Today on the blog we have a special interview with one of our authors! Thomas D. Phillips is the author of two Casemate titles: In the Shadows of Victory: America’s Forgotten Military Leaders, 1776-1876, and his brand new book, In the Shadows of Victory II: America’s Forgotten Military Leaders, The Spanish-American War to World War II. Keep reading to learn more about Thomas and the inspiration behind his books.
Where were you born? Where did you grow up?
Contrary to my children’s assertions, I was born in a farm house – not a log cabin – in northeastern Nebraska. The birth certificate says “Venus, Knox County, Nebraska.” Venus, a long-since abandoned rural store/post office, was the closest thing resembling an official venue located anywhere close to my parents’ farm. After a brief intervening move, my family settled on a farm near Lincoln, Nebraska, owned by the University of Nebraska. My father was the foreman of a facility that raised experimental crops and tested new machinery for the University’s College of Agriculture. I grew up on that farm. It was an ideal location that gave me the best of both worlds – a mile from the city in one direction and a half mile in the other to a small creek where I fished in the summer and skated in the winter.
Could you tell us about any history of military service in your family? In what ways was the military part of your life from an early age?
I had a plethora of uncles and older cousins who served in World War II. The mementos in the basement of one uncle who was with Patton’s Third Army were always a special source of fascination. My older brother was a Marine during the Korean War, so I was the benefactor of lots of war stories. My home town was the site of a Strategic Air Command base and activities there were prominently featured in the local newspaper. Mostly, though, I think it was reading that led me to a military career. For as long as I can remember, I have devoured books on military, western, and American history.
What kind of books did you read growing up? Which had the greatest impact on you?
When my mother was young, she taught all eight grades at a country school. She loved baseball, literature, and history – particularly American history and most especially the history of the American West. So, I found myself being given lots of material to read in those genres – wonderful stuff to curl up with on cold winter nights in Nebraska. I was hooked: clearly the history books held a special fascination that has always stayed with me.
When did you first realize that you wanted to become a writer? What is it about writing that appeals to you?
I suppose the germ had been simmering for a long time. As a senior in high school I wrote about the interesting possibility of becoming a free-lance writer. That notion was held in abeyance for an extended period during my military service, but during that time I was called upon to do lots of writing. I like the independence that a writing life affords and I enjoy the periods of solitude. The fascination of researching a subject and finding new and unusual things – and then searching for the right words to bring them to life – is a both daily treat and a splendid misery.
What did you do before you started (or in addition to) writing. Did you have any odd jobs?
As a boy growing up, I was busy with chores around the farm. During my time in the Air Force, I wrote policy and position papers associated with Air Force and Department of Defense programs and occasionally drafted material for Congressional testimony. For three years I served as a speechwriter for the Commander-in-Chief Strategic Air Command. After retiring from the Air Force, I worked for a time as an administrator at the University of Nebraska. Now, in addition to writing, I teach classes on military history, Americana, and baseball for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.
When and how did you become interested in military history?
The fascination has been with me for as long as I can remember. Books that were given to me were probably the first influence. Growing up a farm left ample time for solitude to envision and reflect on how battles and campaigns must have been waged – and lots of open space to “fight” imaginary battles and pretend to be part of it all.
Who are your favorite authors, fiction and non-fiction and why?
My favorite sports writer – indeed, perhaps my favorite writer in any genre – is Roger Angell. His words about baseball preserve the people and the sport’s great moments with surpassing eloquence. As another author said: “he is the curator of our baseball souls.” In his book Agincourt and After Angell writes about the importance of caring in a way that is so insightful and electric that I’ve clipped it and kept it in my office.
Along with baseball, history is a second love. I greatly admire the works of Stephen Ambrose, Rick Atkinson, and David McCullough because the writing is so clear and straightforward and they seem to have a knack for including just the right amount of detail. For many of the same reasons I also enjoy Thomas Friedman, Thomas Ricks, and David Halberstam whose works cross the boundaries between history, current events, and analysis. I also enjoy the “classic” military historians, particularly John Keegan and Shelby Foote, because the base of information from which they write is so obviously encompassing.
Michael Shaara’s book The Killer Angels is the only book I’ve ever read through cover to cover and then immediately read it in its entirely again a second time. The participants in the battle of Gettysburg come alive in his writing; it is easy to visualize them as human beings and not just as characters from distant history.
In the fiction area, I enjoy many of the works of Leon Uris. His book The Haj does a remarkable job in subtle ways of illuminating the cultures of the Middle East. Herman Wouk’s Winds of War and War in Remembrance capture a time and an era on a grand scale. I found them very hard to put down at night.
Have you read anything lately that you’d like to recommend to our readers?
For pleasurable reading When Books Went to War is a quiet, thoughtful account of the extraordinary efforts made to provide American service members with reading material during World War II and the importance of the program to the men and women who served. The book illuminates the differences between the adversaries. By 1938, the Nazis had banned 18 categories of books, 4, 175 titles, and the complete works of 565 authors. During the course of the war, they burned more than 100 million books and torched 975 libraries. In contrast, the U.S. went to exceptional lengths to provide 123 million books of all fiction and non-fiction genres to its citizen soldiers.
The Wright Brothers by David McCullough is a truly masterful account of the achievements of two extraordinary men and the marvel that they accomplished. Incredibly, they did it almost all on their own.
For serious reading – especially in light of recent events – try ISIS: The State of Terror. The book analyzes the rise of the movement, its goals, ideology, and major players. Similarly, The Great War of Our Time: The CIA’s Fight Against Terrorism from Al Qa’ida to ISIS, written by Michael Morrell, the former Deputy Director of the CIA, has useful insights into 9/11 and its aftermath, tracking bin Laden, the instability of the Middle East, etc.
