Friday, December 17, 2010

Minefields of the Heart: A Mother’s Stories of a Son at War by Sue Diaz.

Sue Diaz’s “Minefields of the Heart: A Mother’s Stories of a Son at War” is a remarkable book.  She gives us a unique point of view of the current war the USA is fighting in the Middle East – the point of view of a parent. The book caused me to do a lot of personal reflection. I remembered my own father deploying for a year tour of duty to Vietnam in 1963-1964. I was ten years old and remember the year vividly. I remember the anxiety. I remember the trips to the post office. I remember wondering what it would be like when he returned and if he would remember me. Then I thought of my own active duty as a US Army officer and wondered what my parents thought of my years of active duty.

No, I am not writing to reflect on me. I am pointing how the book made me think and reflect. Sue Diaz is a gifted writer. You experience the emotional difficulties as you see how she and her husband deal with choices her son makes about not going directly to college. You see how they handle finding out he has joined the army and the infantry. You see how meaningful the simplest contacts are with their  soldier. I loved her taking us through the “box” as a way of telling the story. I was interested when she said Roman had gotten a tattoo how she would handle it – it made me think of my daughter getting a tattoo and my son getting an ear pierced. I didn’t like their choice, but it was their choice. She shows us the unconditional love of a parent.

The sacrifices a family makes to accommodate a military family member shine through when we see her daughter’s wedding date changed. The stories of her going to the target practice with her son and the time between his deployments paint a picture many share.

I loved his arrival at Fort Campbell after the second deployment and how the simple saying of "Mom" was enough.

In many ways, I felt like the book shared the story of how parents handled both the unfilled dreams they have for a child and the social stigma many middle class feel when their child opts for the service instead of college. It is a story that will grab and hold your attention.

It would make an excellent discussion book for support groups. It would be good for recruiters to give to the mothers of recruits. It shows you will survive. It would also be a great addition to any community library. I would love to see her do a follow-up book where Roman reflects on his military service and she weaves her home front experiences with his deployment experiences. Well done.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Patton's Third Army in World War II: An Illustrated History by Michael Green and James D. Brown

Patton's Third Army in World War II: An Illustrated History (Hardcover) by Michael Green and James D. Brown is spectacular. The book is a large sized at 12 inches by 11 inches with 288 thick, glossy pages. While the appearance  is that of a "coffee-table book", it is that and much more.

The book is both war gallery with some of the best photographs you will every see of World War II and part war summary giving you an excellent overview of of the US Third Army's fighting in France, Belgium and finally Germany in 1944 and 1945.

Eisenhower placed Patton in command of a decoy unit, the First U.S. Army Group. It was nearly seven weeks after D-Day before General Patton finally took the Third  U.S. Army into battle. We see in picture and word how he began a ten-month journey across France, driving through Germany and into Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia and Austria. During this journey we see the way Third Army forces entered the Battle of the Bulge and helped break the siege of Bastogne.

The book covers Patton's command of Third Army. It places the focus you would expect on Armor (tank) operations. We see how Patton evolved a new style of fighting - an American version of the lightning war. We see him avoiding entrenched infantry warfare allowing him to keep pushing forward. General Patton's rough, hard charging personality shows through the books pages. US Military photos and frequent quotes complete the picture of Patton as well as his men as they fight their way across the Third Reich.

The book details in detail on the use of armor divisions, how to conduct tank reconnaissance, the role and how to of infantry in combat, as well as the use of antitank weapons like the bazooka, as well as other issues.

The book is a must have for any student of Armored warfare and fan of General Patton. It would be an excellent addition to any community or school library as well. It is a wonderful blend of story and picture.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Naked in Da Nang by Mike Jackson and Tara Dixon-Engel

I loved Mike Jackson and Tara Dixon-Engel’s “Naked in Da Nang.” Jackson was a Forward Air Controller flying over Vietnam in 171 to 1972.  He flew 210 combat missions.

I appreciated the humanity of the pilots and soldiers that ran through in his book. It was I picture that related more to my own experience in service during the same era.

I enjoyed reading “Naked in Da Nang.” The stories of flying left me feeling I was in the aircraft with the author. I learned respect for the difficulty of just getting the aircraft support on station and the key roll the FAC had to keep friendly fire off the good guys. 

I loved the way this wasn’t a typical hubris memoir. The word humanity kept coming to mind as I read the book. The human story was the thread running throughout the book. I loved the “Other Voices” being included in the story. I was especially touched by his then eighth grade sister’s recollection of Mike’s going into the Air Force after college, his parents crying, and the map she hated in the basement. His sister sharing her outburst at school when the flower child teacher calls the troops in Vietnam baby kills is touching. We feel the fear her family had in not hearing from Mike for two weeks prior and the family love she had in defending him. The chapter that the book draws its title from is humorous. We have the power going out causing the lights to go out while Mike Jackson is stuck outside, naked, in the typhoon.

