In Their Honor by Linda Swink

“In Their Honor” by Linda Swink is an excellent reference book.  It is a compilation of 524 biographies of military heroes whose names grace the forts, camps, barracks, bases, and fields in the U.S. Air Force; Air National Guard; Army; Army Airfields, Stagefields, and Heliports; Army National Guard, Army Barracks and Kasernes in Germany; Army Camps in South Korea; Marine Corps; and Navy.  It is a wonderful record that will be just as useful for researchers and historians as it will for the men, women, and their families who are currently serving in the United States military.  The book is one that you do not have to read from cover to cover.  You will find yourself dipping into it to explore places you or family members have served.
I found myself immediately looking up the names of the military installations where I lived growing up as  an United States Air Force dependent.  Next, I looked up the military installations where I served as an US Army officer.  Growing up I lived at Luke Air Force Base in Glendale, Arizona from 1958 to 1963.  Below is an excerpt of the entry/information for Luke Air Force Base.

Luke Air Force Base
Location: Glendale, Arizona
Status: Active
Named for: First Lieutenant Frank Luke, Jr.
Date of Birth: May 19, 1897
Place of Birth: Phoenix, Arizona
Date of Death: September 29, 1918
Place of Death: Murvaux, France
Decorations and Honors: Medal of Honor; Distinguished Service Cross with oak leaf cluster, posthumously; Croix de Guerre (Italy); inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame (1975)
Place of Burial: Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery and Memorial in Romagne, France, Plot A, Grave 13

First Lieutenant Frank Luke, Jr., known as the “Arizona Balloon Buster,” was an ace pilot and the first American aviator to receive the Medal of Honor.

Luke enlisted in the Signal Corps’ aviation section on September 25, 1917. He soloed on December 12 at Rockwell Field in California, was commissioned in January 1918, and sent to France where he was assigned to the 27th Aero Squadron of the 1st Pursuit Group.

Luke was recognized as the most spectacular air fighter of World War I for shooting down eighteen airplanes and balloons, making him an ace pilot. Later, he went on to surpass Eddie Rickenbacker’s record. Thirteen of his victories were obtained in a single week. He was only twenty-one years old when he was killed.

His Medal of Honor citation for action during World War I reads as follows:  After having previously destroyed a number of enemy aircraft within seventeen days he voluntarily started on a patrol after German observation balloons. Though pursued by eight German planes which were protecting the enemy balloon line, he unhesitatingly attacked and shot down in flames three German balloons, being himself under heavy fire from ground batteries and the hostile planes. Severely wounded, he descended to within fifty meters of the ground, and flying at this low altitude near the town of Murvaux opened fire upon enemy troops, killing six and wounding as many more. Forced to make a landing and surrounded on all sides by the enemy, who called upon him to surrender, he drew his automatic pistol and defended himself gallantly until he fell dead from a wound in the chest.

Highly Recommend:

I highly recommend “In Their Honor” to all military historians, both professional and amateur.  This is an exceptional reference book that should be included in every community library in the United States.  It provides a reference for the good citizens of America to get a snapshot of where their sons or daughters are serving.  I also recommend the book as a tool that should be provided for all the newly commissioned officers in any branch of the United States military.  If you have a son or daughter in the military it would be an excellent gift.   To the author who served herself in the United States Air Force and is the daughter of a United States Marine Corps veteran, bravo and thank you for your work.  It approaches the subject from a point of view that other works on the US Military Institutions missed, honoring the memories of the persons who were honored with a military post bearing their name.
Read and reviewed by Jimmie Aaron Kepler, March 2010

Through Blood and Fire at Gettysburg: My Experiences with the 20th Maine Regiment on Little Round Top by General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain

“To the front for them lay death; to the rear what they would die to save.” These words describe the events that take place in this magnificent book of remembrances. In July 1863 around the Pennsylvania town of Gettysburg was staged the greatest conflict ever fought on American soil. There for three days the battle raged and brave men on both sides died. It was here the Confederacy reached its zenith.

Following the battle of Gettysburg the Confederate States of America could only gather their broken forces and dread the certain end. The outcome of the battle was not decided until the third day and the disaster of Pickett’s charge where 6600 men had died. Each succeeding day’s battle had been more desperate than the one before. On the first day only a part of each army was engaged. July 2 witnessed the inferno of the Peach Orchard and the Round Tops. The last day was the most thrilling in our history. In this one battle was enough glory of heroism to immortalize the American soldier.

“Through Blood and Fire at Gettysburg: My Experiences with the 20th Maine Regiment on Little Round Top” by General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain deals with the Second day, when the slopes of the Round Tops were bathed in blood. The author, then colonel of the Twentieth Maine, was later given the Congressional Medal of Honor for his defense of these vital positions. It was the pivotal battle and point of the United States Civil War. The little book is a must read for every person with interest in the battle of Gettysburg and the US Civil War. It is a primary source document that gives the story of the second day at Gettysburg from the Union point of view focusing on Little Round Top.

