Thursday, December 03, 2009

The Sentinels: Fortunes of War by Gordon Zuckerman



Gordon Zuckerman’s "The Sentinels: Fortunes of War" takes the German homeland from 1932 to the end of the World War II.  The plot is captivating.  The author starts introducing the key characters one by one.  They are some of the best and brightest from their countries and some from some of the most influential and powerful families.

The year is 1932.  The previously dominant German nation was on the brink of financial and societal collapse.  An influential collection of prosperous and well-placed businessmen decided it was time to do something. They have a simple plan.  They will choose a potential leader for the nation who was sympathetic to the notion of rearmament.  They will make available ample monetary support to make certain of a victorious rise to power.  Their motivation is for succeeding is their profits during the rearmament would be enormous. The prospective leader they decided to sponsor was Adolf Hitler.  At the time he was the rising star of the National Socialist German Workers Party.

But what if Germany lost the war and the businessmen took their profits out of the country before it fell?  A group of young doctoral students at University of California at Berkeley hypothesized that such funds would eventually find their way to another military conflict elsewhere in the world.  The called their idea The Power Theory.

The Power Theory is just that, a theory, in1938. But by early 1945, it becomes apparent that it is about to become an actuality in Nazi Germany. That's when the group makes a decision to reunite and implement a plan to thwart war profits leaving the country.

Gordon Zuckerman is a masterful story teller.  He provides ample political intrigue, romance and forceful exploits.  The action takes place across Europe and America.  "The Sentinels: Fortunes of War" is a very well written international thriller.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Not a Gentleman's War: An Inside View of Junior Officers in the Vietnam War by Ron Milam


Not a Gentleman's War: An Inside View of Junior Officers in the Vietnam War is the story of the 5,069 junior officers who died in Vietnam as well as the ones who survived.  We are reminded all officers had volunteered to lead men in battle. Based on Ron Milam’s detailed and thorough research, Not a Gentleman's War: An Inside View of Junior Officers in the Vietnam War gives an excellent analysis of these men.  The author has the rare combination of scholarly research and with an easy reading text.  The book is divided into two main parts. 

Part one views the future officers and officers in the United States.  It examines their officer training programs: West Point, Officer Candidate School (OCS), and Army Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC).  The selection, training, and evaluation process of each is explained in detail.  We see how the army ramped up for the increased demand in officers.  We feel the arrogance of the West Point educated toward the Infantry Officer Basic Course and the slow change of curriculum at the United States Military Academy.  We learn that the majority of officers were commissioned through ROTC.  We find out the selection standards were not lowered for OCS.  We are reminded that changing views on campus impacted the world views of men commissioned through ROTC.

Part two has the young officer in Vietnam.  The four chapters in this section examine the junior officer’s performance as combat leaders.  We experience the life and death tests they faced.  We confront the myths about the men.  We experience the different leadership challenges of being on a mission in the field and being in a firebase or in garrison such as preventing alcohol and drug abuse as well as racial tensions.

Myths about the Vietnam War say the junior officer was a no-talent, inadequately trained, and unenthusiastic soldier.  Lt. William Calley of My Lai often is held up as the typical junior officer baby killer.  Ron Milam debunks this view with detailed research including oral histories, after-action reports, diaries, letters, and other records. 

The author has excellent primary resource materials.   He clearly shows that most of the lieutenants who served in combat performed their duties well.  The junior officers were effective.  They served with great skill.  While they were not always clean shaven and often had mud on their boots, they were dedicated and committed to the men they led.  Ron Milam's story provides a vibrant, you-are-there portrayal of what the platoon leader faced and his ability to meet the challenges as documented by field reports and evaluations of their superior officers.

This is a book that all students of the Vietnam War should read.  I encourage all military officers to read the book as well.  Not a Gentleman's War: An Inside View of Junior Officers in the Vietnam War should be in every college library in the world.  Ron Milam has written an excellent book.  Dr. Milam is assistant professor of military history at Texas tech University.