My research found the book is now in its third printing. That is amazing for a military memoir. It also tells you something is different about this one – it tells the human story. It will touch your emotions. It really felt at times like I was sitting at the dining room table with a cup of coffee and the author sitting across reminiscing about his time in Vietnam, both how he got there, how it touched his family, and what he has done since. I highly recommend the book.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Burden Of Guilt: How Germany Shattered the Last Days of Peace, Summer 1914 by Daniel Allen Butler

Many persons knowledge of history is lacking when it comes to World War One and its origins. Daniel Allen Butler’s book “The Burden of Guilt” fills this void. It also challenges what you previously understood concerning World War One and its origins.

You receive the reasons behind why the war happened. You gain an in-depth understanding of the political state of affairs of the time. You learn of the military circumstances that led to the outbreak of war in Europe. You get a very good understanding of political coalitions, pledges, and guarantees of support during the emergency following Archduke Franz Ferdinand assassination. I particularly found the socio-political alliances intriguing.

Butler argues effectively that Imperial Germany and no-one else possessed the opportunity and the clout to give a go or no go for war in Eastern Europe. He shows that Germany held the key which determined war would engulf Europe. The resulting war nearly ruined known European civilization.

Daniel Allen Butler did an excellent job writing the book. It would be an excellent addition to any military historian’s library. I highly recommend for any university or community library as well. After reading this book, you will no longer lack knowledge when it comes to World War One.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Noble Warrior: The Life and Times of Maj. Gen. James E. Livingston, USMC (Ret.), Medal of Honor by James E. Livingston, Colin D. Heaton, and Anne-Marie Lewis

Noble Warrior: The Life and Times of Maj. Gen. James E. Livingston, USMC (Ret.), Medal of Honor by James E. Livingston, Colin D. Heaton, and Anne-Marie Lewis is more than the story of Maj. Gen. James Livingston and how he earned the Medal of Honor. It is an excellent book on leadership that uses his story to convey the lessons.

We learn how he went from North Georgia College and Auburn University to joining the United States Marine Corps, getting his commission and his journey to fighting in Vietnam to his post-combat career. The book is excellent. It is well written and well documented. It helps us understand the life of a Marine and his leadership.

Livingston makes clear his motivation for the unlimited and occasionally ruthless training programs for which he was known. He had his Marines doing physical training in the combat zone. He maintained discipline – personal hygiene (including shaving), weapons maintenance, and personal equipment. He was a leader by example. I have no doubt his leadership saved many lives. His men were physically fit, their equipment well maintained and in good repair, and he had earned their follow-up by providing leadership.

Livingston recounts how their under strength battalion landing team found itself in a three-day life and death battle against 7,000 experienced North Vietnamese regulars.

I found myself wondering how bad it really was as I turned the pages of the account. The narrative was captivating. He clearly painted the picture where you felt like you were there with them. I was amazed when the men left the steaks and soft drinks behind to dash to the aid of the fellow Marines. It told me a lot about how he had trained and prepared his men to be Marines. How they put the good of the mission and the unit above individual needs.

Lance Cpl. Valdez’s account of Captain Livingstone never taking a step back or flinching got my attention. It reminded me of how our actions speak louder than our words. His men saw him lead out front.

His having them fix bayonets and then a movement where he used “the tested and tried edict of penetrating and then widening the hole. We had practiced these types of small-unit maneuvers and were good at it.” Again I see the leadership. This is more than just doing your job.

These are the things you have to do to be ready. These are the types of preparation than save lives and win battles. When you do what you should do you are viewed as hard. From reading the book I am convinced that only because he had paid the price in preparation, maintained the discipline having them stay fit, sharp, and their weapons maintained allowed them to overcome such a huge force.

Livingston returned to Vietnam and was involved in the frantic mass departure of Americans and Vietnamese as Saigon fell in 1975. He retired from the Marine Corps in 1995. He went on to a successful public service career where he advised on the recovery from the destruction of Hurricane Katrina. He does not hold back where he thinks the responsibility lay for that catastrophe.

The book is excellent. It would be a good addition to any military history or Vietnam War library. I see the book also as a good case study on how to do it right in the midst of a very bad situation – an outstanding resource for junior officers of all branches. The emphasis on physical training, weapons maintenance, and the basics of being a good Marine (or soldier) should inspire all junior leaders to do their job as it should be done. The use of the sidebar and the stories was excellent. It was like an in-depth look at the main event I was reading.

Major General Livingston for your service and leadership to the United States, thank you. To Colin D. Heaton and Anne-Marie Lewis for allowing the story to be told where you get a since for the personality and grit of Major General Livingstone, thank you. To all three authors – well done.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The American Aircraft Factory in World War II by Bill Yenne

The American Aircraft Factory in World War II by Bill Yenne is truly magnificent. When I first had the book in my hand I thought “coffee table book”. After reading the book and looking at the pictures it is so much more. It is a wonderful tribute to the men and women who built the airplanes. It is an excellent history of the aircraft industry in the Unites States. The author gives a great background and understanding of the founders and companies like Boeing, North American, Curtiss, Consolidated, Douglas, Grumman, and Lockheed.

I learned of the Air Mail Act of 1934. The act required the separation of the airlines from manufactures. It caused some like William Edward Boeing to leave the industry. He gives great tribute to the gender shift in the work place and the ramping up of the industry for the war. He takes us through the construction of the facilities as well as the transition back to a peace time production.