The book reads both like an after action report and yet shows the scholarship of Chamberlain who was a Professor of Rhetoric at Bowdoin College in Bangor, Maine. Chamberlain was fluent in 9 languages (Greek, Latin, Spanish, German, French, Italian, Arabic, Hebrew, and Syriac), had a bachelor’s degree from Bowdoin College and a master’s degree from Bangor Theological Seminary. After the war he served as both president of Bowdoin College and four terms as governor of the state of Maine.

The material in this book was originally published in “Maine: Her Place in History” (1877), originally prepared as an address at the Centennial Exposition at Philadelphia, Nov. 4, 1876, and was published in “The Passing of the Armies” (1915), a book of reminiscence dealing with the final campaigns of the Army of the Potomac all by Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. Read and reviewed by Jimmie Aaron Kepler.

War Stories of the Battle of the Bulge by Michael Green and James D. Brown

Michael Green and James D. Brown have put together a fascinating book titled “War Stories of the Battle of the Bulge.”  If you are looking for a definitive book on The Battle of the Bulge this is not it.  If you want a powerful account of the battle from the mouths of those who were there, this is it.  The authors do a great job of telling the the story with first-person accounts from the American soldiers, both officers and enlisted. Their stories are spellbinding. You will keep turning the pages.

The book is divided into four sections: The Germans Attack, The Americans Fight Back, Christmas in the Ardennes, and Closing the Gap. The book’s structure follows the ebb and flow of the battle.  The source material is drawn for the ‘Bulge Bugle”, the quarterly newsletter of the Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge Association, first person accounts from members of the association, and the files of the U.S. Army Military Historical Institute.  We learn of the failure of higher command to realize this area of the Ardennes (Losheim Gap) had three times previously in history been used as an attack route.  The fact it was so poorly defended is nearly criminal.

The cold weather of the battle was mentioned by almost everyone in their accounts.  Cold, tired, miserable, under equipped, were comments included in almost every story.  I knew the 106th Infantry Division had lost two regiments, but had not realized they had over 6,500 taken POWs during the battle. We are reminded again and again that the individual heroism of the soldier made the difference over the course of the battle.

One of my favorite stories was found from pages 40 – 72 “Charles Haug, B Company, 112th Infantry Regiment, 28th Infantry Division”. It was from  the files of the U.S. Army Military Historical Institute.  The story is a breath taking account of being pushed back by the Germans.   James A. Steinhaufel of C Company, 134th Infantry Regiment, 35th Infantry Division tells the tale of his units chilling encounter with the much feared German Tiger Tank. His story leaves you feeling you were there.

I highly recommend the book.  It is one you will want to read from cover to cover.  The stories are generally only a few pages long.  This would be a excellent resource for any public library to add to its collection. It is also a great way to get a feel for what you father or grand father went through if he was one of the men that confronted the 250,000 German soldiers as they made their last major attack against the Allied Forces.  Read and reviewed by Jimmie A. Kepler May 2010.

Save the Last Bullet for Yourself: A Soldier of Fortune in the Balkans and Somalia by Rob Krott

Hollywood typically paints a picture of glamor, riches, and women awaiting mercenaries. “Save the Last Bullet for Yourself: A Soldier of Fortune in the Balkans and Somalia” by Rob Krott corrects the myth. You will find how Rob Krott made the journey from private in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard in 1980 to becoming a US Army second lieutenant through the National Guard-ROTC early commissioning program in 1983. He graduated in 1985 with a bachelor of arts in history from Saint Bonaventure University. You go with him as he attends Harvard University for three semesters while stationed at Fort Devins, Massachusetts. You will learn how he had the journey from US Army officer to soldier of fortune.
As I started reading the book it immediately became apparent how little I knew of the geography of the Balkans and Somalia. I went looking for maps in the book to help me out with the locations he talked about. There were no maps. In future additions of the book it would be helpful to have a map of the areas discussed.
I was amazed at how amateurish the local leaders and military were. How foreigners were treated as “cannon fodder” instead of having their talents put to good use in training the locals. It was interesting to be told that almost everyone had a weapon. The variety of and quality of weapons used was an eye opener to me.
I appreciated the grittiness of the book. It had numerous small unit engagements given in detail. His description of Somalia caught my attention. “You didn’t have to go looking for trouble, like I had with the Bostswanans, to find it in Somalia. It usually came looking for you.”
I was surprised to learn about the number of highly decorated and qualified former US Army personnel serving in key training roles. Men like Peck who had been a Special Forces Team commander and exec in Vietnam. He had been a US Army Ranger School instructor, instructor at West Point, Delta Force member, served in Granada. I learned the roles of Dutch, English, and German mercenaries.
Rob Krott paints a vivid future of what a career mercenary’s future has for him.”…McKenzie’s head was mounted on a pole outside the hut …Nearby lay his emasculated body, identified by his distinctive military tattoos. … Bob McKenzie had soldiered through Africa’s most violent bush wars in the 1970s and 1980s, survived numerous mercenary contracts around the world and close combat operations during a major offensive in the Balkans, only to die in an unimportant skirmish on an unnamed hillside in an unknown African backwater.”
The book doesn’t explain the politics of the local situation, the biodiversity, or give a big picture strategic viewpoint. It is a very good you are there on the ground memoir of a hired grunt toting his rifle to two of the 1990s hotspots. I recommend “Save the Last Bullet for Yourself” by Rob Krott.
Casemate Publishing, 2008; Read and Reviewed by Jimmie Aaron Kepler January 2010.

