Brown Water, Black Berets: Coastal and Riverine Warfare in Vietnam by Lt. Cdr. Thomas J. Cutler, USN is a very readable concise history of the US Navy involvement in Vietnam. The author weaves facts and figures with the human stories of the men and women who were fighting a different kind of war. You will see the beginnings of the Vietnam navy, the US advisor role, and active involvement with coastal and inland waterway operations. The stories of naval personnel performing routine surveillance of coastal waters or engaged in the terror of close quarter combat on the muddy waters of the Mekong Delta paint a picture of the war in Vietnam that is often overlooked. A partnership of Navy and 9th Infantry Divisions units loosened the tight grip that the Viet Cong had on the strategically important Delta.
This book gives an excellent tactical description of the fighting in and around Saigon during Tet, 1968. While many, many other books give a larger strategic sense to the whole Offensive, this book is very specific and useful to understanding what happened in South Viet-Nam’s capital. This book has another strength, too, in that its accounts of small-unit leaders in combat provide great lessons for future junior military leaders–especially for company command level and below. The one big drawback is that it has no tactical maps, just one big map of Saigon at the beginning of the book. Detailed maps would have been a great help while trying to decipher the textual descriptions of the fight. The author should take note of this for future revisions of this book. Read by Jimmie A. Kepler.
I read Citizen Soldiers by Stephen E. Ambrose in the late 1990’s shortly after reading Band of Brothers and D-Day, both also by Ambrose. I reread this book in 2005. I listened to the audio book version in 2006. The book describes how these “citizen soldiers” came to be soldiers, and what they did once they were. There is some overlap with his other titles about World War II. The book follows the battles right after the allies left the beaches of Normandy, all the way through France into German territory.
This lengthy volume details the war in Europe. It tells how Americans were critical to that victory. It gives the story through the eyes of those who participated in the various units. I enjoy this tile and the stories the former GI’s share. “Citizen Soldiers“ is the name for the draftees, national guard, and army reserve soldiers, the non-regular army soldiers, which were so necessary to field an army of the size that was needed in World War II. Read and reviewed by Jimmie A. Kepler.
The late Stephen E. Ambrose used over 1400 interviews for his history of the D-Day invasion. This “oral history” approach brings the reader into the heart of the battle through eye-witness testimony. The tales of the front line infantryman sweeps the reader up into their personal histories. The story is told from the individual and small unit level often failing to describe larger unit actions or explaining how the individual actions fit into the total picture. Let is shared of what happened on the Canadian and British beachheads. Historical controversies are often given minimal coverage. These are simply good stories of many individual experiences.
The book is not a textbook for lessons on strategic decision making or to answer big picture questions. Ambrose touches on these larger issues in a general focus, but that is not his focus. This is a book about the American achievement in Normandy. The individual courage and independence of the American small unit leaders is big story of this book. Ambrose is right on target as he tells the story of their braveness and toughness. Read and reviewed in 1999 by Jimmie A. Kepler.
The Victors: Eisenhower and His Boys: The Men of World War II by Stephen E. Ambrose is essentially a cut and paste compilation of D-DAY, Citizen Soldiers, Eisenhower, and Band of Brothers. If you have read any of Stephen Ambrose’s works on World War II, then this one is not worth the time. It has so much material covered in his lengthier works.
It is better to read D-DAY, Citizen Soldiers, Eisenhower, Band of Brothers.and The Wild Blue and to skip this book altogether. Read in 2005 by Jimmie A. Kepler.
The narrative style of Ambrose takes what could be a dry lecture and makes it extremely interesting. The book reads like a best selling novel. The book gives a nice background on Captain Meriwether Lewis. It shows how this background prepared Lewis for the journey and how it provided the relationship he had with Jefferson to lead to his selection for the journey. Lewis was Jefferson’s personal secretary when selected to lead the voyage that would take him up the Missouri River, to wintering with the Indians, to the Rockies, over the mountains, down the Columbia River to the Pacific Ocean, and back. Lewis experienced hardships and saw wonderful sights. The sites included herds of buffalo and Indian tribes with no previous contact with white men. He and his partner, Captain William Clark, made the first maps of the trans-Mississippi West, provided data on the flora and fauna of the Louisiana Purchase territory, and most importantly established the American claim to Oregon, Washington, and Idaho.
The book shows how Lewis is financially underwritten by a variety of characters. This list includes Jefferson, Clark, numerous Indian chiefs, and Sacagawea, the Indian girl who accompanied the expedition, along with the French-Indian hunter Drouillard, the great naturalists of Philadelphia, the French and Spanish fur traders of St. Louis, John Quincy Adams, and many more leading political, scientific, and military figures of the turn of the century.