The photographs in the book are amazing. I have never seen so many high quality photographs of this era in one collection. Without the pictures the book is a wonderful history of the aircraft industry. With the pictures it is transformed into a work of art.

I highly recommend the book for all aviation and World War II buffs. It would be an excellent addition to community and public school libraries as well. This is a masterpiece that will stand the test of time.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

“The Roer River Battles: Germany's Stand at the Westwall, 1944-45” by David Higgins

“The Roer River Battles: Germany's Stand at the Westwall, 1944-45” by David Higgins gives a detailed examination of the “broad front” where the United States forces encountered some of their most difficult battles in Europe. Parts of this geographic area and time-period of World War II are frequently over looked by historians, while other areas (the Ardennes Offensive) receive detailed examination.

The book is excellent. For the military historian it would be an excellent first book on the Roer River Campaign. For those who study the campaign in depth and are enthusiastic collectors this book will be a valuable addition to your collection.

My personal interest in the book comes from serving in the 9th Infantry Division during the 1970s. During this period, I attended a meeting of the Octofoil Association at Fort Lewis, Washington. Testimonials of veterans of the 9th’s campaign in the Hürtgen Forrest explained the misery, mud, high casualties, and stalemate. They planted the seeds of my curiosity that the book helped answer.

David Higgins does a good job of getting the troops off the beaches at Normandy and moving them to the west wall. That story itself volume be a separate volume, but is outside the scope of this work.

The story is well organized, concise, and easy to understand. The tactical reporting while to the point is first-rate. The author does a very good job of explaining the intentions of the operations and scrutinizing their implementation. We clearly see the difficulty of reaching the Roer River. You encounter the fighting in the villages, bunkers, and massive forest. You see how the German had excellent fields of fire and killing zones.

You will take pride with the breaching of the bunkers of the West Wall. A clear, you are there, kind of picture is painted as you experience the encirclement and capture of Aachen as well as the clearing the Stolberg Corridor. You experience the repeated drives on the way to Schmidt plus the battles for and capture of places like Linnich, Julich, Duren and the key dams. David Higgins does a great job of taking us to these and the many other objectives the Allies forces secure as they strive for the Roer River.

The book has excellent footnotes at the end of each chapter. The book has a very good index. The table of contents of the book provides a great road map for your journey. The appendix on the West Wall contributes to an understanding of the West Wall’s history. I appreciate the pictures in the book. There are enough pictures to add to the story, but not so many to have them become the focus of the work. Many writers today miss getting all the facts of the story told by filling a book with anecdotes from participates in the events without helping the reader see the overall picture. Mr. Higgins has us clearly seeing the objectives and strategies.

The book is worthy of its selection as a Military History Book Club selection. It is both enjoyable to read and a great addition to any military history buff’s library and well as the scholar. It would be a great addition to a community or university library as well.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Spies In The Garden: A Novel of War and Espionage by Bob Bergin

"Spies In The Garden: A Novel of War and Espionage" by Bob Bergin takes place during the Japanese invasion of Burma and China. The book centers on the actions of the Flying Tigers (the American Volunteer Group). The book provides a good history of the Flying Tigers wrapped around the story.

The author knows the history of the Flying Tigers. I enjoyed his description of the pilots and their actions. The story begins in November 1941. The fictional hero, Harry Ross, is an American spy working undercover as a writer. He witnesses their early training. The training has with disaster after disaster. The Flying Tigers improve as the story advances into a force feared by the Japanese. Bob Bergin leaves no doubt that he views their performance as far better to the British Royal Air Force.

The narrative commences in Rangoon. Here Ross makes contact with the Flying Tigers. Ross also meets father and daughter Louie and Lucy. Louie is a trader. He supplied lavishness goods to the Chinese Nationalist leaders. Daughter Lucy is stylish and classy as well as beautiful. She and Harry become platonic friends.

Bergin tells a good story. Harry always seems to get out of the jams he encounters. His relationships with Sue and then Tai Li provide information for his work. He receives a Shanghai girl as a reward from Tai LI. She is in bed with the enemy and provides her pillow talk with the Japanese officers to Harry. This endures Harry with his superiors.

By July 1942, the Flying Tigers are winding down. Chennault becomes a Brigadier General. He finds himself working under General Joe Stilwell. We experience the differences between them. We also encounter the differences between the different arms of the Intelligence Services.

Harry does not seem to comprehend all that is happening and its consequences. Ross’ controller Doyle steers him and cautions him about getting caught up with politics.

We are left to contemplate what happens next as the book concludes with the end of the Flying Tigers in July 1942.

There is a final two-page wrap up at the end of the book - "What Became of Them?" It gives a brief winding up of the unanswered questions.

Bob Bergin knows the Flying Tigers. He tells a good story from an American point of view. If you like war, espionage, seduction, and intrigue this book is for you. Moreover, do not be surprised if you learn about the Flying Tigers along the way. I recommend buying the book. Mr. Bergin gives a good story and history of the Flying Tigers for your financial investment.

