February 17, 2009
Ordinary Heroes: Six Stars in the Window
Incredible Digital Book About Six Brother Soldiers Makes World War II Come Alive!
The back cover of Ordinary Heroes: Six Stars in the Window declares: “If you’re only going to read one book about World War II, this should be that book.” This statement is not false bragging. Hands down, Ordinary Heroes is the best book I have read about World War II. I have never read another book or seen a film on the subject that I found so enjoyable or accessible. The treatment and chronology of the war, as it is presented in the story of the six Koski brothers of Ishpeming, Michigan, makes the war come alive in ways not even Ken Burns’ World War II PBS documentary could achieve.
Author Dan Oja skillfully weaves the story of the Koski brothers against the larger background of the war in the Pacific and Europe, including the letters and memories of the Koski family, interviews with soldiers who served with the Koskis, and historical sources beyond number. The hardcover book alone is a treat, but I recommend readers buy the digital book which includes links to countless website references and access to hundreds of video clips that range from family members being interviewed about their memories of the war, to old newsreels, interviews with the Koski brothers and their fellow soldiers about their war service, and footage of the memorial service for the brother who made the ultimate sacrifice for his country.
While I don’t wish in anyway to discredit the sheer mammoth research that went into this book, along with Dan Oja’s impressive dedication to telling his uncles’ story, what I most enjoyed was reading the book in its digital format because it truly made the war come alive for me. The book is available in hardcover or as a digital book on CD or downloadable to a computer. Purchase of the hardcover includes a CD of the first eight chapters in digital format; if interested, the reader can activate the CD to read the rest of the book in digital form by visiting the author’s website and paying only $4.95, a great bargain considering all the additional information included in the digital version. Not only did Dan Oja make the ingenious decision to provide a digital format for the book, but as an experienced programmer, he created the BookOn digital publishing technology used. Beyond just collecting hundreds of World War II video clips relevant to telling his uncles’ stories, he interviewed family members, read and scanned family letters, and made the technology work so that anything about World War II that could interest us was just a click away. We can go to a website about Hitler’s fascination with Henry Ford or watch a video on the Normandy invasion. I think e-books are not as convenient as print versions, but Ordinary Heroes: Six Stars in the Window is far from a simplistic e-book. This book is a truly interactive reading experience. It took me twice as long as it would to read the paper version to read the digital book because I was so engrossed I had to watch every single video. I also clicked on many of the website links to learn more about such fascinating facts as Victory Mail—soldiers’ letters scanned onto microfilm to be sent back to the Unites States, where they would be reprinted and mailed, thus saving needed space on ships to carry military supplies. Such information at my fingertips on the computer was fantastic. If Ordinary Heroes is a sample of the future of books, I am ready to jump onboard.
As for the information about World War II, I learned plenty I had never heard elsewhere; for example, Henry Ford had Ford Motor Company plants in Germany, which meant Ford was basically also supplying the Germans with vehicles—I found this stunning and a mind-boggling contradiction, especially considering the Ford company’s role in the United States’ war effort. (My own grandfather worked in the Ford plant in Kingsford, Michigan making gliders for the war effort). It is astounding to learn that Hitler had a picture of Henry Ford hanging on his wall because he thought Ford was an inspiration, a leader of Fascism and the anti-Jewish movement in America. While Hitler’s statement could be dismissed as that of a madman, Dan Oja provides links to websites about Ford, the Nazis, and Ford’s anti-Semitism that explores the matter in detail. This story is just one example of the fascinating information included in Ordinary Heroes.
No one who knows about the war can fail to be moved at the courage of the English during the Battle of Britain, or be horrified by the concentration camps, but again, in reading Ordinary Heroes, I learned so much more about the war and human endurance. I had no idea how badly the French were treated by the Nazis, being taxed horrendously to support the German government, being forbidden their previous freedoms, becoming little more than the Germans’ slaves. I was astounded by the videos of English children, even babies, being fitted with gas masks. I was made to feel the seriousness of the Nazi threat when reading that the British actually had a plan to move the government to Canada if necessary. While I’ve always admired Winston Churchill, and knew of his famous speech “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight on the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills, we shall never surrender,” I did not know he made this statement expecting the English would have to fight the Germans on England’s very soil. And I admired Churchill’s humor and courage all the more in reading that one night at dinner, he told his wife and pregnant daughter-in-law, “If the Hun comes, I am counting on each of you to take one with you before you go.”
Finally, let me talk about the real subject of this book—the Koski family’s role in World War II. The Koski family saw six brothers serve in the war. The book’s subtitle, Six Stars in the Window, refers to the flag with six stars, one for each brother in the army, which hung in the family’s window. Dan Oja provides background on the Koski family of twelve children trying to survive through the Great Depression after their mother has died. We get to know the family members intimately—Lilly, the eldest daughter who mothered her siblings, the father who worked in the mine to feed his children, the six brothers who fought so courageously, and Edna Mae, the youngest child and Dan Oja’s mother. Edna Mae is interviewed in numerous videos throughout the book. Listening to her describe her brothers going off to war, and seeing her tear up in a video filmed sixty years after the event, brings the war home in a manner the printed page cannot accomplish; hearing her words and the expressions on her face made me realize how heartbreaking, dramatic, and difficult an experience World War II was for every American family who watched a son, brother, husband, father, or friend go off to fight.
All I can do is offer praise for Ordinary Heroes. Whether you read the hardcover book or the digital BookOnCD, you won’t be disappointed. In addition, Dan Oja has made a documentary video which is also available on his website. As our World War II Veterans are dying off, Ordinary Heroes will help to keep their memory alive. This incredibly rich and informative book is the kind of project you would expect a national foundation or a museum to produce. That Dan Oja created it by himself is truly remarkable. I hope Ordinary Heroes inspires many more people to preserve their family stories and that the digital technology of this book continues to be used to create more wonderful interactive digital reading experiences.
“If you’re only going to read one book about World War II, this should be that book.” Ordinary Heroes: Six Stars in the Window is a book deserving six stars!
For more information about Dan Oja and Ordinary Heroes: Six Stars in the Window, visit www.sixstarsinthewindow.com
See also the review of the Documentary for Ordinary Heroes: Six Stars in the Window.
— Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D., author of The Marquette Trilogy
Superior Book Productions • 1202 Pine Street
Marquette, MI 49855 • (906) 226-1543 • email@example.com