On a personal level, the book helped me better understand my own experience as an US Army officer.  I received my officer training through the ROTC between 1971 and 1975.  Some of the training I received was based on decisions explained in the book.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The War Chronicles: From Flintlocks to Machine Guns by Joseph Cummins


Maybe you are familiar with the wars involving the United States.  But have you ever wondered about the wars that were taking place in other parts of the world? "The War Chronicles: From Flintlocks to Machine Guns" by Joseph Cummins contains short sections on all wars throughout the world from the French Revolution in 1783 to the Iran-Iraq War of 1988.

The book is organized with 21 chapters.  It gives the dates of the conflict.  You see who the principle combatants and the theaters of operations.  The casualties are given.  You get a succinct sketch of the entire conflict.  A timeline of events is shared. This followed by a narrative of the complete war in greater detail including a thorough description of the key battle.  A biography of the two principle leaders on each side is shared. This is followed by a profile segment which gives details of the structure, organization, and military hardware involved. 

Joseph Cummins does a masterful job as he describes each conflict with an attention-grabbing energy that brings the time, people, and crisis to life in a narrative history style.   I personally enjoyed his short biographies of the two principle leaders on each side.  What a great reference for secondary students having to do reports of the key war leaders.

This is more than a coffee table reference book.  It would make an excellent reference book for any military history buff.  It also would be an outstanding text book for an introductory military history survey course and would be a great addition to any school or community library.  Any soldier, sailor, airman, or marine would be proud to have it in their personal library.

This is a follow-up work to Joseph Cummins book "The War Chronicles: From Chariots to Flintlocks: New Perspectives on the Two Thousand Years of Bloodshed That Shaped the Modern World."

Review by Jimmie Aaron Kepler

Friday, October 09, 2009

Sisters of Valor by Rosaline T. Turner


Have you ever wondered what it would be like having your husband deployed and in harm’s way?  Have you ever wondered what your wife is going through while you are doing your job as a member of the United States Armed Forces half a world away?  Have you ever thought of what your mother went through when you dad was deployed? 

Sisters of Valor answers these and more questions.  Rosaline T. Turner tells the the story of four women’s experience as their husbands are serving in Viet-Nam.   We meet Captain Paul Mitchell and his wife Susan, the story’s main character.  Paul is a United States Marine Corps company commander.  They are from Iowa.  We meet Gunnery Sergeant Louis Siconi and Rose.  We meet Texanne and her husband Robert the S-1 in Saigon.  We meet Magda Spencer from Pennsylvania and her husband Jerry the pilot.

The author has crafted wonderful characters.  It is through these characters she does a wonderful job of telling the story.  And she is a very good story teller.  We feel the pain of a country divided and the impact of antiwar protestors.  We see the value of building a support group.  We learn how to deal with visiting parents and pressures of parents to move back home.  We see some turn to drink to cope.   We experience the pressures from family from extended family for financial assistance.   We feel the bitterness of extended activity duty due to a person’s military occupational skill being deemed as critical.  We share the joy of the birth of a child while marine husband is deployed.  We experience the trials of traveling by ourselves with two small children to go home for Christmas and the holidays without our spouse.  We feel the terror of the Tet Offensive and the support of our friends during this trying time. We see how some of the women feel guilty that their husband is in a safer job.  We share the thrill of talking to a spouse half a world away via a HAM a radio link.  We learn of the good and bad of R & R.   We feel the loneliness: going out to bar without your spouse, loneliness and falling to temptation while on R & R in Australia.  We deal with a potential major illness of a child without our spouse.   We survive the craziness of the Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy assassinations.   We have the dreaded official car drive to our house with the notification of the death of our husband.  We experience a husband missing in action.  And we have reflection a quarter of a century later.

The book is excellent.  It is a very interesting story told by a master story teller.  I recommend it for persons’ whose spouse or parents were deployed during the Viet-Nam War.  The book’s message is timeless.  It would be a good read for a person whose spouse is in the Middle East today.

My father was career military.  He was in Viet-Nam in 1963-1964.  I was 10 and 11 years old when he was deployed.  Reading the book has given me a new appreciation of what my mother went through while he was gone.  I am a former US Army officer.  The book helped me have a better understanding of what my wife went through during my deployments as well.

