Thursday, November 13, 2008

On Their Own: Women Journalists and the American Experience in Vietnam by Joyce Hoffmann

For female reporters who wanted to cover the long, brutal war in Vietnam, the challenge began before they even left home, when – in the words of one former Saigon bureau chief – they had to “fight like hell to get the assignment.”

On Their Own: Women Journalists and the American Experience in Vietnam focuses on a few of the approximately 70 women who worked as journalists during the Vietnam War, spanning from its earliest days as a “not-so-secret war” in the late 1950s to the fall of Saigon nearly two decades later. Each traveled a different path to get the assignment, and each arrived at different conclusions about what they saw. Dickey Chapelle, a grizzled anti-Communist hawk, lived at the front lines with the Marines for more than four years; she would become the first American woman to be killed while covering a war. Gloria Emerson, on the other hand, the first woman to report from Vietnam in 1956, would later earn some of President Nixon’s angriest epithets on the White House tapes for her award-winning work about the war’s effect on South Vietnamese civilians. And for Laura Palmer, among the last reporters to leave Saigon in 1975, the faces below her departing helicopter were “sacred, because it was beyond words; you stand in the mystery, you stand with humility, and you stand with awe.”

Researched and written over the course of ten years, On Their Own is the story of a fundamental shift in journalism, the point at which the “boy’s club” of war reporting in World War II and Korea gave way to the modern press corps of Iraq and Afghanistan, and a more vivid perspective on the causes and casualties of war. At the outset, they had to fight for the assignment; after they got it, the women profiled in On Their Own produced work that led one critic to suggest, in 1986, that Vietnam had been the first war recorded better by women than by men.

Joyce Hoffmann has written for the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and several other publications over the course of her twenty-five year career. She is currently a professor of journalism at Old Dominion University and public editor of the Virginian-Pilot.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

The Civil War: A Narrative (Three Volumes - 2968 pages) by Shelby Foote

This magnificently written trilogy of books on the American Civil War is not only a piece of first-rate history, but also an excellent work of literature. The late Shelby Foote brings an accomplished novelist's descriptive power to this grand epic. This immense three volume set should be on the bookshelf of any Civil War buff. It is the definitive example of narrative history and creative non-fiction.

I started reading this 2,968-page trilogy on June 6, 2007 and have completed it this month (September 2008). This is not a reading assignment to tackle in a single season. I read 27 other books while reading through this great work. I will review each book of the trilogy separately.

The Civil War: A Narrative--Fort Sumter to Perryville, 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 The Civil War: A Narrative--Fort Sumter to Perryville, Volume One 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.

The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian covers from December 1862 and the Fredericksburg Battle to the Meridian , Mississippi campaign and the US Grant’s promotion to Lieutenant General. The late Shelby Foote continues writing in a down home, comfortable style that is like he is sitting beside you telling a story. Again, I point out as in the review of volume one, 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.

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.

As in volume one I admit some parts of the book were a great struggle for me to get through. At times between the battles it was boring. The time from Fredericksburg to Vicksburg and Gettysburg took forever to cover. Foote occasionally repeated himself and would chase rabbits. 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.

Again, I wish the editor had placed better divisions in the book.

The Civil War: A Narrative, Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox. Shelby Foote takes the Civil War and scrutinizes it in a writing style that feels as if you are hearing news from the front in an ongoing war. This book is not for the mildly curious, you will get bored and overwhelmed by the dates, names and places. This volume is longer than either of the first two volumes. But to military history, history, or civil war buffs, it is as detailed and factual as you could want. This is truly a definitive work on the War Between the States.

The book handles personalities of both individuals and cultures and their effects on the war. The reading can be slow going at times as armies march toward each other and the order of battle becomes established with the commanders’ names and stations, but the battle details seem incredibly well researched and the accounts of individual soldiers/officers bring home the reality of this conflict.

This book is well worth the effort to read, it imparts a sense of what the United States has survived and clarifies many historical perceptions of the era and the people involved in this massive conflict.

Once more I wish the editor had placed better divisions in the book.

A final thought - I have never read a better, more vivid, more understandable account of the savage battling between Grant's and Lee's armies. Shelby Foote stays with the human discord and distress, and unlike most Southern commentators, he does not take sides. In objectivity, in range, in mastery of detail in beauty of language and feeling for the people involved, this work surpasses anything else on the subject. It stands alongside the work of the best of them. Jimmie A. Kepler September 2008.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

A Short History of the United States by Robert V. Remini

This wonderful little volume contains the rudimentary facts concerning the discovery, settlement, expansion, and development of the American nation and its organizations. Robert V. Remini surveys and paints a brilliant picture as he takes us back for a look at how the western hemisphere was populated.

We journey through the Native American and see how sophisticated their and truly advanced some of their cultures and governments were. We join in on the discovery of this new world by the Spanish, English, French and Dutch. The journey takes us through the causes of the American Revolution, the founding of the the country with the declaration of independence, articles of confederation and the constitution. We continue with the Louisiana Purchase, War of 1812 and the way it made people view themselves as Americans. The trip continues through the Jacksonian period, Mexican War and Manifest Destiny, the antebellum period, and the civil war and reconstruction.

I enjoyed the side bars along the way as the influence of the arts and literature were included each step of the way. It was nice to see which authors and their writings helped change history. We were there to experience the rise of big business and the emergence of the United States as a world power. We learned of the Spanish American and World War One. The descent into the Great Depression and World War Two, Korea, Viet-Nam, and The Persian Gulf Wars were viewed as well. We learned of the rise of conservatism. We confronted the eruption of terrorism here and abroad.

The book is well written in a narrative style. I was disappointed with the last chapter on the conservative revolution especially comments like “The Bush administration, just itching to start a war with Iraq, chose to believe ….” and “Frustrated and still determined to take action …” In my opinion the author moved from reporting and giving commentary on history, to injecting his personal beliefs and points of view on contemporary issues and events.

While I still think this is a wonderful little volume, the last chapter caused me to change my view on the book. I was viewing this as a book that would be great for a high school or college American history survey course. But, after reading the last chapter, I would not want it as a primary text because of the lack of accepted historical documentation on the coverage of the President George W. Bush and events in Iraq. The author stated opinion with personal bias (my opinion) rather than use methods and techniques of accepted historical research. He failed to identify and record his sources in this area. Other researchers or scholars are thus unable to verify or locate the information he used to base his conclusions. This chapter alone will exclude it from consideration in evangelical Christian schools and colleges.