Reviewed by Jimmie A. Kepler, August 23, 2010.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Search and Destroy: The Story of an Armored Cavalry Squadron in Vietnam: 1-1 Cav, 1967-1968 by Keith W. Nolan

Search and Destroy: The Story of an Armored Cavalry Squadron in Vietnam: 1-1 Cav, 1967-1968 by Keith W. Nolan. The late Keith Nolan did an excellent job of telling the story of the 1-1 Cav, from January 1967 through the unit's deployment to Vietnam in August 1967 and follows it to December 1968. He takes the unit from their training at Fort Hood, Texas to South Vietnam.

The book is excellent. He does a very good job of telling their story without any sugar coating. I was both shocked and pleased that Mr. Nolan told it like it was. His describing the atrocities committed by the men of the 1/1 Cav as well as the random acts of violence committed by the young troopers upon civilians and enemy prisoners is eye-opening. I found it interesting when decorations and medals were discussed. The fact that some of the medal citations did not match the events of the time is revealing. It was also interesting to see that the higher the rank, the higher the medal was common.

His telling of the two years following those deploying, getting wounded or killed in action as well as the replacements helps one get a feel of being there. Boyd's Bastards and the adventures of Alpha Troop could be a book all by themselves. The extended coverage of the Tet Offensive is riveting. You get a feel for the entire area of operations of the Americal Division (23rd Infantry Division) which had operational control of the 1/1 Cav. The battles in Tam Ky, the Que Son Valley, Pineapple Forest, Hill 34, Tien Phouc, and Cigar Island will keep you turning page after page. I found the fighting on Cigar Island insightful. The island was honey-combed with tunnels and spider-traps that ambushed the 1/1 Cav at every turn. It was amazing to read of the tunnels and the horrors of the hidden enemy.

The inclusion of the appendixes in the book add both value, insight, and a memorial for those who served on the 1/1 Cav. Appendix A "Those Who Died" listed the casualties from their arrival to the unit’s final departure in 1972. It shows the real human cost of war.

His inclusion of My Lai in the chronology as events and the calendar dictated is appreciated. Because of 1/1 Cav being under the operation control of the Americal Division it is very appropriate to mention My Lai. I appreciate his the straight-forward manner of including those events. This is more than just a simple battle narrative or unit history. I believe Mr. Nolan made a major contribution to the history of the Vietnam War. It is a must addition to the library of any one with an interest in Vietnam, the Armored Calvary, the Tet Offensive, and would be a great resource because of the honesty of the atrocities inclusion to use as a reference work for case studies in leadership and ethics in combat.  Well done.

Friday, July 16, 2010

A Nightmare's Prayer: A Marine Harrier Pilot's War in Afghanistan by USMC Lt.Col (Ret) Mike Franzak

I highly recommend "A Nightmare's Prayer" by Mike Franzak. It is a wonderful memoir of the early days of the Afghanistan campaign. You get the feeling you are with him as you go through the deployment from Yuma, AZ to Bagram.

I was shocked to learn that the Harrier cannot take off vertically about 5,000 feet elevation. His description of the scary take off from Cherry Point, North Carolina had the hair standing up on the back of my neck. I loved the Blues Brothers call signs of Jake, Elwood, Blues, and Joilet. I was floored at how they aircraft struggled to stay above 400 KPH with a load and at altitude. It will provide a profound reminder of how lethal mines are ... and how they don't know who they are killing.

I shook my head at the policy makers since that speed is the maneuver speed needed to avoid the Surface to Air Missiles (SAM). When reading the book I jotted down a couple of things that caught my attention. First was "The generals and policy makers had grown so risk-averse, they tied the hands of those charged with enforcing the policies". The second was when he was landing at night and wrote, "I saw the base, but not the runway..." That was pretty profound. The tiny IR lights had been obscured by the generator powered lights of Bagram Air Base. So much for night light security.

The chapter Prayers and Promises is riveting, heart-pounding and action-packed. And you too will see after reading that chapter that "This time God had answered a Nightmare's Prayer."

The book is wonderful. It will making a lasting contribution of the literature and history of the Afghanistan War. You get Mike Franzak's story. And the story is gripping. It will have you cheering the Nightmare's actions and shaking your head at the big picture decision makers. Mike Franzak's memoir will grip you and hold your interest. It will have you turning page after page. You get a nice picture of the soldier on the ground form the pilots point of view. Bravo Lt.Col (Ret) Mike Franzak for a telling you story. Recommended for all military history buffs and aviation buffs.  Read and reviewed by Jimmie A. Kepler.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Most Dangerous Enemy: An Illustrated History of the Battle of Britain by Stephen Bungay

"The Most Dangerous Enemy: An Illustrated History of the Battle of Britain" is spectacular. It merits a five-star rating. It is in a large-format of 11.9 x 9.8 x 1.1 inches. The quality of the book is immaculate. If you are a history buff with an interest in the Battle of Britain this is the book for you. The book is divided into three sections: Part 1: Build-up, Part 2: Battle, and Part 3: Aftermath. It takes you on a journey of understanding. You learn of the organization of the air forces. You learn about the various types of aircraft. You learn of the radar and air defenses as well as air craft production. The detail of the information is astounding.

The book has over 150 photographs. This includes a large number of rare color photos. The book is a treasure full of color maps and diagrams. There are a number of excellent "sidebar" features as well. Using numerous first-hand experience stories Mr. Bungay brings this critical story from history alive in an exciting way. The quality and quantity of the photographs alone is reason enough to purchase the book. He has many never before published pictures of planes, aircraft pilots, and pivotal military leaders. The diagrams of aerial fights add clarity to the story they illustrate.

