First published in 1943, more than 123 million "Armed Services Editions" (ASEs) were handed out to U.S. troops overseas during World War II. This giveaway represented the largest free distribution of fiction and non-fiction books in the history of the world. More than 1,300 titles were published, including mysteries, biographies, crime stories, adventure novels, and classic works of literature by authors such as Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, and Herman Melville.
The original ASEs were discontinued in 1947. Beginning in November 2002, Legacy Project founder Andrew Carroll has been working with major publishers to bring them back. Hyperion, Simon & Schuster, and Dover Publications were among the first to join together to publish and distribute free ASEs to American troops stationed overseas and serving on U.S. warships.
Hundreds of thousands of copies of the following titles have been disseminated around the world:
The books are being formatted in the same "cargo pocket" size and have the same vintage appearance as the original ASEs from World War II. Books will continue to be distributed for as long as they can be funded; ideally, new titles will be added to the list. Unlike the original ASEs, these new books are being paid for entirely with private donations. No government funding is being used.
Robert S. Miller, president of Hyperion, says: "We are extremely proud that Medal of Honor: Profiles of America's Military Heroes from the Civil War to the Present has been selected to be re-formatted as an ASE and given to U.S. troops worldwide. Medal of Honor was written as a tribute to those who have served this country, and we are delighted to see it being sent to those who serve our nation now."
"The ASEs of World War II inspired a whole generation of servicemen and women to become lifelong readers, and I have no doubt these books will do the same," says Clarence Strowbridge, president of Dover Publications and the publisher of the ASE editions of Shakespeare's Henry V and Sun Tzu's The Art of War.
"The ASE giveaway of the 1940s is one of history's great forgotten stories," says project coordinator Andrew Carroll and editor of the national bestseller War Letters. "There is no limit to the demand for these books, and I hope this is just the beginning of a much larger effort."
"Getting quality reading material to our troops on the front lines is a great initiative, and one that all the armed services are eager to support," says the Pentagon's Chief of Naval Information, Rear Admiral Stephen R. Pietropaoli. "The Armed Services Editions were a big hit with the Greatest Generation, and it is heartening to see the publishing industry looking for ways to support the men and women in uniform who are defending America today."
An American soldier in Baghdad reads an ASE handed out by Legacy Project founder Andrew Carroll during his visit to Iraq.
The books have been very popular with today's troops as well. The following represent just a handful of unsolicited responses sent to the Legacy Project:
"The books were a big hit with the troops. We have many of our troops, currently in areas of high concern, who have read them front to back and over again. It's amazing how such a small book can make a huge difference in their day. I along with them thank you for these highly effective/morale building tokens and what appears to become excellent memorabilia in the future for them and their children."
"I was given a copy of this edition and it is GREAT. I really love how you can carry it around in your cargo pocket. So many times other paperbacks are just a bit too bit. Also, these read so well it is just enough when you are waiting and need something to occupy you. I have not seen the other editions anywhere on base. Thanks for a wonderful product, and please let me know how I can get more. This is the only book I have managed to read in the last 4 months. THANKS AGAIN!!!!!"
"Well..let me tell you..the books went like hotcakes!! Put them out on Friday morning and people were asking 'How can I get a copy of that book?' by Sunday night. I was able to distribute 300 to Kandahar, 64 to Kabul and the remaining 600 or so to Bagram..we have about 8,000 troops deployed so they are definitely hungry for more..."
"I wanted to say Thank You for the books. All of the members have been so excited about them. As soon as they have came in I put a notice out and immediately I have calls and e-mails asking where they can pick up a copy. I have had comments like 'finally books that are truly good reading', and 'It really means so much to me to know that there are folks out there who care and are thinking of me.' Each and every book I have received I have given out and again I would like to Thank You for the smiles that you have created. Keep up the good work! Thank you again from myself and all of the members of the 184th, 134th, 127th, 177th, and Smokey Hill."
"I just want to take a moment and thank you folks for your efforts in providing reading material for our deployed service members. I am an Army Lieutenant Colonel and I am going to take command of an Infantry battalion this coming spring. I know that if we deploy during my tenure your books will be much appreciated. Unless they have been there, few people can understand how boring a combat zone can be. I was a company commander during the Gulf War and I have to tell you what few books we had in the company were passed around from man to man like they were gold. Thanks again for all you do."
Please note that at the present time supplies of the ASEs are very limited, but the Legacy Project is working very hard to expand this project as quickly as possible. Servicemembers are encouraged to write to us and suggest future ASE titles. (The books do not have to be military-related.)
Publishers interested in participating in this effort to revive the "Armed Services Editions" are encouraged to contact the Legacy Project directly. Please note that the Legacy Project cannot accept overstock or used books.
E-mail the Legacy Project at
WarLetters2004@yahoo.com or write to:
PO Box 53250, Washington, DC 20009.
The Legacy Project does not accept monetary donations. The Legacy Project runs the ASE effort entirely on a volunteer basis and in partnership with non-profit 501(c)(3) organizations.
All material © Copyright The Legacy Project, 2008