I did a review of the galley proof for HarperCollinsPublishers. The book will be published in October 2008.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Never Surrender: A Soldier's Journey to the Crossroads of Faith and Freedom by LTG (Ret.) William G. Boykin and Lynn Vincent

Few people have been involved in as many significant US military operations over the past three decades as has LTG (ret.) William G. "Jerry" Boykin. From being a founding member of the Delta Force to commanding all US Army Special Forces he shows that a person can be a committed Christian and a soldier.

Co-written by New York Times best selling author Lynn Vincent, Never Surrender: A Soldier's Journey to the Crossroads of Faith and Freedom gets your interest on page one and keeps it through the entire book. The book's structure helps with the presentation. It is divided in thirteen sections. Each section covers one of the stages of Jerry Boykin's life or a major US operation he was involved in. Each section is divided into short, action-packed chapters.

The book tells story after story of how famous military operations went down. The Iran Hostage Crisis, Sudan, Grenada, Panama, Waco and the Branch Davidians, Columbia, Somalia, the Balkans and more give great insight into contemporary US military history.

Jerry Boykin is a born-again Christian. The role of his faith is very tastefully woven into each story. You will not feel preached at, but rather have an appreciation of how his belief in God sustained and directed him through the years.

One of my favorite stories in the book involved Panama, the playing of loud, rock music and Manuel Noriega. The media thought the US Army was using the loud music as a psychological weapon against Noriega. The original intent of the music was to keep the media from being able to eavesdrop on the conversations between Boykin and the Vatican embassy where Noriega was hold-up.

The most insightful section was on Mogadishu, Somalia. It gives the real story that the movie Blackhawk Down omits. Boykin was the leader of the mission. He had to make the tough decision of leaving a man down in order to save others. He said that was the worst thing he has ever experienced.

Boykin has never been afraid to admit he is a Christian. Some things he said during the most recent war in Iraq upset people. He said that he believed God put George Bush in the White House. The news media quoted that statement. What the media didn't quote was that he continued by saying God put Bill Clinton and every other American leader in their positions. Boykin was pretty much beat up in the press over this. He was completely exonerated by internal military investigations.

I highly recommend the book. It provides fascinating insight into military tactics and life behind the scenes of Delta Force. Read and reviewed by Jimmie A. Kepler, July 2008.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Long Road Home: A Story of War and Family by Martha Raddatz

Thousands of miles apart, the American soldiers serving in Baghdad and their families in Fort Hood, Texas awoke to what promised to be an ordinary Sunday: patrols or guard duty for some of the troops, and church services or brunch for some of the families, with the hope of emails or phone calls from overseas later in the evening.

By the end of that agonizing day, the distance between them would never feel greater.

Sadr City is a densely populated area of downtown Baghdad. In the eleven months following the invasion, it had seen comparatively little violence. However, on April 4th, 2004, a patrol from the 1st Squadron, 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment was drawn into a violent ambush by followers of the influential Shi’a cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, and extraction attempts met with even stronger resistance. According to the ground commander, Gen. Pete Chiarelli, it was the day the war shifted "from a peacekeeping mission to a full-fledged fight against an insurgency."

The Long Road Home: A Story of War and Family recounts every moment of that day on both sides of the world. Eight soldiers would lose their lives, along with 57 wounded. Martha Raddatz has traveled to Iraq sixteen times in the last five years, and her vivid, precise descriptions of the dense urban terrain – and the experiences of the soldiers within it – place the maelstrom of that day firmly within the realm of imagination. She also explores what it means to have a husband, wife, or child deployed in Iraq, as long-married couples and newlyweds alike endure the pain of absence, the small comforts of the Internet, and the knowledge that the worst possible news could arrive with a knock on the door.

Martha Raddatz is the chief White House correspondent for ABC News and is the network's former national security correspondent. She has won three Emmy awards for her coverage of national security and foreign policy issues, and appears regularly on "World News with Charles Gibson," "Nightline," and “Good Morning America”. In addition to her work for ABC News, she is a frequent guest on PBS's "Washington Week", "Charlie Rose", and "Larry King Live".

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Twice Armed: An American Soldier's Battle For Hearts & Minds In Iraq by Lt. Col. R. Alan King

While serving as a senior civil-military advisor in Baghdad, U.S. Army Lt. Col. R. Alan King disarmed several potentially dangerous situations with a weapon few members of the Coalition Provisional Authority possessed: quotations from the Qur'ran.

Twice Armed: An American Soldier's Battle for Hearts and Minds in Iraq begins as the first American forces in Iraq in April 2003. King's civil affairs unit acted as liaison between the military, civil authorities, and the local population. It was a job with extraordinary challenges – in the early days of the occupation, various Iraqi exiles returned to Baghdad to declare themselves mayor or sheriff, and tempers flared during the endless summer power outages. But King found success through bringing faith to the battlefield. He estimates that he met with over 3,000 sheiks, praying with them and asking for their help to rebuild Iraq. And those relationships earned him a reputation for fairness and respect for Islam that led several people on the "most-wanted" list to seek him out and surrender to him personally; he even met with Muhammad Saeed al-Sahaf, a.k.a. "Baghdad Bob", the former Iraqi Minister of Information.

But King also writes with pain at the memory of close friends who were killed in combat, both from his battalion and the Iraqis who worked with them, and he reflects with frustration on dealings with military bureaucracy and critical blunders that cost him some of that hard-earned trust.

R. Alan King was awarded two Bronze Stars for Valor, two Bronze Stars for achievement, and the Combat Action Badge. He is currently an active reserve member of the U.S. Army, and returned from his most recent service in Iraq in October 2007. He has appeared on NBC, CNN, Fox News, and other networks as a military commentator.

Twice Armed won the 2008 Colby Award, which recognizes a first work of fiction or non-fiction that has made a significant contribution to the public's understanding of intelligence operations, military history or international affairs. Named for the late Ambassador and former CIA Director William E. Colby, the Colby Award has been presented annually by the William E. Colby Military Writers' Symposium at Norwich University, the nation's oldest private military college, since 1999.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

My Father's Secret War: A Memoir by Lucinda Franks

My Father's Secret War: A Memoir is the best book I've read in a long time. This is no surprise being written by Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Lucinda Franks. It reads more like a novel, than a memoir.

The book is both an intellectual search for an understanding of her father's secret past as a spy in World War II as well as a heart-wrenching story of the complexities of the author's relationship with him. What makes this book so very compelling is the honesty and poetic telling of naked truths in a truly real family drama. Everything is here: burning hatred and welcome forgiveness, love’s disappointments, parent’s failings, alcoholism, psychological torture, adultery, rebellion, revelation and resolution.