Well done Stephen Bungay. The book will be an excellent addition to any history buff's library. Any World War II European Theater veteran will enjoy seeing and owning the book. It would make a great addition to school and community libraries.

Reviewers note: I did not compare Stephen Bungay's "The Most Dangerous Enemy: An Illustrated History of the Battle of Britain" with the original release by Stephen Bungay of "The Most Dangerous Enemy: A History of the Battle of Britain". That is not the purpose of this review. The non-illustrated "original" book is the definitive reference work that stands. It is the classic on the subject. "The Most Dangerous Enemy: An Illustrated History of the Battle of Britain" is spectacular and deserves to join its predecessor as the illustrated definitive work on the Battle of Britain. Well done Mr. Stephen Bungay!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Fortress Rabaul: The Battle for the Southwest Pacific, January 1942 - April 1943 by Bruce Gamble

Bruce Gamble's "Fortress Rabaul: The Battle for the Southwest Pacific, January 1942 - April 1943" is a magnificent and important work on this often neglected part of World War II. Mr. Gamble has paid the price in research. The accounts he collected from participants in the campaign, the US and Australian archives, and the official records of the US, Australian, and Japanese clarify and punctuate the events.  

You experience Rabaul and New Britain through his graphic description of the topography and weather. You get a clear understand of the volcanic origins of the Rabaul and the impact the volcanoes and volcanic activity to include earthquakes have on the land and inhabitants. 

Mr. Gamble does an excellent job telling the story. I read the book in one week while on vacation. I found it that compelling and entertaining. The author does an exceptional job telling the story.  I was floored by the account of the bombing of the Komaki Maru. "The Komaki Maru shuddered under the impact of the two hits, which ignited the cargo of aviation fuel. 'A few seconds later,' recalled an Australian eyewitness, 'the ship was an inferno and the roar of the flames almost drowned out the screams of the Japanese trapped aboard.'

The narrative reads with all the vigor and imagery of a novel. The chapter Medal of Honor: Lieutenant Edward H. "Butch" O'Hare reads like a Hollywood action movie. We learn the story of the man whose name graces O'Hare Airport in Chicago.  We see how his action saved the USS Lexington and won him his nations highest military honor, the Medal of Honor. We learn the story of how he interposed his fighter between his ship and an advancing enemy formation of 9 attacking twin-engine heavy bombers. We see how without hesitation, alone and unaided, he repeatedly attacked this enemy formation, at close range in the face of intense combined machine gun and cannon fire. We find out that by his gallant and courageous action, his extremely skillful marksmanship in making the most of every shot of his limited amount of ammunition that he shot down 5 enemy bombers and severely damaged a sixth before they reached the bomb release point. As a result of his gallant action—one of the most daring, if not the most daring, single action in the history of combat aviation—he undoubtedly saved his carrier from serious damage.

Other Medal of Honor stories like that of Harl Pease, Jr are include. The book is excellent. It is a must read for any military or aviation history buff. It would make a great addition to any community or university library. 

The Pritzker Military Library has an interview with the author  Bruce Gamble at: Pritzker Military Library Interview Video.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Outnumbered by Cormac O'Brien

Almost everyone loves a story where people prevail against all odds. Cormac O’Brien explores this question as he explains how a military force that is facing a superior force either in numbers or guns shocked the world by winning an upset victory.   O'Brien goes beyond the generalship to look at the topography and weather conditions. He looks at the morale and sheer determination and will to win that makes the difference. Mr. O'Brien examines some of the best know battles in all of history as well as some that are lesser known. He examines 14 battles. They are viewed in chronological order dating from anywhere 480 B.C. up to 1942.

He gives us an excellent picture of each battle. It makes it all very clear and understandable. He shares the more interesting and sometimes quirky points of each battle. The book's layout is spectacular. A generous supply of wonderful color pictures, illustrations and maps both illustrate and help explain the battles. It is as well packaged book as I have seen. The presentation matches the content - spectacular. There is a good bibliography of recent research on the battles.

The battles covered are: Salamis (480 BCE), Issus (333 BCE), Cannae (216 BCE), Carrhae (53 BC), Alesia (52 BCE), Tricamarum (533), Agincourt (1415), Narva (1700), Leuthen (1757), Auerstadt (1806), Chancellorsville (1863), Tannenberg (1914), and Singapore (1942). 

I am a US Civil War fan. The story of how Confederate General Robert E. Lee won a victory even though he was outnumbered more than two to one by Union forces at Chancellorsville, Virginia is one of my favorites.  I was enlightened by how the 35,000 poorly supplied Japanese got the 85,000 British troops to surrender at Singapore in 1942.

I had to remind myself that the focus was on being outnumbered, not on what were the most important battles in history.  Mr. O'Brien does an excellent job of giving an overview or survey of these battles.  The writing is wonderful.  Again, the presentation is as good as it gets.  This would be an excellent resource for any military history buff.  The quality of the work makes it an excellent resource for any public or school library.  Well done!