To Rosaline T. Turner – thank you for a needed book.  I have several friends to whom I have already recommended the book.  It will help them as they deal with what their daughters or daughters-in-law are facing today with their husbands in harm’s way.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

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.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Bridge Too Far by Cornelius Ryan

A Bridge Too Far: The Classic History of the Greatest Battle of World War II by Cornelius Ryan gives one of the best accounts of General Montgomery's ill-fated plan and operation to turn the German northern flank on the Western front during September 1944 of World War II. Montgomery hoped to press into the heart of industrial Germany to end the war in 1944. This narrative non-fiction work by Cornelius Ryan brings together the objectivity and insights of a historian with the narrative style of a novelist. Ryan brings historical events to life. Ryan's writings keep your interest. He gives the experiences of the individual soldiers and Dutch resistance members. He tells the story from all sides. The roles and effects of these operations on the civilians unfortunate enough to be caught up in events are included. 

From reading Ryan's work I found a dramatic lack of urgency on the part of the British. An example is after the 82nd had secured their main bridge objective which included tremendous sacrifice the British simply camped for the night brewing their tea while their fellow countryman were still encircled and dying in Arhen. I was disappointed that Montgomery was not slammed for this operation. From he account Montgomery is lucky he wasn't relieved of command or sacked on the spot.

I recommend the book, tough at times I found the reading and the story slowly unfolding. It is one of the all time classics of World War II and should be in the library of every military history buff. Read and reviewed by Jimmie A. Kepler.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

American Soldier by General Tommy Franks

President Bill Clinton promoted General Franks to fours stars. President Clinton also appointed Tommy Franks as Commander in Chief of the United States Central Command beginning in July 2000. General Franks served in that role through July 2003. In between was 9/11.

Tommy Franks led the American and Coalition forces to victory in both Afghanistan and Iraq. The part of American Soldier covering these wars are the most interesting because they combine military maneuvers, politics, action, and commentary. This does not mean that the rest of his autobiography is dull. They are not. General Franks’ writing is clear and engaging and his insider's perspective is informative and interesting.

In addition to his years as a war general, his memoir covers his childhood, his early years in the Army, his tours of Vietnam, his return to college to complete his degree at the University of Texas at Arlington, and how he considered retirement before being called up as commander of Central Command.

The "good old boy" from Midland, Texas rings throughout the book. We also see the diplomacy of General Franks. He provides insights into many of the individuals he interfaced. Those looking for criticism of persons in political office will be disappointed. Many will see his expressing admiration for his own staff, for President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in particular, but he also has high respect for the office of the president leaving no criticism for Mr. Clinton or Mr. Bush.

He lets us know he was surprised by the absence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and that no WMDs were used against American troops under his watch. American Soldier is a compelling book giving significant insights on the war on terrorism from the point of view of both warrior and diplomat. Read by Jimmie A. Kepler in November - December 2005.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Undaunted Courage by Stephen E. Ambrose

This is as enjoyable a book as I have ever read. 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.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

“Southern Storm: Sherman's March to the Sea” by Noah Andre Trudeau

“Southern Storm: Sherman's March to the Sea” by Noah Andre Trudeau provides a skilled account of one of the US Civil War’s most notorious campaigns. Mr. Trudeau chronicles the daily grind of a 60,000 man Union army harvesting a three hundred mile path of scavenging, fire, and devastation from Atlanta to Savannah. Every day of the campaign is different and uniquely described without repetition. The story is told for the most part from the side of the Union army. I wondered how Mr. Trudeau would avoid boredom in a story that has no major battles. He did brilliant job of avoiding dullness and monotony.

The author makes it clear that Sherman worked hard avoiding major confrontation with the Confederate forces. Sherman divided his force into two parts to terrorize the greatest number of objectives and to avoid encountering concentrated Southern defenses. The General was hugely successful in this area, not only because of his own efforts, but with a great deal of help from the South and its failure to form a unified command structure to oppose him.

Noah Andre Trudeau does a good job explaining how Hood took his sizeable forces and went north to threaten northern supply lines. Hood’s motivation was in all probability to force Sherman to divert his offensive to follow him. This failed miserably with Hood ultimately having his army destroyed by General Thomas near Nashville.