This is a book about a hero and national unity. This is a book also about a tragedy. When Lewis returned to Washington in the fall of 1806, he was a national hero. Lewis greatest failure was he did not get his journals and notes organized and published. The scholarly value of those would have been great. Publishing them in a timely manner would have made Lewis financially independent. Instead Lewis took to drink, drugs, engaged in land speculation, piled up debts he could not pay, made jealous political enemies, experienced severe depression (probably from the drugs), and ultimately took his own life. Read by Jimmie A. Kepler in February – March 2005.
I read Band of Brothers by Stephen E. Ambrose in August 1996. This is one of the most read and popular books in the last ten years due to the HBO mini series based on the book. The History Channel also periodically shows the mini series. The book is better than the mini series. It tells the story of Easy Company 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment that ultimately became part of the 101st Airborne Division. I enjoyed the book because of the focus on the people in the unit. It has reached cult like status. Read by Jimmie A. Kepler.
“The Wild Blue: The Men and Boys Who Flew the B-24s Over Germany” by Stephen E. Ambrose is controversial because some scholars point out Ambrose has lifted the work of other authors without placing said work inside “quotation” marks. That is a tragic error. Is it an error of omission or commission? I do not know. I do know it is ethically wrong. The book tells the story of former US Presidential candidate and US Senator George McGovern. It tells of McGovern’s upbringing, his journey to college, the outbreak of World War II, his falling in love and marriage, his joining the US Army Air Corps, his training as a pilot, and his combat deployment and action where he was based out of Italy bombing the Axis war machine. It is written in Ambrose’s wonderful narrative style. It is highly readable and entertaining. Read in January 2005.
Company Commander: The Classic Infantry Memoir of World War II by Charles B. MacDonald. I highly recommend Company Commander: The Classic Infantry Memoir of World War II by Charles B. MacDonald. At just 21 years of age, Captain Charles B. MacDonald first commanded I Company, 3 Battalion 23rd Infantry, 2nd Infantry Division from October 1944 to January 1945 and later G Company, 2 Battalion 23rd Infantry, 2nd Infantry Division from March to May 1945. This memoir was written in 1947 when recollections were still sharp. It resulted in a very detailed account of what it was like to take command of a line infantry company and lead it into battle. The book gives us template for writing a personal military memoir.
It is by far the finest memoir of any junior officer in World War II. Charles MacDonald does a great job of keeping his focus on his own experiences. He does not speculate or waste my time by giving conjecture on the big picture. We only have first hand information from the events of his personal participation. He sticks to what life was like for a junior officer in command of an infantry company, sleepless, hungry, dirty, stressful, and very dangerous. He takes us from the Siegfried Line in the Ardennes, through the Battle of the Bulge, and to the end of the war in the Czechoslovakia.
This book is a must-read for all army officers who seek to command at company-level and it is informative for military historians as well. It is still required reading at West Point and on the company level officer (second lieutenant, first lieutenant, and captain) recommended reading list by the U.S. Army today. Upon this book’s publication in 1947, Charles B. MacDonald was invited to join the U.S. Army Center of Military History as a civilian historian, the start of a career during which he wrote three of the official histories of World War II in Europe and supervised the preparation of others. The book is simply the best. Read and reviewed by Jimmie A. Kepler in June 2006.
I found “One Soldier’s Story” by Robert Dole in the new book section of The Colony Public Library. The book tells the story of former US Senator and Republican presidential candidate Robert Dole, of Kansas. It shares tales of his growing up in Russell, Kansas. We learn of his running track, attending high school, working as a soda jerk, and attending Kansas University (KU). He opens the window to his experiences at KU where we see him running track, joining a fraternity, working odd jobs to help pay for his college, buying a phonograph, and experiencing the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
His story continues where he struggles with the choice of joining the US Army Air Corps or the US Army infantry. He joins the Army, goes through Officer Candidate School, and ultimately becomes an infantry officer. His tour of duty in World War II takes him to the Italian theater of the war. In Italy, his life is forever altered. He receives a critical wound while on a combat mission.
The remainder of “One Soldier’s Story” tells of his struggles through hospitalization, evacuation, and transport to the USA, rehabilitation, depression, learning to walk again, falling in love and his first marriage, return to Russell, Kansas and his daily challenges. We follow Bob Dole through his return to complete his college degree and his decision to attend law school. We experience his building a career as a young lawyer, the decision to run for political office, and his ultimate service as a US Senator, and being both a vice presidential candidate (1976) and presidential candidate (1996).
Whether you like Bob Dole’s conservative politics or not, you will find his story very inspirational. This extremely well written memoir is hard to put down. Read in March 2006 by Jimmie A. Kepler.