Monday, May 17, 2010

War Stories of the Battle of the Bulge by Michael Green and James D. Brown

Michael Green and James D. Brown have put together a fascinating book titled “War Stories of the Battle of the Bulge.”  If you are looking for a definitive book on The Battle of the Bulge this is not it.  If you want a powerful account of the battle from the mouths of those who were there, this is it.  The authors do a great job of telling the the story with first-person accounts from the American soldiers, both officers and enlisted. Their stories are spellbinding. You will keep turning the pages.

The book is divided into four sections: The Germans Attack, The Americans Fight Back, Christmas in the Ardennes, and Closing the Gap. The book's structure follows the ebb and flow of the battle.  The source material is drawn for the 'Bulge Bugle”, the quarterly newsletter of the Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge Association, first person accounts from members of the association, and the files of the U.S. Army Military Historical Institute.  We learn of the failure of higher command to realize this area of the Ardennes (Losheim Gap) had three times previously in history been used as an attack route.  The fact it was so poorly defended is nearly criminal.

The cold weather of the battle was mentioned by almost everyone in their accounts.  Cold, tired, miserable, under equipped, were comments included in almost every story.  I knew the 106th Infantry Division had lost two regiments, but had not realized they had over 6,500 taken POWs during the battle. We are reminded again and again that the individual heroism of the soldier made the difference over the course of the battle.

One of my favorite stories was found from pages 40 - 72 “Charles Haug, B Company, 112th Infantry Regiment, 28th Infantry Division”. It was from  the files of the U.S. Army Military Historical Institute.  The story is a breath taking account of being pushed back by the Germans.   James A. Steinhaufel of C Company, 134th Infantry Regiment, 35th Infantry Division tells the tale of his units chilling encounter with the much feared German Tiger Tank. His story leaves you feeling you were there.

I highly recommend the book.  It is one you will want to read from cover to cover.  The stories are generally only a few pages long.  This would be a excellent resource for any public library to add to its collection. It is also a great way to get a feel for what you father or grand father went through if he was one of the men that confronted the 250,000 German soldiers as they made their last major attack against the Allied Forces.  Read and reviewed by Jimmie A. Kepler May 2010.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Book Sweepstakes - All American, All the Way

There is a book sweepstakes running on the Zenith Press blog for a couple sets of Phil Nordyke’s All American, All the Way books. Click on the article title to link to the sweepstakes or click Book Sweepstakes - All American, All the Way (Deadline for entries is 11:59 pm CST on Thursday, May 13, 2010. They will pick the winners on May 14, 2010.):

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Hell Hawks!: The Untold Story of the American Fliers Who Savaged Hitler's Wehrmacht by Robert F. Dorr and Thomas D. Jones

Robert F. Dorr and Thomas D. Jones'"Hell Hawks!: The Untold Story of the American Fliers Who Savaged Hitler's Wehrmacht" allows you to journey with the 365th Fighter Group from its inception through its training in Richmond, Virginia and Millville, New Jersey across the Atlantic Ocean with on the Queen Elizabeth with 15,000 other soldiers to England where they trained and were based during the invasion. We move to their base in France and experience the close air to ground combat with them as the move across France and ultimately into Germany with a series of bases that that keep them in close support of the ground troops. It tells the story of the air to ground battle. The book is well-researched. Nearly 200 interviews of 365th FG veterans and other combat veterans, plus interviews with family are the fodder for this well written and organized book. I was shocked to learn while reading the book that 15,000 Americans died in aircraft crashes during training and forty percent of the student pilots washed out during training.

The book tells the story of death from above. It is filled with the details of the daily combat and struggles of the "Hell Hawks!" As you read the book you will encounter the people who made up the 365th Fighter Group. I might suggest you begin the book by reading the appendix "What Happened to Them?" It gives a great overview of the key people in the book. Dorr and Jones do a marvelous job of painting the picture of the life and death fighting these young men engaged in on an almost daily basis. I loved the story of George Brooking who later commanded the fighter group. He arrived as a "senior" Captain and experienced fighter pilot having served in the Aleutians. He was shot down on his first mission, survive spending time with the Luxembourg resistance and then returning to take over the Fighter Group. I smiled when I read of Paris in August of 1944 and how few men spent much time on their feet while there. We continue to move up with the troops, survive the Battle of the Bulge, move into Germany and fight Jet airplanes. The group took a large number of causalities before their last combat mission on May 8, 1945.

"Hell Hawks!: The Untold Story of the American Fliers Who Savaged Hitler's Wehrmacht" is both an excellent military history, great book for anyone who enjoys flying and aviation writing, and maybe most importantly provides the best story of the air to ground battle. The book forcefully makes the point that the Hell Hawks with their P-47 Thunderbolts were as responsible as any other aircraft in winning the war. I highly recommend Hell Hawks! The further I got into the book the more spellbound I became. I had studied and read of the ground operations (which included the air to combat battle in the Falaise Gap) and knew the story of the B-17s and the B-24s, but was ignorant of the overall air to ground combat battle that took place across the European Theater.

Buy the book. Read it. You will love it and learn something along the way. I highly recommend the book. Thank you Robert F. Dorr and Thomas D. Jones for a needed work on a neglected subject.

