Steel My Soldiers’ Hearts: The Hopeless to Hardcore Transformation of the U.S. Army, 4th Battalion, 39th Infantry, Vietnam by David Hackworth

Steel My Soldiers’ Hearts: The Hopeless to Hardcore Transformation of the U.S. Army, 4th Battalion, 39th Infantry, Vietnam by Col. (Retired) David H. Hackworth and his wife Eilhys England. The book is about David Hackworth. It is memoir about his time in Viet-Nam in the spring of 1969. He embodies both the best and the worst of US Army officers. He is a hard-charging, mission-oriented, and motivational officer. He demands excellence from the men under his command. He suffers the hardships they do. He is also quite egotistical and hubris can describe his self-confidence that borders on attitude of self love.

The book is about the U.S. Army’s 9th Division (my old unit ), 4th Battalion, 39th Infantry (I was in 2nd Battalion, 47th Infantry), Vietnam. This book is about Hackworth’s transformation of a what he viewed as a combat-ineffective battalion of draftees that he lead into a solid American fighting unit. The story is a good case study of leadership. The descriptions of combat operations contained in the book are some of the best I have read since “We Were Soldier Once … and Young”.

I highly recommend the book to those interested in military history or Vietnam War history. David Hackworth relates a narrative about himself. It is a good story of the men in the 4th Battalion, 39th Infantry that deserves to be read. Read in November 2005.

“The Beleaguered City: The Vicksburg Campaign, December 1862-July 1863 by Shelby Foote

“The Beleaguered City: The Vicksburg Campaign, December 1862-July 1863” is an extended excerpt on the Vicksburg Campaign from Shelby Foote’s absolutely superb three volume narrative history of the Civil War. The Vicksburg Campaign is a gripping story in its own right, the central impressive thread of which is Union General U.S. Grant’s struggle to capture the grand Confederate fortress on the Mississippi.

Grant, stubborn and reticent, will try a variety of methods to close with and subdue the Confederate forces defending Vicksburg. His initial approaches fail. When Grant takes the great risk of cutting loose from his own supply lines to cross the Mississippi river and place his own army between two Confederate forces that he is finally able to place the city under siege. The Vicksburg campaign marks the coming of age of Grant as a mature senior leader, the kind of general who can plan, fight and win campaigns at the operational and strategic level. His success at Vicksburg will lead directly to his summons by Lincoln to lead all Union armies.

This book is highly readable. I recommended it to the student of the Civil War. I also recommend it to the casual reader looking for an absolutely page-turning account of the Civil War meant to be read as literature. Read and reviewed by Jimmie A. Kepler.

US Army Infantryman in Vietnam 1965 – 73 by Kevin L. Lyles and Gordon L. Rottman


US Army Infantryman in Vietnam 1965 – 73 by Kevin L. Lyles and Gordon L. Rottman tells the compelling story of the average United States Army infantryman in Vietnam. Beginning with conscription, enlistment, Basic Training, and Advanced Individual Training at the Armed Forces Induction Center at Fort Polk, Louisiana (the infamous “Tigerland”), it goes on to explore the day-to-day realities of service in Vietnam, from routine tasks at the firebase to search-and-destroy missions, rocket attacks, and firefights in the field. Weaponry, clothing, and equipment are all described and shown in detailed color plates. A vivid picture of the unique culture and experiences of these soldiers emerges – from their vernacular to the prospect of returning to an indifferent, if not hostile, homeland. The contents include: chronology, conscription, training, appearance, equipment, barracks life, on campaign, experience in battle, belief and belonging, aftermath, museums and collections, glossary, and a good bibliography Read by Jimmie A. Kepler.

Viet-Nam 1968-1969: A Battalion Surgeon’s Journal by Byron E. Holley, M.D.

Viet-Nam 1968-1969: A Battalion Surgeon’s Journal by Byron E. Holley, M.D. is gritty, gutsy, and grueling. It is the true story of a surgeon’s experience on the bloody battlefields of Vietnam. Holley spent the longest years of his young life as an infantry surgeon, living like a swamp rat in the Mekong Delta. In a land torn by generations of bloodshed, he witnessed firsthand the heartbreaking courage of the men who fought and died in a terrible war. Read and reviewed by Jimmie A. Kepler.