The south’s lack of coordination caused by their strong individualism is seen when the remaining Confederate generals and their forces couldn't decide on what to defend or what actions were needed to bring Sherman’s campaign to a halt. The southern leaders and especially Jefferson Davis fail to comprehend the importance of Sherman's offensive.

Noah Andre Trudeau enlightens the reader on what was on the minds of both sides. This is a book which is compelling because of its painstaking attention to detail and the evenhandedness and writing skill of the author. Unless you had family in the path of Sherman’s march, you probably won’t find the book getting you too emotional stirred. The book's story stops at Savannah, while Sherman's Army goes on to South Carolina and North Carolina. It leaves you wondering what came next. Read and reviewed by Jimmie A. Kepler.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Honor Untarnished by Gen. Donald V. Bennett (Ret), 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. This review was originally written for the Military History Book Club.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Last Full Measure by Jeff Shaara

The Last Full Measure opens with Gettysburg in the past. The U.S. Civil War moves into its third and most savage year. On the Union side there is a need for a strong, decisive leader. President Abraham Lincoln places U.S. Grant in command in the newly created position of Lieutenant General. This is the decision that turns the war.

Gettysburg had been a terrible disaster for the southern soldiers and Robert E. Lee. Lee knows the south cannot survive a war of attrition. Lee is duty bound to his generals and has an immovable faith in God. He is committed to fight to the very end. He sees this as his duty for his country and Virginia.

Here too is Joshua Chamberlain, the college professor who emerged as the Union hero of Gettysburg -- and who will rise to become one of the greatest figures of the U.S. Civil War, winning the Medal of Honor and is one of the greatest citizen soldiers ever produced.

Shaara does an excellent job on balancing the strategy of the battles with the horrible cost in human terms. He does a great job of painting vivid scenes and adding the drama and action that makes them come alive.

The Last Full Measure is the third book the Shaara father-son team has written on the U.S. Civil War. Son Jeff wrote Gods and Generals and The Last Full Measure. His late father, and Pulitzer Prize winning father wrote The Killer Angels concerning the battle of Gettysburg. The Last Full Measure is the fitting finale to a magnificent literary trilogy. Jimmie A. Kepler

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

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. This book included several appendixes with great information about the battle at Omaha Beach.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

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

Joseph Balkoski chronicles the events of the day almost minute by minute. "Utah Beach" reads like a great documentary. It is not a memoir. Readers who love first person hubris 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 must addition for any D-day library or World War II library.

A valuable resource in the book are the appendixes. They include "Allied Causalities on Utah Beach and in Cotentin Peninsula, June 6, 1944", "Medal of Honor and Distinguished Service Cross Awards for Valor on Utah Beach and in Cotentin Peninsula, June 6, 1944", "First-Wave Units on Utah Beach","Initial Parachute and Glider Assault, Cotentin Peninsula, 12:20 - 4:15 A.M., June 6, 1944","Ninth Air Force, IX Troop Carrier Command, June 6, 1944", "Ninth Air Force, IX Bomber Command, Utah Beach Bombing Mission, 6:09 - 6:27 A.M., June 6, 1944", "U.S. Navy Force U Bambardment Group", "Captain Frank Lillyman's Pathfinder Stick, June 6, 1944", and "Uniform and Equipment of U.S. Army Paratroopers, 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, June 6, 1944". Read and reviewed by Jimmie A. Kepler.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Embedded: A Marine Corps Adviser Inside the Iraqi Army

Have you wondered what it would be like to be in Iraq working with the Iraqi Army? Have you thought what it would like to get to know, work with the people in Iraq, and live with them? United States Marine Corps First Lieutenant Wesley Gray paints an insightful and sobering picture that answers these questions.

In 2006, 1st Lt. Wesley Gray was deployed as an U.S. Marine Corps military adviser to an Iraqi Army battalion in the Haditha Triad. For 210 days, he lived and fought beside Iraqi soldiers in the most dangerous and ruthless province of western Iraq. The province of Al-Anbar was filled with an insurgent population upset by a recent massacre of twenty-four men, women, and children shot at close range by U.S. Marines. They had been shot in retaliation for the death of one of their comrades in a roadside bombing.