We care deeply as the author so desperately searches to understand why her relationship with her father had changed from childhood adoration to hatred, because of his alcoholic withdrawal. This is a universal story of every daughter's struggle to know and forgive her father as he ages and declines. This author's telling is unbelievably poignant. A must read!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Love My Rifle More Than You by Kayla Williams

Love My Rifle More Than You by Kayla Williams is about being a young female in the US Army and her deployment to Iraq for a year with the 101st Airborne.

Kayla Williams was an Arabic linguist. Thirty-four years ago, I came off active duty as an US Army officer. Ms. Williams’s book made me reflect back to all the women soldiers I worked with, lead, and knew.

This is a good military memoir. While grit and rough language are on almost every page, what shines through is an intelligent young woman serving her country and putting up with all a woman experiences in the military. It appears little has change since back in my day.

We learn of her role as an Arabic linguist. She tells us how she feels her skills could have been used better with direct contact with the population as oppose to routine intelligence gathering. Particularly interesting are her experiences with leadership while in Iraq as well as her questioning the war in Iraq’s day-to-day conduct without looking at the logic and underlying rationale.

On the light side – her tale of the birth control glasses is funny, but true. Put those military black framed Drew Carey or Woody Allen styled glasses on any man or woman and instantly they are effective birth control. Why? They make people unattractive thus scaring off members of the opposite sex. It is a book worth reading.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Foot Soldier by Rocky Blunt, Jr

Foot Soldier by Rocky Blunt, Jr is well written, interesting, and gives the point of view of the common infantryman or in this case anti tank platoon member of the 84th Infantry Division. "Rocky" Blunt did a nice job writing the book. You will not be disappointed. The book was read by Jimmie Kepler in June 2005. This is the short review (blurb) I wrote for the Military History Book Club in June 2005. It was used to promote the book when the book was was a monthly club selection.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Blood on the Risers: An Airborne Soldier's Thirty-five Months in Vietnam by John Leppleman

Blood on the Risers: An Airborne Soldier's Thirty-five Months in Vietnam by John Leppleman is a wonderful book. His "attitude" fills every page. This is simply the best - a passionate memior. It is not for REMFs. I am not surprised by the detail of his memories. He shares his experiences with the 173rd during Operation Junction City to days on the river patrol boats during his second tour to back to the 173rd and the 2 Bn (Airborne)/75th Infantry (Rangers) during tour three. As a former US Army junior officer in the 1970's I frequently encountered many with his outlook. They were outstanding field troops. Read and reviewed by Jimmie A. Kepler.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Personal Memoirs by US Grant

Well written and very interesting describes Personal Memoirs by US Grant. The book does not attempt to make Grant look good, rather it is more like a military after action report where he explains what has taken place. He includes his decision making process for many of the major events. My esteem for President Grant was greatly enhanced by reading this book. It is must reading for any civil war or biography lover. Read in April and May 2006 by Jimmie A. Kepler.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Stars in Their Courses : The Gettysburg Campaign, June-July 1863 by Shelby Foote

“Stars in Their Courses : The Gettysburg Campaign, June-July 1863” " is an extended excerpt on the Gettysburg Campaign from Shelby Foote's absolutely superb three volume narrative history of the Civil War. The Gettysburg Campaign is a gripping story in its own right, the central impressive thread of which is Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s general's aura of invincibility.

The background for what would become the sixty day montage known as the Gettysburg campaign, Foote explores the Southern decision to invade Pennsylvania. Backed by Lee himself, the general's aura of invincibility proved irresistible and awe inspiring even to one not easily impressed, Jefferson Davis. Setting the honorable tone for the ensuing conflict, Lee said to his soldiers: "It must be remembered that we make war only upon armed men...and that we cannot take vengeance for the wrongs our people have suffered without lowering ourselves in the eyes of all whose abhorrence has been excited by the atrocities of our enemies, and offending against Him to whom vengeance belongeth, without whose favor and support our efforts must all prove in vain."

Before Gettysburg Lee's four major engagements in the prior ten months against superior Union forces had yielded three spectacular victories. Now, on the eve of battle, the Union's improbable appointment of Meade made the Pennsylvanian the fifth different commander to oppose Lee in as many tries.

From the beginning, however, Stuart's bizarre reconnaissance delay disadvantaged Lee of important information regarding enemy position and troop strength, and he found himself in the unknown position of waging battle at a time and location not of his own choosing.

The ending of the three day conflict which concluded with Pickett's unfortunate charge, was ordered by an inflexible Lee, executed by a unwilling Longstreet, and carried out by a multitude of fearless soldiers in the wake of the greatest concentration of artillery ever amassed on the continent. Longsreet's reserve at the undertaking was shared by many of the commanders, with the notable exception of Pickett, who was "entirely sanguine of success in the charge." Commanding another flank of the attack was Pettigrew. Fluent in most of the European languages and a scholar in Greek and Hebrew, he presided over a Southern peculiarity: Four of his regiments, despite a well-earned history of valor, and a four to one numerical advantage, abruptly defected in the midst of a Union assault as bold as it was unexpected.

The University Greys, made up entirely of students from the State University, were part of a Mississippi regiment that managed to nearly reach the Union line but paid the staggering price of a tabulated 100% loss. In all, the courageous efforts of 11,000 of Lee's finest men were repulsed, and Union forces were to witness the devastation of Fredericksburg in reverse.
"This has been my fight, and upon my shoulders rests the blame," Lee explained to a downhearted Pickett. He continued, "Your men have done all that men can do." As he expressed the same emotion to his troops up and down the line, they responded to the tableau of the great general, and expressed their near common unchanged support in kind. The historic Gettysburg campaign had come to an end, and the two armies returned to their respective approximate starting positions. As was the Union custom, Meade did not pursue his advantage.

