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The free books being distributed to troops overseas are small enough to slip inside a cargo pocket.

The free books being distributed to troops overseas are small enough to slip inside a cargo pocket. (Jennifer Svan / S&S)

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Troops heading to the desert or elsewhere overseas won’t have to worry about late library fees.

Yokota Air Base’s 374th Airlift Wing and Atsugi Naval Air Facility recently received more than 1,500 free books — small enough to slip inside a cargo pocket — for deploying troops.

Distribution of the paperback copies marks the revival of the “Armed Services Edition” (ASE) initiative that brought more than 123 million books to U.S. troops stationed overseas in World War II, according to a Department of Defense news release.

“Medal of Honor: Profiles of America’s Military Heroes from the Civil War to the Present,” by Allen Mikaelian, is the second title in the new series, and the first delivered to Yokota and Atsugi.

Hyperion, Simon & Schuster and Dover Publications began publishing and distributing ASEs last month to U.S. troops throughout the world and on U.S. warships, according to the Legacy Project’s Web site at: www.warletters.com.

The Legacy Project, a national, all-volunteer initiative that encourages Americans to seek out and preserve war letters and e-mails, is coordinating the distribution of the books with the Pentagon and major publishers, the Web site says.

“The sole purpose of these giveaways is, as it was in the 1940s, to offer soldiers, Marines, airmen, sailors and other servicemembers quality books they can read and enjoy,” reads a page from the Legacy Project in one of the ASEs.

Electronic Attack Squadron 136 took the lead in rolling out the ASEs at Atsugi, said Lt. Cmdr. Scott Moran, the squadron’s operations officer.

He said his wife, Alison, knew of the effort but hadn’t heard of anyone doing in it the Far East.

“So she got in contact with the guy heading up the project in the States, Andrew Carroll, and had some books shipped here.” The squadron received 26 boxes of the “Medal of Honor” book.

Yokota will distribute the pocket-size books in early January, said Yokota spokesman Capt. Mike Braibish.

“We specifically asked to have them so we could distribute them to our troops who may deploy,” he said.

Braibish said Yokota is preparing for upcoming deployments under the Aerospace Expeditionary Force cycle, “as well as other operations.”

“This was an opportunity to look out for the morale and welfare of our folks,” he said. “We can distribute them through pre-deployment briefings, mobility processing lines and through the squadrons.”

At an Atsugi quarters ceremony Dec. 15, each member of the squadron received a phone card and a book. Except for three boxes reserved for the squadron and one for the Carrier Air Wing FIVE staff, the rest were split between the Navy Exchange and the base library.

Reaction, however, was mixed.

Atsugi’s Moran said he appreciated the program.

“It’s a great effort as far as giving people something to do with their time,” he said. “It shows servicemembers the community at large cares about them and haven’t forgotten them.”

Air Force Master Sgt. Conrad Catapia, 36, a safety noncommissioned officer with Yokota’s wing safety office, said, “I think our guys, to be honest, the enlisted, wouldn’t read it.”

“When I was in the desert, I was so busy, working six days, 12 hours, when we got home, we were dragging. We were just trying to find bed,” Catapia said.

Catapia said the “Medal of Honor” paperback looks “academic.”

“Not very many people are into smart reading,” he said. Catapia said he might read the book and asked to keep a copy.

However, Petty Officer 1st Class Shawn Smith, who works at the Atsugi personnel office, picked up a copy Monday at the exchange.

“I think it’s great,” he said. “They took the time to make these available to us.” Smith said he saw a lot of people “pick them up, flip through them and take them.”

The books are condensed and have the same vintage appearance as the original ASEs from World War II.

“Medal of Honor” profiles recipients of the award from the Civil War through the Vietnam War.

Braibish said the books “historically, have been very popular. I would anticipate as more titles become available, the popularity will grow.”

The original ASEs were discontinued in 1947. In all, more than 1,300 titles were published, including mysteries, biographies, crime stories, adventure novels and classics.

“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,” said the Pentagon’s Chief of Naval Information Rear Adm. Stephen R. Pietropaoli, in a DOD news release.

In addition to “Medal of Honor,” more than 100,000 copies of the following titles will be sent to deployed U.S. forces: “Henry V,” by William Shakespeare; “The Art of War,” by Sun Tzu; and “War Letters: Extraordinary Correspondence from American Wars,” edited by Andrew Carroll.

According to Legacy Project’s Web site, the books will continue to be distributed for as long as they’re 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,” the site said.

U.S. military bases overseas may contact the Legacy Project about receiving books at: WarLetterProject@aol.com. The organization’s Web site notes that due to a lack of funding at this time, supplies of the ASEs are very limited. Servicemembers are encouraged to write in to suggest future ASE titles. The books do not have to be military-related, the Web site notes.

author picture
Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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