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin

This is as good a book as I have ever read. It is extremely readable. Doris Kearns Goodwin has written a book that is alive – a story of personalities — in a way a giant drama. The stories of Illinois’ Abraham Lincoln, New York’s William H. Seward, Ohio’s Salmon P. Chase and Edwin Stanton, Pennsylvania’s Simon Cameron and Missouri’s Edward Bates fill the pages of this great book. The book gives back ground on the lives of all the men. It gives use the story of the civil war from inside the cabinet and White House. It is a work for the ages that may well earn Doris Kearns Goodwin another Pulitzer Prize in History. Team of Rivals is worth the purchase price. No matter how many books you have read on Lincoln or the civil war, your education is incomplete until you read Team of Rivals. The book is a must for every personal, public, and educational institution library.

The Sentinels: Fortunes of War by Gordon Zuckerman

Gordon Zuckerman’s “The Sentinels: Fortunes of War” takes the German homeland from 1932 to the end of the World War II.  The plot is captivating.  The author starts introducing the key characters one by one.  They are some of the best and brightest from their countries and some from some of the most influential and powerful families.

The year is 1932.  The previously dominant German nation was on the brink of financial and societal collapse.  An influential collection of prosperous and well-placed businessmen decided it was time to do something. They have a simple plan.  They will choose a potential leader for the nation who was sympathetic to the notion of rearmament.  They will make available ample monetary support to make certain of a victorious rise to power.  Their motivation is for succeeding is their profits during the rearmament would be enormous. The prospective leader they decided to sponsor was Adolf Hitler.  At the time he was the rising star of the National Socialist German Workers Party.

But what if Germany lost the war and the businessmen took their profits out of the country before it fell?  A group of young doctoral students at University of California at Berkeley hypothesized that such funds would eventually find their way to another military conflict elsewhere in the world.  The called their idea The Power Theory.

The Power Theory is just that, a theory, in1938. But by early 1945, it becomes apparent that it is about to become an actuality in Nazi Germany. That’s when the group makes a decision to reunite and implement a plan to thwart war profits leaving the country.

Gordon Zuckerman is a masterful story teller.  He provides ample political intrigue, romance and forceful exploits.  The action takes place across Europe and America.  “The Sentinels: Fortunes of War” is a very well written international thriller.

Not a Gentleman’s War: An Inside View of Junior Officers in the Vietnam War by Ron Milam

Not a Gentleman’s War: An Inside View of Junior Officers in the Vietnam War is the story of the 5,069 junior officers who died in Vietnam as well as the ones who survived.  We are reminded all officers had volunteered to lead men in battle. Based on Ron Milam’s detailed and thorough research, Not a Gentleman’s War: An Inside View of Junior Officers in the Vietnam War gives an excellent analysis of these men.  The author has the rare combination of scholarly research and with an easy reading text.  The book is divided into two main parts. 

Part one views the future officers and officers in the United States.  It examines their officer training programs: West Point, Officer Candidate School (OCS), and Army Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC).  The selection, training, and evaluation process of each is explained in detail.  We see how the army ramped up for the increased demand in officers.  We feel the arrogance of the West Point educated toward the Infantry Officer Basic Course and the slow change of curriculum at the United States Military Academy.  We learn that the majority of officers were commissioned through ROTC.  We find out the selection standards were not lowered for OCS.  We are reminded that changing views on campus impacted the world views of men commissioned through ROTC.

Part two has the young officer in Vietnam.  The four chapters in this section examine the junior officer’s performance as combat leaders.  We experience the life and death tests they faced.  We confront the myths about the men.  We experience the different leadership challenges of being on a mission in the field and being in a firebase or in garrison such as preventing alcohol and drug abuse as well as racial tensions.

Myths about the Vietnam War say the junior officer was a no-talent, inadequately trained, and unenthusiastic soldier.  Lt. William Calley of My Lai often is held up as the typical junior officer baby killer.  Ron Milam debunks this view with detailed research including oral histories, after-action reports, diaries, letters, and other records. 

The author has excellent primary resource materials.   He clearly shows that most of the lieutenants who served in combat performed their duties well.  The junior officers were effective.  They served with great skill.  While they were not always clean shaven and often had mud on their boots, they were dedicated and committed to the men they led.  Ron Milam’s story provides a vibrant, you-are-there portrayal of what the platoon leader faced and his ability to meet the challenges as documented by field reports and evaluations of their superior officers.

This is a book that all students of the Vietnam War should read.  I encourage all military officers to read the book as well.  Not a Gentleman’s War: An Inside View of Junior Officers in the Vietnam War should be in every college library in the world.  Ron Milam has written an excellent book.  Dr. Milam is assistant professor of military history at Texas tech University.

On a personal level, the book helped me better understand my own experience as an US Army officer.  I received my officer training through the ROTC between 1971 and 1975.  Some of the training I received was based on decisions explained in the book.