research did you do for the book? Can you give us some tips on this?
I spent thousands of hours on the book. Would be incalculable in money and time I spent on it. My research was based on numerous sources, having learned during my History study that “one source is no source, two sources are few.” I used regimental rosters, after action reports, morning reports, S-2 and S-3 journals, read about EACH United States Army parachute unit in WWII (have a whole cupboard full of books on them) and mailed out questionnaires to specific veterans. I tried to contact at least three veterans from each company and especially tracked down the former officers. I figured that they would have been better informed in WWII of the places they went, enemy strength, etc. This proved to be true.
In many cases I was the first to hear their stories. Some veterans hadn’t even spoken about it to their family and friends! What kind of opened them up is I think the fact that I memorized the names of the people in their company. Mentioning in the beginning of a phone call the name of their platoon leader and/or company commander made them realize I had done my homework. And if they mentioned a buddy, I could often locate him on the rosters and helped them tracking them down. Former Lieutenants Roy Hanna and Francis Deignan I could reunite after 67 years! That was really a thrill!
I visited the American cemeteries in Normandy, Belgium and Holland where 504th PIR veterans were buried, and also the National Cemetery in Gettysburg where some were interred after the war. I also visited the battlefields of the 504th PIR in Belgium (Manderfeld, Cheneux, Bra, Floret, Mont, Grand-Halleux), Germany (Hitdorf, Mertersrott Heights) and the Netherlands (Nijmegen, ‘the Island’, Grave, Overasselt, Maas-Waal Canal, Erlekom and the various farms along the Wylerbaan). Walking in the trail of the 504th PIR – albeit over 60 years later – enabled me better to place myself as it were back in time. What was the distance between points A and B? How high is a certain dike or bridge? Getting ‘the feel of a battlefield’ is I believe very essential for any military historian.
Why did you decide to write this book? What prompted you to put this story down on paper?
Veteran Francis Keefe (I Company) asked me in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania after I had given a speech on the Waal River Crossing to expand my research and book on A Company to the entire 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment. He offered to tell his story and persuade some others to do the same. This inspired me to give it a try. I have not regretted that commitment. Keeping their memories alive and reconstructing what really happened prompted me to write the book. What happened to the 644 KIA’s? Where, when and how were they killed? I realized I had a kind of a mission: if I waited too long many answers on those questions would fade away with the slow demise of the surviving WWII veterans.
How long did it take you to write it?
About six years (after spending three years researching A Company) of research were put into the writing process. Many evenings, weekends and vacations were spent reading, corresponding and writing. I envisioned a framework for the book (chronologically following the 504th PIR throughout the war, letting the veterans mainly tell the story) and went from there.
What do you like most about your book? Why should we read it?
The eye accounts of the veterans who were actually there that many years ago. Many stories in my book are told for the first time. Several died since I contacted them, but in the book they will live on in a way. I also found unique Dutch and German accounts that will place the veterans’ recollections into perspective. I unveil the German units that fought on the Waal Bridge and also uncover the British intelligence reports of the Guards Armoured Division. I am also the first historian to have consulted both Captain Moffatt Burriss and Lord Peter Carrington about the capture of the Waal Bridge.
You can purchase your own copy of The Battle of the Bridges here.