Baseball fans may wish to consider three fairly recent books: The Best Team Money Can Buy: The Los Angeles Dodgers’ Wild Struggle to Build a Baseball Powerhouse; Where Nobody Knows Your Name: Life in the Minor Leagues of Baseball; and Baseball Codes: Beanballs, Sign Stealing, and Bench-Clearing Brawls – the Unwritten Rules of America’s Pastime.
How do you relax? Do you have any hobbies or interests?
I am a life-long baseball and softball player (four gold medals in inter-service competition). I enjoy travel when the occasion permits. I do a considerable amount of leisure-time reading – primarily books on military history. In recent years, I have become addicted to the Los Angeles Times crossword puzzle and generally try to muddle through the day’s version over coffee in the morning.
How and why did you begin researching forgotten military leaders? Why did you decide to tell their stories?
I have been reading military history for as long as I can remember. It has always struck me how many times during the course of those readings that I noted the vital roles played by military leaders whose names are little known to the public or have been forgotten entirely. During the course of America’s existence, we have enshrined an exceptional few military leaders in the collective conscious of our nation while ignoring others often equally as deserving. What those leaders “in the shadows” share in common is that their accomplishments, though exceptional in scope and caliber, have been undervalued and their remarkable leadership has been overshadowed, at times unfairly, by their more renowned contemporaries. Although the nation owes them considerable debts, their services have been too little recognized and too seldom celebrated. I thought it was important for the present generation to get to know these people and to understand and appreciate what they accomplished. It is time to bring them out of the shadows.
What do you like most about your book? Why should we read it?
Here are three things I like about the book and why I believe others may welcome it also. One, it tells the stories of people that are important for Americans to know; it fills a void in our understanding of the history of our nation. Two, there is no other book like it. Three (this also relates to why we should read it) the stories are hopefully presented in a lucid and entertaining manner and touch aspects of our national legacy that are not commonly known or appreciated. Our nation owes considerable debts to the leaders whose stories are chronicled in the book, but their services have been too little acknowledged and too seldom celebrated.
Anything else we should know about you and your books?
It was an enormous pleasure for me to research and write this book and the In the Shadows volume that preceded it. And, as mentioned earlier, since it fills a void in our understanding and because there is no other similar source, I perhaps felt a special sense of obligation to do it well. I hope the enthusiasm and dedication that went into preparing the book transmit to the printed page and that readers – whether casual samplers of history, armchair historians, or research scholars – will enjoy the book and learn from it. After 36 years in the military, I hope also that it will strike a special chord with others who have served.
The first volume of In the Shadows of Victory: America’s Forgotten Military Leaders covered essentially the first century of America’s existence – the War of Independence, the Barbary Wars, the War of 1812, the Seminole War, the Mexican-American War, the Civil War, and the Indian Wars of the American West. In the Shadows of Victory II takes us through the Spanish-American War, the Philippine Insurrection, World War I and World War II. If all goes well, two or three years downstream there will be a third, and final, volume that brings us from the onset of the Cold War to the present day (Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, and Iraq-Afghanistan).
During 36 years in the military, Thomas D. Phillips led an isolated unit through a terrorist episode, ran a think tank for the Commander-in-Chief Strategic Air Command, served as the Director of the Air Force Personnel Readiness Center during Operation Desert Storm, and led some of the first American troops into Sarajevo. Following his military service, Phillips worked as a university administrator before beginning a full-time writing career. Tom is a graduate of Air Command and Staff College and Air War College.
In the Shadows of Victory II
America’s Forgotten Military Leaders, The Spanish-American War to World War II
The history of the United States is peppered with extraordinary military leaders. Fate has enshrined an exceptional few in the public’s collective consciousness while sometimes ignoring others often equally as deserving, relegating them to footnotes at best. Though the nation owes them considerable debts, there are many examples of men whose singular leadership is now little remembered or forgotten completely.
This volume covers leaders “in the shadows” during the four major conflicts the United States engaged in from the end of the 19th century to the middle years of the 20th: the Spanish-American War, the Philippine Insurrection, World War I, and World War II. It tells the stories of more than 20 individuals and chronicles their activities through conflagrations spanning five decades. To enable readers to put these exploits into proper context, each chapter traces the roots of the conflict covered and discusses the paths that led to America’s involvement.
Throughout the book, examples are also noted of leaders whose major renown is associated with a specific war—John J. Pershing, America’s towering military figure during World War I, for example—who also rendered exemplary though largely forgotten service during a different conflict (in Pershing’s case, the Philippine Insurrection). Of special interest to many audiences may be the commentaries regarding the World War I services of officers such as Eisenhower, Marshall, Patton, and Bradley—an aspect of their long military careers overshadowed by their World War II renown and too often minimized in consequence.
The book also features brief biographies of officers whose contributions, while less consequential on the world stage than those of colleagues chronicled elsewhere in these pages, are nonetheless deserving of far more recognition than has thus far been accorded them.
In the Shadows of Victory II is available from all good bookshops. An eBook version is also available.
Don’t miss Thomas D. Phillips’ first book, In the Shadows of Victory: America’s Forgotten Military Leaders, 1776-1876.
From the War of Independence, through the Mexican War and Civil War, and during the numerous Indian wars throughout, great combat leaders have emerged across America’s battlefields, yet have just as suddenly slipped through the cracks of history once the guns went silent. At the same time conflicts themselves have often disappeared from consciousness, the public forgetting the fights the country waged against the Barbary Pirates, the British in 1812, and against the Seminoles and Apaches. In the Shadows of Victory describes the heroics and command acumen of 25 superb military leaders whose sacrifice and skill have often been neglected. As such it provides a fascinating tour through early American military history and the various martial challenges the young nation faced during its first century of existence.
In the Shadows of Victory is available from all good bookshops. An eBook version is also available.