"Stars in Their Courses" provides a meticulous treatment of the details that comprised the events surrounding Gettysburg. Yet, such treatment is necessary, and in Foote's skilled hands, welcome. It is so well written that you do not realize it is exerted from Foote’s Trilogy. Read and reviewed by Jimmie A. Kepler.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

"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.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Gunboat Democracy: U.S. Interventions in the Dominican Republic, Grenada, and Panama by Russell Crandall

In this balanced and thought-provoking study, Russell Crandall examines the American decision to intervene militarily in three key episodes in American foreign policy; the Dominican Republic, Grenada and Panama. Drawing upon previously classified intelligence sources and interviews with policymakers, Crandall analyzes the complex deliberations and motives behind military intervention in each case. He argues that in all three instances, the decision to intervene was driven by a perceived threat to American national security. Read and Reviewed by Jimmie A. Kepler

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Rangers at War: LRRPs in Viet-Nam by Shelby L. Stanton

Rangers at War: LRRPs in Viet-Nam by Shelby L. Stanton . The 9th Infantry Division LRRP (Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols) Platoon became the LRP Detachment which became E Company, 50th Infantry which became E Company, 75 Infantry (Rangers) which... Got all that? Don't worry, Shelby Stanton sorts it all out for you. He not only presents the history of Rangers and LRRPs unit by unit, but also paints a vivid picture of the toughest of all jobs in Vietnam. Read and reviewed by Jimmie A. Kepler.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Flags of Our Fathers by James Bradley

Flags of Our Fathers by James Bradley is one of the best World War II books I have ever read and I have read many books on World War II. The book takes you past the split second that picture was taken and puts you into the lives of the men. You learn about more than just the few moments surrounding that infamous moment in Marine history, you learn about romance in the U.S., and you learn about their families, you learn about the men who served along side the flag raisers and you learn of the impact that one picture had on their lives, and its not quite what you thought.

I strongly recommend this book. It brought a whole new found respect for those who fought to preserve my freedom. It is about more than just the flag raisers, it is about all the wonderful servicemen who gave me the country I have today. I recently saw the movie based on the book. The book is much better than the movie. Skip the movie, read the book. Read and reviewed by Jimmie A. Kepler

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Grant and Sherman: The Friendship That Won the Civil War by Charles Bracelen Flood

Grant and Sherman: The Friendship That Won the Civil War by Charles Bracelen Flood examines the relationship between the two great generals. It provides much information, but little of it new, on the two individuals. It shows as Sherman is quoted, "that we are as brothers."

The book gives the background of each man and his family prior to the outbreak of the Civil War. I enjoyed the coverage given of Grant's and Sherman's relationships with friends, family members, and their wives. The book shows the chemistry and respect the two have for each other. The book depicts Grant as the commander and Sherman as the consummate subordinate who managed to achieve the ideal balance between loyalty and strong advice. It becomes clear that one would not have accomplished nearly as much without the other.

The book could have been titled from failure to success as it explains how each man came to his responsibilities in the US Army. I enjoyed seeing the relationship between the two develop. We see it grow as they had a nominal knowledge of each from their West Point days where Sherman was two years ahead of Grant to where Sherman's presence encourages Grant while he is writing his memoirs.
The book achieves its point of showing they had a friendship. I remember examples at Fort Henry where Sherman was supplying Grant with what he needed even though Sherman had date of rank on Grant. Sherman and Grant talking at Shiloh were Sherman was ready to retreat and regroup and Grant to advance on the second day. Sherman encourages Grant not to leave after Major General Halleck takes field command of the Army from Grant following Shiloh. The Corinth Campaign, Military governorship of Memphis, Vicksburg Campaign, Grant in charge of the entire US Army, Chattanooga, Knoxville, Atlanta, Savannah, Columbia, and on to Raleigh for Sherman as well as the Wilderness, Petersburg, fall of Richmond and finally Appomattox for Grant. Their clear strategy in Sherman's words: "He was to go for Lee and I was to go for Joe Johnston."

The chapter on Sherman in trouble was very interesting as it gave the most in depth record I personally have read of the controversy surrounding Johnston's surrender to Sherman. We see how Grant has Sherman's back and helps him through this time.

It is a relatively short work of just over 400 pages. It was an enjoyable read. Read and reviewed by Jimmie A. Kepler.

Monday, March 17, 2008

With Nothing but Victory: The Army of the Tennessee, 1861-1865 Dr. Steven E. Woodworth

With Nothing but Victory: The Army of the Tennessee, 1861-1865 Dr. Steven E. Woodworth continues to show he is an excellent writer. This is a long book, 641 pages. It took me about thirty two days to read it. Woodworth’s writing is a refreshing, narrative style. His goal of giving attention to all levels of the army from private to general was accomplished. The thoughts, actions, and attitudes of the soldier he sought to communicate rang clear in his writing.

My initial thought was this may be the definitive work on the Civil War in the west. My undergraduate degree in history included course work in US Military History, Antebellum History, Civil War and Reconstruction. I am well read in the area of personal memoirs and definitive biographies of key persons in the US Civil War. My point in sharing my background is this – Dr. Woodworth certainly heavily leaned on the Personal Memoirs of US Grant. I had read that book recently so it was very fresh in my memory. It would have been interesting to see more sources from the southern soldiers who fought the Army of the Tennessee. In some battles I found that some of the other Union Armies’ contributions or lack of contribution were not covered in the detail I would have enjoyed. I believe this is a definitive work on the Civil War in the west.

With the above opinion stated, I still strongly recommend the book and will read it again. Steven Woodworth’s writing style is so enjoyable that I fear academic historians may be jealous of him as has happened with other best selling historians.

The story of how the army develops is shared with many sources. I was distracted initially by all the footnoting, but after a while ignored most unless I was curious about the statement. It was interesting to learn of the training and the logistical skills of the leadership - Grant and Sherman.

Some may think there is too much focus on General Grant prior to the fall of 1863. Grant was such a key figure that the coverage is merited. At times the author seems like a Grant apologist. Maybe some writers have diminished Grant’s contribution. Having a great, great, grandfather who served and died in the Army of the Tennessee I have had interest in learning what I can of the grand army. I learned new information on Grant. So my time was well spent.

I found the treatment of General Henry Halleck leadership role over Grant enlightening. I was previously unaware of General John A. McClernand and his never ending politicking and rumor spreading. Seeing the roles of General like Dodge, Hampton, McPherson and Logan sowed the seeds for further reading on some of these men.

The narrative made feel like I was there with the army as the moved from Cairo to Fort Henry and Fort Donaldson, to Shiloh, to Corinth, to Vicksburg and that whole complex campaign including Port Gibson, Jackson, Champions Hill and Vicksburg and Meridian.

The battles around Chattanooga were as clearly explained as I have every read. The coverage of the Atlanta campaign and movement through Georgia were excellent. I would love to see a book by him on just this campaign. It had points of view and information I have not encountered. I twice have lived in Georgia (mid 1970’s as a new second lieutenant and early 1980’s fresh with Master’s in hand living in Atlanta). I was always amazed at how Georgia natives acted as if Atlanta fell last week and the foraging was still happening. His narrative on the march across Georgia was enlightening. Woodworth's account of the movement from Savannah through South Carolina is rich in detail that rivals any other resources known. We understand why South Carolina was divested by the Sherman’s army. Then the march through North Carolina, the way Logan keeps Raleigh from being burned and then ultimate the movement to Washington, DC and the May 24th pass in review was well done.