In spite of the high tensions created by the shootings, Gray was able to form a bond with the Iraqis because he had an edge that very few U.S. service members possess - the ability to communicate in Iraqi Arabic. His language skills and his understanding of the culture led the Iraqi soldiers to call him a brother and fondly name him Jamal.

Gray draws on the brutally honest and detailed record he kept during his tour, including extensive interviews with Iraqi soldiers and citizens. He offers an all-inclusive portrait of the struggles of the Iraqi people to make their country a nation once again and includes a compelling report on the status and prospects of the U.S. government's strategy for success in Iraq.

1st Lt. Gray’s stories range from hilarious to tear inducing. I have two favorites. First, the story about getting information on who plants improvised explosive devices (IED) is chilling. Here the Iraqis tell Gray we are going about getting information in the wrong way. We should give them 24 hours to tell us who planted the IED. He is told we should demolish a house if we fail to get info. If that doesn’t work we should then demolish a block of houses. Then we will have the information. Second is the story of Major Gaines using the bathroom outdoors with a “toilet kit” at night and his getting upset as the spotlights are turned on him.

Gray also outlines Iraqi history, attitudes about leadership, and the outlook for the future of a unified State in the absence of American troops. Most of his forecast is grim.

The book is a good read and would be a valuable addition to all community libraries. It gives a realistic insight into what the USA is still confronting. The book gives answers about Iraqi culture, military culture, and is filled with a war stories and some exciting activity.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Beyond The Beachhead: The 29th Infantry Division in Normandy by Joseph Balkoski

In Beyond The Beachhead: The 29th Infantry Division in Normandy, Joseph Balkoski tells the story of the 29th Infantry, a National Guard Division. As Mr. Balkoski shares the story of the “Blue and Gray Division” we start with them in their training camps in Maryland and Virginia. We travel with them across the Atlantic Ocean for their deployment to England. We go with them during their training in England. We feel their loss on bloody Omaha Beach. We experience the stupidity of the continual frontal assaults and prodding of their divisional commander in their efforts to get to the city of St. Lo. We share in the triumphant entry into St. Lo.

We meet and see some interesting personalities along the way. People like General Gehrhardt, General Cota, Major Tom Howie, Glover Johns and Charles Cawthon. We share with them as they endure the training, D-Day and the hedgerow slaughter.

Mr. Balkoski doesn't just go over old facts and statistics. He gives a graphic description of the initial assaults onto the Omaha landing zone. It is sobering, entire land craft wiped out, whole companies annihilated.

He does a very interesting compare and contrast of the 29th to its German counterpart, the 352nd Infanterie Division. He shows German methods and compares the weapons used by both sides. He explains why the fighting in Normandy was an attacker's nightmare and a defender's dream. The maps and photos included are good and provide help in understanding both the terrain and the troop movements.

Joseph Balkoski also has woven a story within the story. It is also the story of the prejudice of the regular army toward the National Guard. We see Guard officers passed over for higher rank. We see a refusal to elevate Guardsmen to higher command when company and battalion commanders are killed or wounded, and the attitude of the division's regular army commander.

There is still another story told if one reads between the lines. We see American military leadership at the Divisional level willing to permit heavy casualties without any appreciable gains. General Gerhardt is often quoted angrily screaming "Let's keep pushing", "We're going to get to that objective or else", "Keep pushing them", "The best defense I know of is to attack", and "Expend the whole battalion if necessary, but it's got to get there" even after units take as high as 60% casualties. He points out that the 29th Infantry Division spent 8 weeks in Normandy, and took in 15,000 replacements to maintain the fighting strength of the 14,000 soldier Division. With so many replacements being required the book contains an excellent explanation of the American replacement system.

After reading this book, one is left with a deep respect for the young Americans in the rifle squads who went forward each day, killing and being killed, knowing their chances of survival were low. That the American army performed as well as it did in WWII is a tribute to the courage and tenacity of the guys at the "sharp end of the stick."

