It was a cold, gray morning in northeast France when Pfc. Silvestre Herrera's unit came under heavy fire from a Nazi artillery barrage. Armed with only a hand grenade and his M1 rifle, Herrera fixed his bayonet and mounted a one-man charge, single-handedly capturing eight German soldiers, then killing two more and pinning down the enemy despite having had both feet blown off by a mine. A few months later he was back home in Phoenix when the telegram arrived notifying him that he was to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Herrera was just one of Arizona's sons and daughters who answered their country's call in World War II. Their exploits and the adventures of those on the home front are now celebrated in a book that brings that era engagingly to life. Arizona Goes to War takes readers back to a time when military installations sprang up all over the state as thousands of airmen arrived to train in Arizona's clear desert skies, and when soldiers destined for North Africa came to get their first taste of desert sands.
In its pages, readers will learn not only of the green recruits who passed through Arizona, but also of the state's Native Americans who registered for the draft in record numbers, of Japanese Americans unjustly incarcerated in desert detention centers, and of ordinary citizens who did their bit for the war effort. Included in the book are some of World War II's most incredible stories, such as the testing of tank engines in Arizona dust storms for the North Africa campaign, the interrogation of Japanese consular diplomats from Honolulu at the Triangle T Guest Ranch near Dragoon, and the escape of 25 German POWs from a detention camp outside of Phoenix called the greatest escape by Axis prisoners from a U.S. compound during the war. A separate chapter pays tribute to Arizona's war heroes: not only Silvestre Herrera, but also fighter ace Grant Turley, Midway hero John C. Butler, and Pima Indian Ira Hayes, who helped raise the flag on Iwo Jima. A host of profiles and sidebars bring people and events of the wartime era to life, and a useful appendix provides a traveler's guide to Arizona's World War II sites.
World War II may have transformed Arizona more than it did any other state; not only did Arizona's industry blossom, its population did as well when servicemen who had been stationed there returned to put down stakes. Arizona Goes to War recaptures the glory and spirit of that era and reminds us that the people who lived through those years are well worth commemorating.
Brad Melton's writings have appeared in Arizona Highways. A former editor at Northland Publishing, he lives in Flagstaff. Dean Smith is the author or editor of fifteen books on Arizona history and biography, including The Great Arizona Almanac: Facts about Arizona. He lives in Tempe.