I did not find just another retelling of the history of the Army of the Tennessee. It is a fun to read narrative written by a good story teller. Thank goodness this is not just another dry lengthy, dry historical paper. History can be well written and interesting. He made it interesting by sharing the soldier’s thoughts, emotions, and victories through the liberal use of diaries. We learned the heart of the Army of the Tennessee. We understand why and how it fought and how it developed esprit de corps.

I recommend adding this book to every library of those with an interest in the US Civil War. Read and reviewed by Jimmie A. Kepler.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

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.

Friday, March 14, 2008

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.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

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.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

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.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Shiloh by Shelby Foote

This is a short (225 pages) historical fiction novel written in 1952 by Shelby Foote. I read it in five days. The book is greatness. Foote uses a unique approach to tell the story of the American Civil War battle of Shiloh. He employs the use of first-person perspectives of one protagonists per chapter, Union and Confederate, except chapter six where he uses the twelve members of a squad to give a moment-by-moment commentary of the battle. The novel is divided into seven chapters. Each of the chapters is closely concerned with one of the characters again except for chapter six which gives the views of twelve squad members.

The first chapter takes place the day before the battle and is told by Lieutenant Palmer Metcalfe. He is a young aristocrat from New Orleans. We learn a year early he had been a student at the Louisiana State Seminary under William Tecumseh Sherman. He serves as a staff officer under Confederate commander General Albert Sidney Johnston. He watches as the Confederate army marches through the Tennessee countryside in preparation for a surprise attack upon the Union troops at Pittsburg Landing where their "horses will drink from the Tennessee River tomorrow". His self-satisfaction is evident as he remembers the complicated attack plan he helped draft. He thinks back on the struggles Johnston went through in bringing his army together for this anticipated decisive blow. The Confederate troops are inexperienced and noisy, and some of Johnston's generals believe the element of surprise has been lost. Johnston says they will fight despite the conditions.

Chapter Two is the story of Captain Walter Fountain, an Ohio regimental adjutant in the Union Army encamped at Pittsburg Landing. He is the Officer on Duty (OD) though he feels he should not have be an OD as he is the adjutant. He spends night writing a letter to his wife. Through his thoughts, we learn about the Union army's deliberate advance through Tennessee under General Ulysses Grant. Fountain is homesick yet confident that the war will be over soon. As he writes his letter, he notices the birds and animals becoming noisier and more agitated. Suddenly the Confederate soldiers attack the Union troops. The chapter ends abruptly. I was left with the assumption that Fountain is killed in the initial attack.

Chapter Three comes from the viewpoint of Private Luther Dade. He is scared but determined to do his duty. When the fight does come, Dade is disturbed when he realizes the dead bodies of old friends mean no more to him than those of stranger or Yankees. He stresses of combat are too much for him. He does well in combat. He sustains a minor arm wound and is sent to wait for a doctor. Hours pass. He gets no medical attention. Dade's arm begins to show signs of infection. He moves toward the sound of firing in search of a doctor. He finds himself in a clearing near Shiloh Church. At the church is Johnston's staff, gathered around their wounded and dying commander. Dade is captivated by the drama of the scene. He begins to pass out from his wound as the chapter ends.

Chapter Four is narrated by Private Otto Flickner, a Minnesota artilleryman. It is now the first night of the battle. Flickner is trembling at the riverbank with hundreds of other deserters. He rationalizes his actions by quoting what a sergeant of his had said, "I'm not scared, I'm just what they call demoralized." His search for justification leads him to remember the day’s events: the devastating surprise attack, one failed attempt after another to stand and fight, the endless concussions of incoming enemy artillery fire, and finally his running away because "so much is enough but a little bit more is too much." He and the other deserters are taunted at and called cowards by some reinforcements that pass by. The taunting forces Flickner to realize that a coward is exactly what he has been. He leaves the riverbank roving through the woods searching for his unit. Somehow he comes upon them getting ready for one last stand. His sergeant who witnessed his simply walking away greets him as if nothing had happened. He returns to his old gun.

Chapter Five concerns Sergeant Jefferson Polly, a Texas cavalryman serving under Nathan Bedford Forrest. A former seminary student, sailor, and soldier of fortune, Polly joined the army because "I wasn't any better at being a bad man than I was a good one." His mature and contemptuous point of view tells him that the Confederate army, even though successful on day one, is fighting a inadequately planned and shoddily coordinated battle. That night, Forrest leads Polly and his squad on a reconnaissance mission to Pittsburg Landing. While there they see thousands of Union reinforcements disembarking from steamboats. Forrest and Polly try to alert the confederate generals without success. With the coming of the next day he resigns himself to a day of defeat beside Colonel Forrest.

Chapter Six focuses on an Indiana squad. It is under the command of General Lew Wallace. We hear from all twelve members in the squad. They tell of their efforts to reach the battlefield. We learn of the wrong turn that delayed them for a day. We see the contempt that was poured on them by other troops for their slowness. When the battle's second day begins, the Indianans and the rest of Wallace's division are at the forefront of the resurgent Union attack. At the end of the fight, two of the Indianans are dead. The ten survivors wonder why they lived and the others died.

Chapter Seven returns to Lieutenant Metcalfe as he staggers down the road to Corinth. We see him as one of the beaten Confederate army. He remembers the death of General Johnston. He recalls how events spun out of control in the aftermath of the general’s death. He reflects on how the disorganized and leaderless Confederate army fell victim to a surprise Yankee attack the next day, how Johnston's old-fashioned gallantry had been no match for the reality they had encountered. In the disorder of the retreat he falls in with Forrest and Polly. He participates in their valiant rearguard action at Fallen Timbers. Metcalfe decides to join Forrest's unit; even as an enlisted man if necessary. His viewpoint changes to believing that any hope the Confederacy has lies with men like Forrest rather than men like Johnston. The book ends with Metcalfe tending to a delirious amputee in a wagon. I assume it is Luther Dade.

Read and reviewed by Jimmie A. Kepler.

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Best and the Brightest by David Halberstam

The Best and the Brightest (1972) by David Halberstam is an account of the origins of the Vietnam War. The book provides great detail on how the decisions were made in the John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson administrations that led to the war. The book focuses on the period from 1960 to 1965. It also covers earlier and later years up to the publication year of the book.

I am a fan of the late David Halberstam. I had the opportunity to hear him speak at the Tate Lecture Series held by Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas five years ago. I also had the pleasure of meeting him at a meet and greet held in concert with that event.

I first read this book in late 1972. I reread the book after hearing Halberstam speak at SMU.

