A Life in a Year: The American Infantryman in Vietnam, 1965-1972 by James R. Ebert

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.

“Behind the Lines: A Critical Survey of Special Operations in World War II” by Michael F. Dilley

If you enjoy reading about airborne troops, special operations, andelite troops in World War IIthen author Michael F. Dilley’s book “Behind the Lines: A Critical Survey of Special Operations in World War II” is for you.Divided into two parts, part one of the book is titled, “Behind Enemy Lines”. It tells twenty stories of special operations behind enemy lines. The excellent story telling of the author has shines in all twenty of the stories. Each story stands on its own.

Starting with the Tragino Aqueduct Mission in southern Italy where we see the foolishness of the first mission that requires a fifty mile escape and evasion trek just to get to the pickup point without radio communication to stories on the raid to kill General Rommel and eighteen others that cover every theater of operation we see a common structure. The author tells at times a very spellbinding story followed by the strength of the book – a mission critique. The mission critique show Michael F. Dilley’s strong military intelligence analysis skills.

The second part of the book, “Behind Friendly Lines” lifted back the curtain on an often missed use of special operations soldiers. We look at three amazing missions where they are dropped just behind or into friendly lines.

The pictures included in the book are not a reprinting of stock photos you have seen many times, but rather photographs of uniforms, insignias, and special troops in their special equipment.

The book’s appendixes give us the criteria for evaluation of the units and the operations deserving special recognition. The bibliography included is by itself a resource worth the purchase price of the book.

Michael F. Dailey gets my highest praise for this much needed work on a subject dear to every world war history buff.

“Unsung Eagles: True Stories of America’s Citizen Airmen in the Skies of World War II” by Jay Stout

Jay Stout has written a fine book about the citizen of airman of World War II. This is an oral history instead of a traditional history.

It is the remembrances of the ordinary men who answered the call of their country.Reading the book reminded me of sitting at my local coffee shop and listening to the old timers tell the stories of their youth when they served the USA. It doesn’t give you the global, geopolitical strategies or the military master plan. Instead you get snap shots of the young men as you put their piece of the puzzle into the larger picture. It helps to see the bigger picture a little more clearly from the average airman’s point of view.

“Unsung Eagles: True Stories of America’s Citizen Airmen in the Skies of World War II” by Jay Stout. The publisher is Casemate Publishing. It is enjoyable, easy reading, and well worth the purchase price. Well done!

Book Review: “Unsung Eagles: True Stories of America’s Citizen Airmen in the Skies of World War II” by Jay Stout

Jay Stout has written a fine book about the citizen of airman of World War II. This is an oral history instead of a traditional history. It is the remembrances of the ordinary men who answered the call of their country.

Reading the book reminded me of sitting at my local coffee shop and listening to the old timers tell the stories of their youth when they served the USA. It doesn’t give you the global, geopolitical strategies or the military master plan. Instead you get snap shots of the young men as you put their piece of the puzzle into the larger picture. It helps to see the bigger picture a little more clearly from the average airman’s point of view.

“Unsung Eagles: True Stories of America’s Citizen Airmen in the Skies of World War II” by Jay Stout. The publisher is Casemate Publishing. It is enjoyable, easy reading, and well worth the purchase price. Well done!

Hell’s Highway by George Koskimaki

George Koskimaki was 101st Airborne Division commanding general, General Maxwell Taylor’s radio operator. He wrote the three-book history of the 101st Airborne during World War Two. Hell’s Highway: Chronicle of the 101st Airborne Division in the Holland Campaign, September – November 1944 is the second book in the series.

I had previously read Cornelius Ryan’s “A Bridge to Far”, Stephen Ambrose’s “Band of Brothers” and “Citizen Soldiers”, Robert Kershaw’s “It Never Snows in September: The German View of Market-Garden and the Battle of Arnhem, September 1944”, Martin Middlebrooks’s “Arnhem 1944: The Airborne Battle” (focusing on the British specifically at the Arnhem sector), and James Gavin’s “On to Berlin”. All of the books gave good presentations and different points of view of Operation Market Garden. George Koskimaki’s book is based on interviews with more than six hundred paratroopers journals the soldiers intense personal accounts. It gives the vivid previously untold versions of the Screaming Eagles’ valiant struggle.

Hell’s Highway gives us something not covered in the other books. It tells of the Dutch people and members of the underground and their liberation after five years of oppression by the Nazis. It shares how they have never forgotten America’s airborne heroes and how the 101st endangered and even sacrificed their lives for the freedom of the Netherlands and Europe.

While some readers may find the book hard or even tedious to get through because of the detail, I did not. The personal accounts gave vitality to the story. It kept it flowing instead of reading like a military after action report. Mr. Koskimaki did a superb job of telling the history the 101st Airborne Division during Operation Market Garden.