Thursday, March 19, 2009

In the Hands of Providence: Joshua L. Chamberlain and the American Civil War by Alice Rains Trulock

“In the Hands of Providence: Joshua L. Chamberlain and the American Civil War” is a masterful biography of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. Chamberlain was one of the great Americans of the nineteenth century. He was one of the most heroic and hardest fighting U.S. Army officers of all time.

The author, the late Alice Rains Trulock, presents a well researched, thoroughly documented, and in depth portrait of this intelligent and courageous man. She traces Chamberlain's early life and career. She begins looking at him as a student, and later as Professor of Rhetoric at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. Chamberlain's military career is covered in detail. We see his rise from command of the 20th Maine to general officer rank in the Union army. We learn of his outstanding leadership and valor during some of the fiercest and bloodiest battles of the Civil War, including Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, and Petersburg. His experience at Five Forks, Virginia is chronicled with some of Trulock's liveliest and most exciting prose.

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain is best known for his actions as Colonel of the 20th Maine Volunteers at the Battle of Gettysburg. Here Trulock describes in detail the events of July 2, 1863. On that date he led his 380-man regiment in its successful defense of Little Round Top. This is arguably the most critical engagement in the most critical battle of the war. His leadership and actions saved the Union army from a crushing defeat, and ensuring his own place in the pantheon of American military heroes.

Trulock also details Chamberlain's post-Civil War career as Governor of Maine (1867-1871), President of Bowdoin College (1871-1883), and as a semi-successful businessman.

The book gives well researched and beautifully written descriptions of Chamberlain's military, political and business accomplishments. "In the Hands of Providence" also gives the reader a balanced and objective look at Chamberlain's personal life. Particularly enjoyable and enlightening are the descriptions of his relationships with his wife Fannie, his daughter Grace and son Harold Wyllys (yes, the spelling is correct – it is pronounced like Willis), and his brother Tom. The author does a brilliant job of allowing the reader to get to know Chamberlain the patriot, scholar, college professor and president, military hero, and Governor of Maine as well as the warm hearted and loving family man.

Published in 1992 by the University of North Carolina Press, “In the Hands of Providence: Joshua L. Chamberlain and the American Civil War” is the best modern biography of one of the most extraordinary and gifted Americans of the nineteenth century. I highly recommended these 592 pages of information and entertainment. Reviewed by Jimmie A. Kepler

Friday, March 13, 2009

Rattler One-Seven by Chuck Gross

Rattler One Seven gives insight into Chuck Gross's journey into manhood through the Vietnam Conflict from Special Secret Operations to the little known but bloodiest operation of the entire war, Lamson 719. Chuck Gross relives the days and events of everyday life as an helicopter pilot in Viet-Nam.

His story is personal and candid. He shares his thoughts and feelings as he transitioned from a midwestern high school graduate into a seasoned Senior Aircraft Commander in three short years.

The book lets you feel the daily grind of combat and life as a chopper pilot. The Viet-Nam history buff will enjoy reading the book. Gross does not sensationalize his service. The book also shows how his enlistment and becoming a helicopter pilot ultimately lead to an aviation carrier and becoming a pilot for American Airlines. Read by Jimmie A. Kepler in October 2005.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

American Daughter Gone to War: On the Front Lines With an Army Nurse in Vietnam - by Winnie Smith

This book is different. This book goes where no memoir has gone before. It is a soul sharing account of former US Army nurse Winnie Smith's three years in the US Army nurse corps with the focus on Viet-Nam and its devastating personal aftermath.

You follow her from her initial days in the US Army to Japan where she gets her first views of the war in Viet-Nam. She starts developing strong relationships with the "warriors.” Some become extended family. This closeness takes it toll as the men she liked, and sometimes loved, were killed, lost in action, or wounded. Her testimony of life at the Third Field Hospital in Saigon and then in the head trauma unit of the next hospital were so vivid you are there. She lets it be known that the army was not set up for females by the lack of facilities available. She danced with David Nelson of Ozzie and Harriet fame with out even knowing who he was until the other nurses asked what he like was. Her fear had her turn down marriage proposal from West Pointer Peter.