When I reread The Best and the Brightest I found it as fresh as when I read it back in late 1972. Halberstam does an excellent job of showing how bad decisions, deceitfulness, a reluctance to face facts and complete rudimentary stupidity got America into a war that was lost from the start. The book makes known how so many smart, highly successful people, the best and the brightest of the American foreign policy and military were so unbelievably mistaken for so very long.

Halberstam examines diverse factors that contribute to America’s involvement. We learn that the Democratic Party was still haunted by claims that it had 'lost China' to Communists. They did not want to be said to have lost Vietnam also. During the McCarthy era the government lost or got rid of experts in Vietnam and surrounding Far-East countries. We learn that early studies called for close to a million US troops in order to fully defeat the Viet Cong. It would be impossible to persuade congress or the US public to deploy that many soldiers. We discover the fear that declarations of war, and excessive shows of force, including bombing too close to China or too many US troops might have triggered the entry of Chinese ground forces into the war, and greater Soviet involvement (and perhaps repair the growing Sino-Soviet rift).

Halberstam points out some war games showed that a slow escalation by the United States could be evenly matched by North Vietnam. He shares that every year 200,000 North Vietnamese came of drafting age. They could possibly be sent down the Ho Chi Minh Trail to replace any losses against the US. In essence the US would be fighting the North Vietnamese birthrate. Interestingly he makes us aware that both administrations believed any show of force by the US in the form of bombing or ground forces would signal the US interest in defending South Vietnam. This would therefore cause the US greater shame if they were to withdraw.

We see Lyndon Johnson’s concern and belief that too much attention given to the war effort would jeopardize his Great Society domestic programs. These programs were his personal priority. Additionally, the effects of strategic bombing policy were examined. Here we see the wrong belief that North Vietnam valued its industrial base so much it would not risk its annihilation by US air power. There was the false belief that the North Vietnamese would negotiate peace after experiencing some limited bombing, but others reflected back that even in World War II strategic bombing united the victim population against the attacker and did little to encumber manufacturing output.

Halberstam also mentions the simplistic Domino Theory rationales. Interestingly we learn the thought that after placing a few thousand Americans in harm's way, it became politically easier to send hundreds of thousands to Vietnam with the promise that with sufficient numbers they could defend themselves, and that to abandon Vietnam now would mean the earlier investment in money and lives would be thrown away.

The book shows that the gradual escalation chosen allowed the LBJ Administration at the outset to avoid negative publicity and criticism from Congress. Gradual escalation also avoided a direct war against the Chinese, but at the same time removed the possibility of either victory or withdrawal. Read and reviewed by Jimmie A. Kepler.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Suicide Charlie: A Vietnam War Story by Norman L. Russell

I found Suicide Charlie: A Vietnam War Story in the local library. I read the book during the first week of February 2006. Norman L. Russell tells his story with the draft, the US Army and the 25th Infantry Division. Russell was drafted in 1968. He went to Vietnam when he was 19 years old. There he served as a mortar man with the 25th Infantry Division's so-called Suicide Charlie Company. He tells how he was hardened by the demands of war. He tells of the various experiences he had. The war made less sense to him the longer he was there. He found it hard to follow all the orders he was given. He tells of being told to shoot to kill the Vietnamese children to keep away from his unit's trash dump. He disobeyed this order. He shares a tale of the boom boom girls (prostitutes). He lets us have a look at another kind of battle he faced upon return to the world -- post combat depression and delayed stress. He makes mention that his father was a World War II vet that took his own life a few years after returning. He battles the demons related to this from time to time. Unlike some memoirs, there are moments of hubris on his part from time to time in the book. It is very entertaining and an easy read. Read and reviewed by Jimmie A. Kepler.

Friday, March 07, 2008

The Gathering Storm by Sir Winston Churchill

The Gathering Storm by Sir Winston Churchill is the first volume of Churchill's Noble Prize winning six part chronicle of World War II. This six book series is Churchill's personal memoirs. The Gathering Storm depicts the rise of Hitler and the indifference of the leaders of the European democracies to the clouds of the gathering storm. Churchill incorporates contemporary documentation and his own reminiscence in this opening memoir. Churchill's mastery of English is reason enough to read this book. I like what was said in a review on, "Winston Churchill was not only a statesman and leader of historic proportions, he also possessed substantial literary talents. These two factors combine to make The Gathering Storm a unique work." The book tells the story of the events between World War One and World War Two. Churchill shows how key events were ignored or the people simply hoped they would go away without dealing with them. The resulting inaction allowed many of the later events to occur, thus escalating the size and difficulty of the task. Sir Winston Churchill won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1953 for this book and the other five books in the series. Read by Jimmie A. Kepler in July - August 1996 and  again in August - September 2004.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Mobile Riverine Force: America's Mobile Riverine Force Vietnam Vol. 1 and 2

Mobile Riverine Force: America's Mobile Riverine Force Vietnam Vol. 1 is a history of the Mobile Riverine Force in the US Armed Services from its beginning through today. It contains a 74 page description of Riverine Operations 1966-1969 by Major General William B Fulton. It tells the history of the Mobile Riverine Force Association. It shares stories of member's personal experience through biographies of Mobile Riverine Force Association members. It has hundreds of historic photographs.

Volume II proceeds on where Volume I left off and details the ongoing function of the Riverine Forces leading up to the final boats being transferred to the South Vietnamese Navy in December 1970. In the interim period you will see how combat hardened sailors volunteered to be Advisors to the South Vietnamese Navy under the command of Task Force 194. Despite the outcome of the war, a legacy of honor, dedication, and heroism was left by a small band of unique young sailors and soldiers. (Vol 2 review description written by the publisher - source:

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

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.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Omaha Beach: D-Day, June 6, 1944 by Joseph Balkoski

Joseph Balkoski's book on Omaha Beach is a great historical resource like his book Utah Beach. Omaha Beach tells the story of when largely untested American troops assaulted the German army's Atlantic wall. This is a great read covering the events of the day almost minute by minute. It reads like a great documentary. This is not written in the format of a memoir. Balkoski relies mainly on primary sources such as after action reports, unit journals, and citations to create his blow by blow narrative. He includes the invasion's diplomatic and strategic context. Omaha Beach is the closest the modern reader can get to experiencing the Normandy landings firsthand.

Sprinkled throughout the battle account are the accounts of those in the battle. It is a classic. It is a must for any D-day library. It also included comprehensive lists of all Medal of Honor and Distinguished Service Cross winners at Omaha Beach. It has: the Order of Battle, unit casualty list for the first twenty-four hours, unit organization of a 30man assault boat unit weapons, and equipment carried in the assault by a typical soldier, and a series of detailed maps allowing the reader unparalleled insight into the minute-by-minute combat on Omaha Beach. Read by Jimmie A. Kepler in November 2005.

