“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.
Jungle in Black is the memoir of Steve Maguire. McGuire was a young, gung-ho, Airborne Ranger who lead a 9th Infantry Division battalion Reconnaissance Platoon in the 6th Battalion, 31st Infantry in the Mekong Delta. The story opens with drawn-out and generic combat descriptions that lead up to Maguire’s wounding. The rest of the book covers his treatment. We learn that an exploding Vietcong mine blinded him for life. This is an honest first-person account that never wallows in self-pity. Unfortunately, he in no way offers enough background about his life to round out his person. He missed the mark with his book. He paints a broad description of the early stages of rehab. The description covers the usual male boasting, lust for nurses and hopes dashed by physicians not healing or restoring his sight. He fails to feature how he coped with his loss of sight and earned a doctorate in psychology (not mentioned until in an epilogue). This could have been a very inspirational and motivational story; instead it’s just another war story memoir.
Crusade in Europe is General Dwight David Eisenhower’s memoir from the early days of World War II through the early post-war. His story and observations are crucial to an understanding of the Great Crusade. Among memoirs, this is a gem.
General Eisenhower takes the reader along with him through each stage of the Crusade. Having attracted attention for his performance in Army maneuvers in Louisiana in 1940, General Eisenhower was called to Washington immediately after Pearl Harbor because of his recent experience in the Philippines. He was first assigned to work on plans for the Pacific. At this point the reader is reminded that, in contrast to the later Germany First Policy, the American public, for a time, screamed for revenge on Japan before dealing with Germany.
Assigned to command Operation Torch, the invasion of French North Africa in 1942, General Eisenhower was charged with obtaining Allied Cooperation. He was plunged into the quagmire of French politics. The disappointing involvement with General Giraud presented an intra-allied problem, as did cooperation of Admiral Darlan, who while too helpful to rebuff, brought with him the stigma of association with a collaborator. The age-old Arab-Jewish hostility further complicated the administration of the liberated territory.
With North Africa cleared out, General Eisenhower was charged with the conquest of Sicily. Management of the Patton-Montgomery rivalry was a major challenge of the campaign. Success having been achieved, the Patton slapping incident in Sicily forced General Eisenhower to reprimand a close friend while threatening to deprive him of one of his most effective Army commanders.
Speculation that General Eisenhower would return to the Washington as Chief Of Staff while General Marshall commanded Overlord, the invasion of Europe, distracted General Eisenhower’s attention from problems at hand. General Eisenhower’s eventual appointment to command Overlord forced him to leave the Mediterranean while the Italian campaign was still in doubt. Upon arrival in England he immediately switched gears to plan the size, timing, supply and location of the invasion of France.
With the invasion ashore, General Eisenhower skillfully managed his coalition of impetuous commanders in their march across Europe. General Eisenhower brings the reader into the thought processes and conferences leading to decisions on the liberation of Paris, Operation Market-Garden, and the Battle of The Bulge.
Americans are familiar with Patton’s claim that, with supplies, he could capture Berlin and win the war. General Eisenhower relates that Monty bothered him with similarly impractical suggestions. He then explains why the proposals were doomed to failure. Spirited arguments with the British over Project Anvil (Invasion of Southern France) come within the reader’s vision through General Eisenhower’s eyes.
The greatest criticism of General Eisenhower’s wartime leadership is reserved for questions about whether the Western Allies should have advanced further to limit the Red Army’s area of occupation. General Eisenhower assesses the claims and presents support for his decisions.
After V-E Day, General Eisenhower’s role shifted more into that of a statesman as he attempted to obtain cooperation with the Russians over the administration of occupied Germany.
Some things come clearly through the pages of this book. The reader is constantly impressed with the importance of supplies, bringing to mind the adage that “Amateurs speak of tactics, professionals speak of logistics.” Despite later controversies, General Eisenhower’s admiration for General George Marshall is made clear on the pages of this book. Written in 1948, I find the statement that General Eisenhower disagreed with many of FDR’s domestic policies to be surprising and a hint of his later political initiatives. Crusade in Europe is written in a very clear, easy to read and follow style. It never becomes bogged down in boring details. It does not have any mention of his relationship with his female English army driver. Read by Jimmie A. Kepler in 2004.
I first read this book in 1995. I have read it once since. “It Doesn’t Take a Hero” by H. Norman Schwarzkopf takes its title from a quote Schwarzkopf gave during an interview with Barbara Walters in 1991; “It Doesn’t Take a Hero to order men into battle. It takes a hero to be one of those men who goes into battle.”
