A West Point Graduate’s Memoir of World War II by Donald V. Bennett, William R. Fortschen


The book is well written and was hard to put down. It tells Gen. Donald V. Bennett’s story of the struggle to get in and through West Point. It next moves to initial artillery training. Here he learns how to ride a horse while pulling his artillery piece. In addition, he learned how to place his foot where it would not be crushed while riding the horse. His stories of North Africa included the sights, smells, running a bordello (to get the disease rate down), and fighting Rommell. His insights and experiences in Sicily were preparations for his Normandy experience. His spell binding account of Normandy is the best chapter in the book and as good as any ever written. He gives a fresh point of view on the Battle of the Bulge pointing out the signs and intelligence higher up overlooked. His conclusion with experiences and insights about the Russians are eye opening. Read by Jimmie A. Kepler in September 2005. This review was originally written for the Military History Book Club.

Airborne: A Combat History of American Airborne Forces by LTG (Retired) E. M. Flanagan Jr.

Allow me to state my prejudices up front. I am a former United States Army officer commissioned through the reserve officer training program (ROTC). I have my jump wings. For those who attended jump school at Fort Benning, I was A36 in class 37 – 76. I proudly wore my jump wings.

“Airborne: A Combat History of American Airborne Forces” by LTG Flanagan reminds me in some ways of a military after action report. It mentions people, equipment, backgrounds, TO & E and the never-ending officer name, his West Point class year, his class standing if high or low, and if he had and in the future will have a historically significant assignment. Rarely is an ROTC and never a battlefield or OCS commissioned officer mentioned.

The use of Medal of Honor citations throughout the book is good, though it significantly declined after the chapter on the Korean War. The book covers the period of pre World War Two to the end of World War Two in painful detail. At some points the level of detail bogs down and even gets as boring as reading a TO & E.

The best written part of the book was the coverage of Operation Just Cause in Panama. It reads almost like a newspaper account of the operation. Unfortunately, the coverage given to this operation was not duplicated in other post World War Two events. The brevity of coverage from the period 1946 to the end of the 1990s is shocking.

I would be interested in knowing when the airborne troops were integrated. Who was the first African-American to get his jump wings? Who was the first African-American to make a combat jump? While LTG Flanagan did mention the XVIII Airborne Corps does have a limited number of women in it in non-combatant positions, I would like to know when women first earned their jump wings and who was first. I know I had three women in my class at airborne school. Only token coverage was given to other branches of the service and Airborne qualified trooper.

The book needs updated to include the current Afghanistan and Iraq war. All in all, the book is a must read for those interested in US military history. Read and reviewed by Jimmie A. Kepler.

About Face: The Odyssey of An American Soldier by Col David H. Hackworth and Julie Sherman


About Face: The Odyssey of An American Soldier by Col David H. Hackworth and Julie Sherman. It was released in hardcover in March 1989. This 875 page book chronicles the 25 year career of David Hackworth. The writing is excellent and interesting. In one section of the book, Colonel Hackworth proceeds to describe his effort to turn the 4/39th into an effective fighting force. Casualties went down and morale went up. The 60 pages he devotes to the 4/39 and 9th Infantry Division provide valuable insight on how political influences and personal ambitions affected the lives of soldiers who served their country. This part of the book was expanded into the book Steel My Soldiers’ Hearts: The Hopeless to Hardcore Transformation of the U.S. Army, 4th Battalion, 39th Infantry, Vietnam (released in 2002) by Col. (Retired) David H. Hackworth and his wife Eilhys England. Read in May 2005.

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.