Utah Beach: The Amphibious Landing And Airborne Operations On D-Day, June 6, 1944 by Joseph Balkoski

Joseph Balkoski's book on Utah Beach is a great historical resource. This is a very good read covering the events of the day almost minute by minute. It reads like a great documentary. This is not written in the format of a memoir. Readers who love first person hubris memoirs may find it lacking action.

Balkoski relies mainly on primary sources such as after action reports, unit journals, and citations to create his blow by blow narrative. Sprinkled throughout the battle account are the accounts of those in the battle. It is a classic. It is a must for any D-day library. Read in October 2005 by Jimmie A. Kepler.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Sherman: Memoirs of General W.T. Sherman by William T. Sherman

Sherman: Memoirs of General W.T. Sherman by William T. Sherman is a must book for anyone serious in learning about the life and experiences of Union General William T. Sherman.

I have read numerous Civil War books, including the prominent historical volumes by the leading scholars. Reading these volumes led me to begin reading the memoirs and books of the significant people involved in the war - Grant, Longstreet, etc. Sherman's memoirs have been the most fascinating.

Sherman is an interesting writer. His descriptions of early California life were beautiful. It paints a great picture of 1840’s San Francisco and northern California. In other places the writing bogged down where it felt you were reading a military TO&E (table of organization and equipment).

Sherman was not a failure in anything that he did. On the contrary, I think he led a full and fascinating life that would be difficult to duplicate in the present times, even with our transportation abilities. Sherman was a brilliant military leader and you feel as though you are with him throughout his many marches and campaigns. He includes many letters and orders in the book that I believe substantiate his writing and give proof that he was one of a kind.

I was surprised to learn that he served as commanding general of the US Army from 1868 - 1884, longer than any other person. That would be like being US Army chief of staff today for 16 years!

Yes, the book did have some hubris and he did defend some of his actions. All in all a must read. Read by Jimmie A. Kepler in July - August 2006.

On to Berlin: Battles of an Airborne Commander 1943-1946 by General James M. Gavin

General James M. Gavin tells the story of the 82d Airborne Division during World War II. Gavin began training at the Airborne School in Fort Benning in July 1941, and graduated in August 1941. After graduating he served in an experimental unit. His first command was Commanding Officer of C Company of the newly established 503rd Parachute Infantry Battalion. Gavin's friends William Ryder — Commander of Airborne training - and William Yarborough - Communications officer of the Provisional Airborne Group - convinced General William C. Lee to let Gavin develop the tactics and basic rules of Airborne combat. Lee followed up on this recommendation, and made Gavin his Operations and Training officer (S-3). On October 16, 1941 he was promoted to Major.

One of his first priorities was determining how airborne troops could be used most effectively. His first action was writing FM 31-30: Tactics and Technique of Air-Borne Troops. He used information about Soviet and German experiences with Paratroopers and Glider troops, and also used his own experience about tactics and warfare. The manual contained information about tactics, but also about the organization of the paratroopers, what kind of operations they could execute, and what they would need to execute their task effectively.

Gavin is best suited to provide this history since he served with the Division during its entire participation in the European Campaign, starting as a Regimental Commander with the 505th to eventually commanding the division.

General Gavin gives a detailed description of all the operations the 82d participated in during World War II. He adds his analysis of why certain things went well for his unit, while other things were a struggle. He provides insight into the Allied command structure and the challenges it faced.

This is an enjoyable and informative book that provides a unique perspective of the war, much different than other general officers. Gavin personally experienced the harshness and challenges of WWII combat because of the nature of airborne operations. Gavin also he participated in numerous high-level planning sessions with other well-known leaders of the Allied Command. This participation allows him to connect the planning and the execution of how strategic decisions influenced the actual combat operations in the European Theater of Operations.

For me the most insightful and interesting part of the book was General Gavin's analysis of General Eisenhower's decision to concede Berlin to the Russians. The last chapter reflects back on the war and Berlin question with analysis of the decisions made and their impact and implications thirty years later. It is pretty interesting stuff, especially given the long-term impact that these decisions had on world events.

I strongly recommend this book. For those wanting to learn more about the 82d or airborne operations this is required reading. Read and reviewed by Jimmie A. Kepler.

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.

Doc: Platoon Medic by Daniel E. Evans Jr., Charles W. Sasser

Daniel E. Evans was a young man who envied his father's World War II rite of passage and sought his own. He joined the Army as a medic and volunteered for Vietnam to seek his destiny. His 9th Infantry Division duty assignment was the 9th Medical Battalion but he had come to Vietnam to see combat. With persistence, Evans got himself attached to the 4th Battalion 39th Infantry, 9th Infantry Division as a platoon medic for most of his tour. Now it was time to learn how the reality of combat measured up to his boyhood imagination. Evans tells a vivid tale of his first hand experience with the aftermath of life and death conflict in a far off land. Read by Jimmie A. Kepler.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Brown Water, Black Berets: Coastal and Riverine Warfare in Vietnam by Lt. Cdr. Thomas J. Cutler

Brown Water, Black Berets: Coastal and Riverine Warfare in Vietnam by Lt. Cdr. Thomas J. Cutler, USN is a very readable concise history of the US Navy involvement in Vietnam. The author weaves facts and figures with the human stories of the men and women who were fighting a different kind of war. You will see the beginnings of the Vietnam navy, the US advisor role, and active involvement with coastal and inland waterway operations. The stories of naval personnel performing routine surveillance of coastal waters or engaged in the terror of close quarter combat on the muddy waters of the Mekong Delta paint a picture of the war in Vietnam that is often overlooked. A partnership of Navy and 9th Infantry Divisions units loosened the tight grip that the Viet Cong had on the strategically important Delta.

Battle for Saigon: Tet 1968 by Keith Nolan

This book gives an excellent tactical description of the fighting in and around Saigon during Tet, 1968. While many, many other books give a larger strategic sense to the whole Offensive, this book is very specific and useful to understanding what happened in South Viet-Nam's capital. This book has another strength, too, in that its accounts of small-unit leaders in combat provide great lessons for future junior military leaders--especially for company command level and below. The one big drawback is that it has no tactical maps, just one big map of Saigon at the beginning of the book. Detailed maps would have been a great help while trying to decipher the textual descriptions of the fight. The author should take note of this for future revisions of this book. Read by Jimmie A. Kepler.

