Joe Boyle, author of “Toledo’s War” (photo courtesy of Joe Boyle)
Ohio Life

Author Joe Boyle Tells Toledo’s World War II Story

What started as a class project has grown into this Toledo history teacher’s multivolume look at the war through the lens of a major American city. 

Joe Boyle has a passion for helping people connect with their history. From the students he teaches in his history classes to the readers of his book series, he challenges them to look beyond the narrative that we’ve come to expect from written history.

What started as a project for his elective World War II history course in 2012 has evolved into a five-volume, 230,000-word series called Toledo’s War that provides a comprehensive, yet individualistic retelling of the stories of WWII through the lens of the Glass City. But getting there was no easy feat.

To prepare for the course, which tasked his students with uncovering the stories of fallen soldiers from Toledo, Boyle spent months poring over 14 years’ worth of newspapers, eventually compiling a list of over 1,100 names. When complications from a previous cancer diagnosis arose in 2016, it prompted Boyle to seek out new ways to document what he found.

“I distinctly remember saying to my wife one night, ‘I can’t believe I know all this stuff about Toledo in the Second World War, and it’s going to die with me,’ ” he says.

The first volume of Toledo’s War is scheduled to be released this fall. We asked Boyle about his process, motivation and what this collection means for future historians. 

How has writing this book changed your perspective on how we document history?
It changed my view of storytelling, even in my personal life. Every time I interviewed someone, I would go home and write something about my own life for my kids. I realized that there are a lot of things we might see as insignificant that are, in fact, incredibly significant and are so incredibly important to understanding what these massive global events were like for the average person who lived through them.

Why was it so important to you that this information be brought together and that these stories be told?
The best historians don’t write a comprehensive history. It’s like a football game where you want to move the ball forward in the hopes that the next person can pick it up and make another first down. There’s no touchdown and there’s no goal line. You just hope to take the research a little bit further, and that’s what I wanted to do with this project.

What do you hope readers will take away from this series?
These stories are fairly universal, but they’re not always the ones that get told. What was true for people from Toledo experiencing the war was also true for people from other cities in Ohio. I felt that writing this, not just as a history of the city during the war but as a history of the war as seen through the city, would create a more authentic experience for people. I hope they copy me and do the same thing for their city.

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