Read by and Reviewed on May 4, 2010 by Jimmie A. Kepler

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Long Way Home: An American Journey from Ellis Island to the Great War by David Laskin

David Laskin's "The Long Way Home: An American Journey from Ellis Island to the Great War" tells the story of the millions of immigrants who came to the United States at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries. He focuses on twelve men beginning with the back stories of their families’ plight in Europe. We learn of the struggles they had with daily survival in Europe. We experience their decisions to immigrate and the gauntlet of risks they encountered just getting out of their country to the USA. We feel the crowding and share the smells they meet on the ships that transport them to America. We learn of the fears they have going through the in-processing at Ellis Island.

From Ellis Island we see the immigrants span out over the US continent. We are there with them as they cling to and rely on assistance from extended and distant family to help them get a foot-hold in America and learn the streets are not paved with gold. We learn how each of the language and ethnic groups holds tightly to their customs and traditions such as church services and newspapers in their native languages. We see and feel the racism they endured.

We go on the adventures that each of the twelve experiences as they move toward their meeting with history and destiny called World War One. We see the hope and the longing to obtain their United States citizenship. We learn how many return to their homeland to fight for their home country. An example is over 90,000 Italians returned to Italy to fight in the Italian army.

We learn that as the induction of draftees began forty-three different languages were represented in the US Army and that 3/4 of the recruits that showed up at Camp Gordon, Georgia spoke no English! We discover the development of the Camp Gordon Plan to deal with the language difficulties.

We see how the soldiers despite these difficulties are shipped to Europe whether or not they were trained. Mr. Laskin does a very good job using the immigrants' testimonies as taken from letters to their families, personal diaries, and interviews to include a veteran of 107 years of age. He paints a vividly in-depth account of the horrors and the heroic carrying out of duty in the war.

David Laskin's "The Long Way Home: An American Journey from Ellis Island to the Great War" is more than just a book for military history buffs. It is an excellent work covering the experience of immigration from 1880 to World War One and delivers the immigrants point of view on US History for that period. The genius of the book is in the thought provoking chronicle of the generation of foreign-born immigrants who are the focus of this book. You will look at this period of US and world history with better understanding after reading the book. I strongly recommend the book for those interested in immigrant and social history, general US History and US military history.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Road of 10,000 Pains: The Destruction of the 2nd NVA Division by the U.S. Marines, 1967 by Otto J. Lehrack

Have you wondered what it would be like to be a member of the United States Marine Corps (USMC) during the Vietnam War? Have you thought what it would like to get shot at, see the person blown away right next to you, and experience the fear and adrenaline rush of combat? Retired United States Marine Otto J. Lehrack paints a spellbinding, insightful and sobering picture that answers these questions in this spectacular, must read oral history of the bloodiest campaign in Vietnam.

The story involves the actions of the USMC in the Que Son Valley of Vietnam.  The action and I do mean action, takes place between April and November of 1967. You experience the frustration of the new M-16 jamming.  You are left wondering how many Marines and soldiers died from the jamming and poor performance of that rifle. You marvel at the heroic leadership from the battalion commander all the way down to the FNG who knew enough to get the forward air controller to take out the 82 mm mortar location he identified and sacrifices given by these heroes. Six Medals of Honor were awarded to participants in the campaign.  All but one of the citations had as its last sentence "He gallantly gave his life for his country."

This is a significant oral history of Vietnam's bloodiest campaign.  Over a period of seven months you will travel along Route 534 for a series of battles against the 2nd North Vietnamese Army Division.  The author's storytelling is so riveting you feel like you are there. This book is must reading for any academy cadet or persons in any pre-commissioning program.  I strongly recommend ever junior officer and noncommissioned officer read this book.  It shows how the NCOs assumed leadership as junior officers and senior NCOs became causalities.

The book is an excellent read and would be a valuable addition to any community library. It gives a realistic insight into combat and the USMC. You will be left spell bound by the descriptions of combat and with deep gratitude and admiration for the USMC.

Read and reviewed by Jimmie A. Kepler April 2010.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

In Their Honor by Linda Swink

“In Their Honor” by Linda Swink is an excellent reference book.  It is a compilation of 524 biographies of military heroes whose names grace the forts, camps, barracks, bases, and fields in the U.S. Air Force; Air National Guard; Army; Army Airfields, Stagefields, and Heliports; Army National Guard, Army Barracks and Kasernes in Germany; Army Camps in South Korea; Marine Corps; and Navy.  It is a wonderful record that will be just as useful for researchers and historians as it will for the men, women, and their families who are currently serving in the United States military.  The book is one that you do not have to read from cover to cover.  You will find yourself dipping into it to explore places you or family members have served.
I found myself immediately looking up the names of the military installations where I lived growing up as  an United States Air Force dependent.  Next, I looked up the military installations where I served as an US Army officer.  Growing up I lived at Luke Air Force Base in Glendale, Arizona from 1958 to 1963.  Below is an excerpt of the entry/information for Luke Air Force Base.