Beyond Band of Brothers by Major Dick Winters with Colonel Cole C. Kingseed

I read Beyond Band of Brothers by Major Dick Winters & Colonel Cole C. Kingseed, the World War II memoir of Major Dick Winters this week. I just finished reading it. I borrowed it from The Colony, Texas Public Library. While reading Band of Brothers is note required before reading Beyond Band of Brothers, I highly recommend reading Stephen Ambrose's Band of Brother's first. Why? Beyond Band of Brothers reminds me of watching a DVD listening to the director's or producer's commentary. You have the story, but you get the commentary behind the story. This is the story of Dick Winters who served as a platoon leader, executive office, and company commander in Easy Company, 2 Battalion 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division and then as executive officer and battalion commander of, 2 Battalion 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division.

On D-Day, Dick Winters parachuted into France and assumed leadership of the Band of Brothers when their company commander was killed. He led them through the taking out the artillery on D-Day that was pounding the causeways on Utah Beach, Market Garden, through the Battle of the Bulge, the attack on Foyand Noville, and into Germany, and to Haguenau. They liberated a death camp and captured Berchtesgaden and the Eagle’s Nest, Hitler’s alpine retreat, and served as occupation forces in Austria. Briefly, on active duty during the Korean War, Winters then lived on a small Pennsylvania farm and was a highly successful businessperson. Beyond Band of Brothers is Winters’s memoir, based on his wartime diary, but it also includes his comrades’ untold stories. Most of this material is being released for the first time. He explains the cohesion behind the Band of Brothers and the comradeship that is war’s only redeeming quality, the debilitating effect of combat, the horror of seeing friends killed and wounded, and the key qualities that have made him a role model of cool-headed leadership under fire and a recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross. Dick Winters gives a good talk on leadership in his chapter "Reflections."

Beyond Band of Brothers is a moving tribute to the human spirit by a man who earned the love and respect of the men of Easy Company. Read by Jimmie A. Kepler

Thursday, February 28, 2008

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

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 currently 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 females 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.

The Victors: Eisenhower and His Boys: The Men of World War II by Stephen E. Ambrose

The Victors: Eisenhower and His Boys: The Men of World War II by Stephen E. Ambrose is essentially a cut and paste compilation of D-DAY, Citizen Soldiers, Eisenhower, and Band of Brothers. If you have read any of Stephen Ambrose's works on World War II, then this one is not worth the time. It has so much material covered in his lengthier works.

It is better to read D-DAY, Citizen Soldiers, Eisenhower, Band of Brothers.and The Wild Blue and to skip this book altogether. Read in 2005 by Jimmie A. Kepler.

Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West (Lewis & Clark Expedition) by Stephen E. Ambrose

The narrative style of Ambrose takes what could be a dry lecture and makes it extremely interesting. The book reads like a best selling novel. The book gives a nice background on Captain Meriwether Lewis. It shows how this background prepared Lewis for the journey and how it provided the relationship he had with Jefferson to lead to his selection for the journey. Lewis was Jefferson’s personal secretary when selected to lead the voyage that would take him up the Missouri River, to wintering with the Indians, to the Rockies, over the mountains, down the Columbia River to the Pacific Ocean, and back. Lewis experienced hardships and saw wonderful sights. The sites included herds of buffalo and Indian tribes with no previous contact with white men. He and his partner, Captain William Clark, made the first maps of the trans-Mississippi West, provided data on the flora and fauna of the Louisiana Purchase territory, and most importantly established the American claim to Oregon, Washington, and Idaho.

The book shows how Lewis is financially underwritten by a variety of characters. This list includes Jefferson, Clark, numerous Indian chiefs, and Sacagawea, the Indian girl who accompanied the expedition, along with the French-Indian hunter Drouillard, the great naturalists of Philadelphia, the French and Spanish fur traders of St. Louis, John Quincy Adams, and many more leading political, scientific, and military figures of the turn of the century.

This is a book about a hero and national unity. This is a book also about a tragedy. When Lewis returned to Washington in the fall of 1806, he was a national hero. Lewis greatest failure was he did not get his journals and notes organized and published. The scholarly value of those would have been great. Publishing them in a timely manner would have made Lewis financially independent. Instead Lewis took to drink, drugs, engaged in land speculation, piled up debts he could not pay, made jealous political enemies, experienced severe depression (probably from the drugs), and ultimately took his own life. Read by Jimmie A. Kepler in February - March 2005.

Citizen Soldiers by Stephen E. Ambrose

I read Citizen Soldiers by Stephen E. Ambrose in the late 1990's shortly after reading Band of Brothers and D-Day, both also by Ambrose. I reread this book in 2005. I listened to the audio book version in 2006. The book describes how these "citizen soldiers" came to be soldiers, and what they did once they were. There is some overlap with his other titles about World War II. The book follows the battles right after the allies left the beaches of Normandy, all the way through France into German territory.

This lengthy volume details the war in Europe. It tells how Americans were critical to that victory. It gives the story through the eyes of those who participated in the various units. I enjoy this tile and the stories the former GI's share. “Citizen Soldiers“ is the name for the draftees, national guard, and army reserve soldiers, the non-regular army soldiers, which were so necessary to field an army of the size that was needed in World War II. Read and reviewed by Jimmie A. Kepler.

D-Day June 6 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II by Stephen E. Ambrose

The late Stephen E. Ambrose used over 1400 interviews for his history of the D-Day invasion. This “oral history" approach brings the reader into the heart of the battle through eye-witness testimony. The tales of the front line infantryman sweeps the reader up into their personal histories. The story is told from the individual and small unit level often failing to describe larger unit actions or explaining how the individual actions fit into the total picture. Let is shared of what happened on the Canadian and British beachheads. Historical controversies are often given minimal coverage. These are simply good stories of many individual experiences.

The book is not a textbook for lessons on strategic decision making or to answer big picture questions. Ambrose touches on these larger issues in a general focus, but that is not his focus. This is a book about the American achievement in Normandy. The individual courage and independence of the American small unit leaders is big story of this book. Ambrose is right on target as he tells the story of their braveness and toughness. Read and reviewed in 1999 by Jimmie A. Kepler.

Band of Brothers by Stephen E. Ambrose

I read Band of Brothers by Stephen E. Ambrose in August 1996. This is one of the most read and popular books in the last ten years due to the HBO mini series based on the book. The History Channel also periodically shows the mini series. The book is better than the mini series. It tells the story of Easy Company 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment that ultimately became part of the 101st Airborne Division. I enjoyed the book because of the focus on the people in the unit. It has reached cult like status. Read by Jimmie A. Kepler.