The book is just right for beginners and experts of the 101st Airborne Division. The three books George Koskimaki wrote on the 101stAirborne Division are 1) D-Day with the Screaming Eagles, 2) Hell’s Highway: Chronicle of the 101st Airborne Division in the Holland Campaign, September – November 1944, and 3) Battered Bastards of Bastogne. I highly recommend the book.

Inferno: The Epic Life and Death Struggle of the USS Franklin in World War II

Joseph A. Springer sets the standard for how oral histories should be written with “Inferno: The Epic Life and Death Struggle of the USS Franklin in World War II”. You feel as if you are on-board as the story of “Big Ben”, the USS Franklin, in World War II unfolds. It is necessary read for anyone who claims to be a World War II history buff.

The book divides into two parts. The ship’s change of commanders is the dividing point – Captain Shoemaker’s command and Captain Gehres’ command.  It is a well-structured book. It starts with the specs and construction of “Big Ben”. It takes us through the training of the crew and shakedown voyages. We travel through the Panama Canal to San Diego and on to Pearl Harbor laying all the appropriate groundwork along the way.

The author rapidly moves us into naval carrier operations. You are there in the South Pacific for many of the famous battles. You experience Iwo Jima, Peleliu, Luzon, Manila, Leyte, and Honshu.

Mr. Springer takes great care in organizing and selecting interviews. You are in the aircraft cockpits experiencing the words and emotions of the men who lived through the survived the events. The stories are breath taking eyewitness accounts and survival stories. He manages to get you inside the heads of the pilots and ship’s crew. You feel the fear and experience the heroism.

The USS Franklin’s size and importance led to one of the Navy’s first encounters with Japan’s Kamikaze attack planes. The suicide pilots delivered terrible damage to “Big Ben” in October 1944 off the Philippines. The damage forced Big Ben back to Bremerton, WA for repairs and a change of command.

In March 1945, “Big Ben” experienced the devastating bomb attack off Honshu, Japan. That attack defined her crews’ extraordinary valor. Somehow, they saved the ship. “Big Ben” traveled back to New York. She was rebuilt, but would never be the same.

Mr. Springer makes good arguments to restore the entire crew of the USS Franklin’s honor. You learn how the spiteful and hateful actions of  her second captain attempted to segregate the crew into two groups. Group one was the sailors and airmen that remained on board during the entire ordeal. Group two was the person who did not stay on-board for the entire ordeal. Unfortunately, Captain Gehres made no differentiation for those who may have been blown overboard by exploding ordnance, forced off due to flames and heat, removed to a rescue vessel as a result of injury or simply because they were ordered to abandon ship. Joseph A. Springer wins the argument that All Hands of the USS Franklin were the real heroes of this gut-wrenching ordeal and fight for survival. This includes those on the rescue vessels.

The book gets my highest rating. It has excellent photographs, maps, illustrations. The reference material at the end of the book will make ever the most critical historian smile. Buy the book. “Inferno: The Epic Life and Death Struggle of the USS Franklin in WWII” is an excellent book.

Source: http://www.keplersmilitaryhistorybookreviews.com/2012/04/inferno-epic-life-and-death-struggle-of.html

Voices of the Bulge: Untold Stories from Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge by Michael Collins and Martin King

Oral histories are fashionable these days. When the oral history is tied to a battle or events that have been reported on repeatedly it is a challenge. “Voices of the Bulge: Untold Stories from Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge” by Michael Collins and Martin King is a book where the writers have used a dozen years’ worth of research and interviews with veterans along with historical accounts of the battle to tell the story through the eyes of the participants.

The book is a clear and direct account of the Battle of the Bulge. The authors give good coverage to the first ten days. As I read the book, I was at first taken aback by the redundancy of many of the soldier’s accounts. Their interpretations of the events were focused on the weather and retreating or being away from the front lines, either for rest and recuperation or on leave and then riding or marching to the recuse of their fellow Americans. So many of the G.I.’s included a mention of Bastogne that I wondered if this was coverage of the Battle of Bastogne. The personal recollections included are general experiences of the common G.I. There is token coverage at best of the German side of the story. If that’s what you want, it isn’t here.

The book has a number of issues I won’t address in detail.  One I will mention is when a veteran’s memory of events don’t match what actually happened (e.g. saying soldiers of the 3rd Parachute Division were dropped well behind US lines and then telling apocryphal tales) they needed to have a note saying the events recalled were incorrect and then tell what actually happened. There are a few sidebars included in the book. Unfortunately, they are somewhat redundant.

The book needs a bibliography. It needs a listing of secondary sources. It would be helpful to have both a listing of the interviews with the units of service for the individuals. Did they verify the individuals were actually in the unit at the time of the Battle of the Bulge?

The inclusion of the DVD is nice. I was disappointed at the brevity of the DVD. I was expecting more. Yes, Oral histories are fashionable these days. All in all, it could have been better.