First, I must admit I am a Schwarzkopf fan. He commanded the 1st Brigade, 9th Infantry Division as a colonel while I was serving as a 1LT in the 9th Division. His third child (son) was born about two hours after my first son at Madigan Army General Hospital. We spent time in the Army hospital delivery room together. Our wives were in beds besides each other in the hospital ward. We were on a first name basis. He called me lieutenant and I called him sir. Prior to his arrival at Fort Lewis he had been the assistant commander of the 172nd Infantry Brigade (Alaska Brigade). The 172nd Infantry Brigade’s commander he served under was Major General Willard (Will) Latham who Schwarzkopf called the toughest general in the US Army. I have been an acquaintance of MG Latham’s for 35 years. Latham’s son was a class mate of mine at University of Texas at Arlington (UT Arlington). Will Latham and I are active members of the Corps of Cadet Alumni Council Board at the UT Arlington. I have discussed Schwarzkopf and Schwarzkopf’s book with Latham. I also am a contributor to the Wikipedia article H. Norman Schwarzkopf.
Schwarzkopf came from an upper middle class family, his father was a West Point graduate, head of the New Jersey state police (who later led the hunt for the Lindbergh kidnappers), and served President Roosevelt on a special assignment in Iran. They lived in the best house in their town, and even employed a maid, but there was a dark family secret… his mother’s alcoholism. His experiences in the Middle East in Iran as a young man, where he lived with his general father, gave him a unique insight into the Arab world that served him personally, and the coalition as a whole. He went to boarding schools in the middle-east and in Switzerland. This helped him develop the cultural understanding and build some relationships that he would later call on during the Gulf War.
The part of the book that deals with his duties in Vietnam is interesting. He expresses the popular hindsight viewpoint against the stupidity and arrogance of the politicians and ‘Brass’ who ordered young men to lay down their lives in that far away land for no good reason. He became convinced that he had to do something to change the army from within; it was either that or he resigns his commission.
His role in leading the rescue of the medical students in Grenada is extremely interesting. It provided him with lessons that were applied during the Gulf War.
The most interesting part of the book is his telling of the Gulf War, Desert Storm. It is probably true to say that without “Stormin'” Norman, there wouldn’t have been a, successful, Gulf War. He was able to play on the links his father had with Arab Royalty, and then forged his own links with the current Saudi Royal Family, working with Crown Princes on a first name basis to get things done, everything from releasing endless millions of dollars in payments to the US – what is the daily rental on an aircraft carrier?! – to arranging for “tent cities” to be erected to shield the incoming troops from the scorching desert sun.
The most interesting aspect of the Gulf War section was the politics of the coalition, especially in the Arab world, something that was almost completely missing in Colin Powell’s memoir. In this crucial, although mostly unknown area of the War, Schwarzkopf’s experiences in the Middle East were invaluable. Middle Eastern politics are a lethal mine field at the best of times – us Brits have had our fingers burnt on more than one occasion over the years! – and pouring hundreds of thousands of free thinking, free drinking, Western troops of endless religious and moral persuasions into the autocracy that is the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, should have been a recipe for utter disaster!
Schwarzkopf’s deft handling of the endless ‘difficulties’ involving religious services, the consumption of alcohol, the reading of magazines of dubious ‘artistic’ merit, even the receiving of Christmas cards and the erection of Christmas decorations, were handled with a skill and subtlety that one would not have thought a mere ‘soldier’ possible. And then of course there was the Israeli question. The one thing above all else that would have blown the coalition apart would have been Israel attacking Iraq in retaliation for the Scuds that fell on Israeli territory. Although much of the efforts to keep Israel out of the action were handled direct from Washington, Schwarzkopf’s handling of the Saudi’s in particular, on the ground as it were was masterful.
“It Doesn’t Take a Hero” is a fascinating tale, a real inspiration; it shows what one man can achieve through clear thinking, a positive attitude, boundless enthusiasm, and a profound love, not only of his own country, but of mankind. I would recommend it highly. Read and reviewed by Jimmie A. Kepler.
I am current reading the late Shelby Foote’s 2,934-page trilogy. I just completed volume one, The Civil War: A Narrative, Fort Sumter to Perryville”. It was 810 pages in the version I have. I started reading the volume on June 6 and completed it on August 15. I expect to complete the other two volumes in the next 6 months.