After the service, she had trouble with relationships. In the years ahead, she lived in Dallas then San Francisco. While she went to graduate school the years following Viet-Nam are a vivid picture of the horrors of post traumatic stress disorder. The book is a painful look at this horrific disorder. The book shows there is hope and in many ways seem to be her avenue for dealing with it. She is surprised other persons have similar difficulties coping. She is shocked to learn that her stepfather who lost a leg in World War II had been injured days into the combat zone and thus had no real experience of war as a point of common ground. The book is worth your time. It shows the human toll of any war. Read by Jimmie Kepler in April - May 2006.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson

He had seen men enslaved, and seen death in battle on a terrible scale. So when a young, unknown poet named Emily Dickinson wrote to ask whether he thought her verse was “alive”, Thomas Wentworth Higginson – a critic for The Atlantic Monthly and a decorated Union veteran – knew he was seeing poetry that lived and breathed like nothing he had seen before.

Higginson was immediately awed by Emily Dickinson, and went on to become her editor, mentor, and one of the reclusive poet’s closest confidantes. The two met only twice, but exchanged hundreds of deeply personal letters over the next twenty-five years; they commented on each other’s work, mulled over writers they admired, and dazzled each other with nimble turns of phrase. After she died, he shepherded the first collected edition of her poetry into publication, and was a tireless champion of her work in his influential Recent Poems column for The Nation.

Later generations of literary scholars have dismissed Higginson as a dull, ordinary mind, blaming him for the decision to strip some of the distinctive, unusual structure from Dickinson’s poems for publication. However, Brenda Wineapple offers a portrait of Higginson that is far beyond ordinary. He was a widely respected writer, a fervent abolitionist, and a secret accomplice to John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry; wounded in the first year of the Civil War, he returned to service as colonel of the first federally-authorized regiment of former slaves. White Heat reveals a rich, remarkable friendship between the citizen soldier and the poet, a correspondence from which Dickinson drew tremendous passion and inspiration – and which she credited, more than once, with saving her life.

Brenda Wineapple is the author and editor of five books, including the award-winning Hawthorne: A Life and Sister Brother: Gertrude and Leo Stein. Her essays, articles, and reviews have appeared in The American Scholar, The New York Times Book Review, Parnassus, Poetry, and The Nation. She teaches in the MFA programs at Columbia University and The New School in New York.

Source: Pritzker Military Library .

Friday, January 09, 2009

The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara

If you have the slightest interest in the Civil War, don't fail to read the late Michael Shaara's book The Killer Angels. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1974. For some reason this book had never crossed my path. It wasn't until Father's Day this year that I was even aware of its existence. My 27 year old son gave me a DVD that had both Gods and Generals and Gettysburg on it. In reading the jacket of the DVD I saw the movie was based on this book. After watching the movie, I headed off to the library. I was not disappointed.

This volume shows both the courage and determination of the Union and Confederate soldiers. It examines the story from both viewpoints. You are told the story through the key leadership of the battle. You will read about Robert E. Lee. You will learn what his decisions were based on. You will see why he was so beloved by his army. The book allows you to be present as Lee struggles with decision after decision from his headquarters. You can feel the frustration of Longstreet as he tries to convince Lee that defense is a better choice. You will get a picture of the flamboyant Pickett. You will feel Lee's and Longstreet's frustration with J.E.B. Stuart. I met a new hero in the book - Joshua Lawrence Chamberlin as I read about the 20th Maine Regiment and Chamberlain who with a bayonet charge on Little Big Top held the end of the Union line. Another new hero I encountered was General John Buford. You will experience his anguish as he decides to engage Rebel forces. He knows that he was seriously outnumbered. He is determined to save the only high ground in the area.

I was emotionally involved in the book from the beginning to the end. This is the book that blurs the line between historical fiction and creative non-fiction. It is simply great reading. While the movie was good, the book is great. Michael Shaara had the vision, did the research, and wrote one of the best books ever. Thank you! Read and reviewed by Jimmie A. Kepler.