Eight Stars to Victory: A History of the Veteran U.S. Ninth Infantry Division by Joseph B. Mittelman

Eight Stars to Victory: A History of the Veteran U.S. Ninth Infantry Division by Joseph B. Mittelman was written for and published by the Ninth Division Association in 1948. The book tells of how eight battle stars were won. It covers from the shores of North Africa, in 1942, to the banks of the Elbe, in 1945. Over 50,000 men served in the Ninth Infantry Division during World War II. The division had nearly 25,000 casualties including 4,747 killed in action. The copy of the book I read was found through the Dallas Public Library.

The book is 408 pages and begins by telling the story of the activation of the division and its participation in World War I.

Next the author goes into extensive detail about the division’s reactivation in 1940 at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Stories are shared of living in tents and not having enough hot water.

We learn how in late 1942 the Ninth Infantry Division was split between the Eastern and Western Task Forces and of the division’s role in the invasion of North Africa. Part of the Ninth Infantry Division made a beach landing in French Morocco. The other part of the division landed in Algeria.

The division’s role in the Sicilian campaign is examined next. We learn of their involvement in the fighting in the mountainous heart of the island along the central route toward Messina. After Messina was taken and Sicily fell, the Ninth Infantry Division remained on Sicily. It did not move to the Italian mainland. The division’s next destination was England.

The author then informs of the Ninth Division’s time in England. He tells of the city of London, English pubs, and Constable Lane. He shares about training and planning for the invasion. We learn that although the division had heavy amphibious experience they entered the continent on D-Day + 4 at Utah Beach. The Old Reliables were involved in the campaign on the Cotentin peninsula and the assault on Cherbourg. They fought in the battles in the hedgerows. In early August the division assisted in the final breakout by American forces. They were involved in halting of the Mortain counter-offensive. They entered Belgium on September 2nd. They were involved in battle of the Huertgen Forest.

Next the Ninth Division went on to the Battle of the Bulge. They held the northern shoulder of the front. They captured Roer dams. The Ninth Infantry Division was among the first across the Rhine River and instrumental in the capturing of the Remagen bridgehead. From here we move to the final stages of the war with the battle of the Ruhr pocket and the division plunging eastward to the banks of the Elbe as the German army crumbled.

The book concludes with the Ninth Division’s role as Occupation forces and the deactivation of the division at the beginning of 1947.

The book has numerous maps, photos, and coverage of each campaign that earned the division its eight battle stars. The book falls between a divisional souvenir and a hard hitting historical research. It is what it is. It will disappoint the serious scholar. Reviewed by Jimmie A. Kepler.

Victory Road by Robert C. Baldridge

Victory Road by Robert C. Baldridge is a great World War II memoir. It is the gripping story of a determined young soldier in an artillery battalion of the famous 9th Infantry Division of the U.S. First Army. The Ninth Division invaded Normandy in June 1944 and fought on through five battle campaigns to victory over Germany in May 1945 at the Elbe River.

Robert C. Baldridge accurately and compellingly describes a soldier’s experiences in Army basic training. He describes what is like being shipped overseas to England in December 1943 on the ocean liner Queen Mary. He gives a clear picture of further training in England. We learn the story of crossing the English Channel to Utah Beach in Normandy on D-Day + 4. We experience fighting the German forces for almost a year while living in the field during all four seasons. This book is available online from Merriam Press. Read and reviewed by Jimmie A. Kepler.

Nudge Blue: A Ninth Infantryman’s Memoir of World War II by Donald E. Lavender

Donald E. Lavender was a member of Company I, 39th Infantry Regiment, 9th Infantry Division, originally arriving as a replacement in early October 1944 in the Hürtgen Forest.

There are a lot of stories about the war. Some have been made into movies. If you are looking for sensationalism, you won’t find it here. If you have an interest in what war was like to a 20-year-old in the Infantry, Nudge Blue comes close to describing that experience.

The combat portion of this story was written directly from notes accumulated during the actual fighting. In the over 50 years since, facts about places and unit action have been verified to assure accuracy. It includes action in several places that are famous—the Hürtgen Forest, the Bulge, the Rhine River crossing at Remagen and contact with the Russians on the Elbe River.

Lavender’s experiences in combat make for fascinating, insightful reading, and an excellent companion to Bob Baldridge’s Victory Road, showing what it was like to be an infantryman in the 9th Division during World War II. Read and reviewed by Jimmie A. Kepler.