Here is my review of volume one. The book covers the beginning of the war through December 1862. The late Shelby Foote writes with a down home, comfortable style that is like he is sitting beside you telling a story. Make no mistake, he is a southern and tells the story from a southern point of view. The book is a work of creative non-fiction. It is a first class narrative. It is the example of how to write history.
Many students of the Civil War are limited in their knowledge of the war to the major battles of Fort Sumter, Bull Run, Fort Henry and Fort Donelson, Shiloh, Corinth, Iuka, Antietam (Sharpsburg), etc. (battles in 1861 -1862) or the generals. Foote covers all the battles. And he covers what takes place in between the battles though with minor battles tend to be brushed over with the simple reference to their being fought.
I admit some parts of the book were a struggle for me to get through. The time between the campaigns and battles, the endless maneuvers and debates were challenging. Once he moved on to the next battle or fight, the action and pace of the book picked up. Foote shared enough strategy and tactics as well as some of the intellectual processes the key players used to help us understand what leadership on both sides will do under such situations. At times it was like reading the strategy behind a chess game. The back stories of the political considerations were actually enjoyable at times and problematic to boring at others.
I recommend this to any American or person with an interest in American history. Yes, the battles may seem to be repetitious. Yes, the politics and maneuvers do at times get somewhat dry. They must be included to tell the entire story. We need know the story well to know who we are as a people.
I wish the editor had placed better divisions in the book. Even knowing the history of the civil war well, I had trouble at times with where we were at what battle. Many of the battles are referred to by their southern name, usually the nearest town e.g. Sharpsburg instead of their northern name e.g., Antietam, usually the nearest body of water. Read and reviewed by Jimmie A. Kepler.
This book was found in The Colony, Texas Public Library. The book is the memoir of one of America’s most controversial military leaders. I found it refreshing to read of his background and upbringing. He briefly covers his days as a cadet at West Point where he graduated in 1936, the horse dawn artillery days, and his role in World War II where he fought with distinction in North Africa and Europe with the Ninth Division. We see his fast rise to a Brigadier General before thirty years of age and later (1952–53) in role in the Korean War. He served as superintendent of West Point (1960–64), attained (1964) the rank of general and commanded (1964–68) U.S. military forces in Vietnam. He then assumed the position of army chief of staff, which he held until his retirement in 1972.
I was saddened as I read Westmoreland’s comments on one of the early killed in action lists that crossed his desk. It included 2LT John J. Pershing III, grandson of World War I supreme commanding general “Blackjack” Pershing. The book looks at the Viet-Nam war from Westmoreland’s point of view. It explains his decision making process. It is more than an after action report. It is worth reading if you are a political or military history junkie. His relationship with Lyndon Johnson and Robert McNamara are not covered in the detail I would have liked. This is the story of a decent man, giving his best to his country in difficult times. Read and reviewed by Jimmie A. Kepler.
Wisconsin high school teacher James R. Ebert does a masterful job as he combines interviews and printed primary sources in this remarkable telling of the infantryman’s experience during the Vietnam War. Ebert tells the story of the US Army and a few US Marine infantrymen during the Vietnam War. He takes their story from induction into the service through basic and advanced individual training, arrival in Vietnam, their first combat experiences, the first killed in action they experience, in some cases the soldier’s death, and the freedom birds that take them back to the world. Ebert points out while infantryman accounted for less than 10% of the American troops in Vietnam, the infantry suffered more than 80% of the losses.
Ebert uses an interesting technique starting every chapter with a letter by Leonard Dutcher to his parents. Dutcher just wanted to do his part for God and country and go home at the end of his 12-month tour (13 for Marines). In the last chapter, we find out that Dutcher was killed. It caught me off guard and really added to the impact of the book. Ebert takes many of the soldiers and Marines experiences word for word from the individual himself through interviews or letters. It is a collective look at similarities of the many infantry soldiers and Marines in the war. It is a very personal account from many points of view.
This is an important book in Vietnam War literature. This is what the grunts really went through. I was left with somewhat of feeling of guilt from reading the book. Why? I graduated high school in 1971. Some of my high classmates went to Vietnam and fought. Everett Maxwell was killed in action. I went to college and was ultimately commissioned a second lieutenant in the infantry, went through airborne school and served three years active duty. My becoming an officer deferred my entry on active duty from 1971 to 1975. This is the reason for my reflective thoughts. Read by Jimmie A. Kepler in August 2004.