Noble Warrior: The Life and Times of Maj. Gen. James E. Livingston, USMC (Ret.), Medal of Honor by James E. Livingston, Colin D. Heaton, and Anne-Marie Lewis is more than the story of Maj. Gen. James Livingston and how he earned the Medal of Honor. It is an excellent book on leadership that uses his story to convey the lessons.
We learn how he went from North Georgia College and Auburn University to joining the United States Marine Corps, getting his commission and his journey to fighting in Vietnam to his post-combat career. The book is excellent. It is well written and well documented. It helps us understand the life of a Marine and his leadership.
Livingston makes clear his motivation for the unlimited and occasionally ruthless training programs for which he was known. He had his Marines doing physical training in the combat zone. He maintained discipline – personal hygiene (including shaving), weapons maintenance, and personal equipment. He was a leader by example. I have no doubt his leadership saved many lives. His men were physically fit, their equipment well maintained and in good repair, and he had earned their follow-up by providing leadership.
Livingston recounts how their under strength battalion landing team found itself in a three-day life and death battle against 7,000 experienced North Vietnamese regulars.
I found myself wondering how bad it really was as I turned the pages of the account. The narrative was captivating. He clearly painted the picture where you felt like you were there with them. I was amazed when the men left the steaks and soft drinks behind to dash to the aid of the fellow Marines. It told me a lot about how he had trained and prepared his men to be Marines. How they put the good of the mission and the unit above individual needs.
Lance Cpl. Valdez’s account of Captain Livingstone never taking a step back or flinching got my attention. It reminded me of how our actions speak louder than our words. His men saw him lead out front.
His having them fix bayonets and then a movement where he used “the tested and tried edict of penetrating and then widening the hole. We had practiced these types of small-unit maneuvers and were good at it.” Again I see the leadership. This is more than just doing your job.
These are the things you have to do to be ready. These are the types of preparation than save lives and win battles. When you do what you should do you are viewed as hard. From reading the book I am convinced that only because he had paid the price in preparation, maintained the discipline having them stay fit, sharp, and their weapons maintained allowed them to overcome such a huge force.
Livingston returned to Vietnam and was involved in the frantic mass departure of Americans and Vietnamese as Saigon fell in 1975. He retired from the Marine Corps in 1995. He went on to a successful public service career where he advised on the recovery from the destruction of Hurricane Katrina. He does not hold back where he thinks the responsibility lay for that catastrophe.
The book is excellent. It would be a good addition to any military history or Vietnam War library. I see the book also as a good case study on how to do it right in the midst of a very bad situation – an outstanding resource for junior officers of all branches. The emphasis on physical training, weapons maintenance, and the basics of being a good Marine (or soldier) should inspire all junior leaders to do their job as it should be done. The use of the sidebar and the stories was excellent. It was like an in-depth look at the main event I was reading.
Major General Livingston for your service and leadership to the United States, thank you. To Colin D. Heaton and Anne-Marie Lewis for allowing the story to be told where you get a since for the personality and grit of Major General Livingstone, thank you. To all three authors – well done.