Luke Air Force Base
Location: Glendale, Arizona
Status: Active
Named for: First Lieutenant Frank Luke, Jr.
Date of Birth: May 19, 1897
Place of Birth: Phoenix, Arizona
Date of Death: September 29, 1918
Place of Death: Murvaux, France
Decorations and Honors: Medal of Honor; Distinguished Service Cross with oak leaf cluster, posthumously; Croix de Guerre (Italy); inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame (1975)
Place of Burial: Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery and Memorial in Romagne, France, Plot A, Grave 13

First Lieutenant Frank Luke, Jr., known as the “Arizona Balloon Buster,” was an ace pilot and the first American aviator to receive the Medal of Honor.

Luke enlisted in the Signal Corps’ aviation section on September 25, 1917. He soloed on December 12 at Rockwell Field in California, was commissioned in January 1918, and sent to France where he was assigned to the 27th Aero Squadron of the 1st Pursuit Group.

Luke was recognized as the most spectacular air fighter of World War I for shooting down eighteen airplanes and balloons, making him an ace pilot. Later, he went on to surpass Eddie Rickenbacker’s record. Thirteen of his victories were obtained in a single week. He was only twenty-one years old when he was killed.

His Medal of Honor citation for action during World War I reads as follows:  After having previously destroyed a number of enemy aircraft within seventeen days he voluntarily started on a patrol after German observation balloons. Though pursued by eight German planes which were protecting the enemy balloon line, he unhesitatingly attacked and shot down in flames three German balloons, being himself under heavy fire from ground batteries and the hostile planes. Severely wounded, he descended to within fifty meters of the ground, and flying at this low altitude near the town of Murvaux opened fire upon enemy troops, killing six and wounding as many more. Forced to make a landing and surrounded on all sides by the enemy, who called upon him to surrender, he drew his automatic pistol and defended himself gallantly until he fell dead from a wound in the chest.

Highly Recommend:
I highly recommend “In Their Honor” to all military historians, both professional and amateur.  This is an exceptional reference book that should be included in every community library in the United States.  It provides a reference for the good citizens of America to get a snapshot of where their sons or daughters are serving.  I also recommend the book as a tool that should be provided for all the newly commissioned officers in any branch of the United States military.  If you have a son or daughter in the military it would be an excellent gift.   To the author who served herself in the United States Air Force and is the daughter of a United States Marine Corps veteran, bravo and thank you for your work.  It approaches the subject from a point of view that other works on the US Military Institutions missed, honoring the memories of the persons who were honored with a military post bearing their name.

Read and reviewed by Jimmie Aaron Kepler, March 2010

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Through Blood and Fire at Gettysburg: My Experiences with the 20th Maine Regiment on Little Round Top by General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain

"To the front for them lay death; to the rear what they would die to save." These words describe the events that take place in this magnificent book of remembrances. In July 1863 around the Pennsylvania town of Gettysburg was staged the greatest conflict ever fought on American soil. There for three days the battle raged and brave men on both sides died. It was here the Confederacy reached its zenith.

Following the battle of Gettysburg the Confederate States of America could only gather their broken forces and dread the certain end. The outcome of the battle was not decided until the third day and the disaster of Pickett's charge where 6600 men had died. Each succeeding day's battle had been more desperate than the one before. On the first day only a part of each army was engaged. July 2 witnessed the inferno of the Peach Orchard and the Round Tops. The last day was the most thrilling in our history. In this one battle was enough glory of heroism to immortalize the American soldier.

"Through Blood and Fire at Gettysburg: My Experiences with the 20th Maine Regiment on Little Round Top" by General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain deals with the Second day, when the slopes of the Round Tops were bathed in blood. The author, then colonel of the Twentieth Maine, was later given the Congressional Medal of Honor for his defense of these vital positions. It was the pivotal battle and point of the United States Civil War. The little book is a must read for every person with interest in the battle of Gettysburg and the US Civil War. It is a primary source document that gives the story of the second day at Gettysburg from the Union point of view focusing on Little Round Top.

The book reads both like an after action report and yet shows the scholarship of Chamberlain who was a Professor of Rhetoric at Bowdoin College in Bangor, Maine. Chamberlain was fluent in 9 languages (Greek, Latin, Spanish, German, French, Italian, Arabic, Hebrew, and Syriac), had a bachelor's degree from Bowdoin College and a master's degree from Bangor Theological Seminary. After the war he served as both president of Bowdoin College and four terms as governor of the state of Maine.

The material in this book was originally published in "Maine: Her Place in History" (1877), originally prepared as an address at the Centennial Exposition at Philadelphia, Nov. 4, 1876, and was published in "The Passing of the Armies" (1915), a book of reminiscence dealing with the final campaigns of the Army of the Potomac all by Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. Read and reviewed by Jimmie Aaron Kepler.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Scandalon: Running From Shame and Finding God's Scandalous Love by Susan Elaine Jenkins

I normally do not post nonmilitary history reviews on this site.  This book is the only exception.  It is written by my friend Susan Elaine Jenkins.  Even if she weren't my friend, I would still recommend the book.

Have you thought what it would like to get to know, work with the people in China, and live with them? Have you wondered what it would be like to grow up in a minister’s family? Susan Elaine Jenkins paints an insightful and sobering picture that answers these questions in her masterful memoir, “Scandalon: Running From Shame and Finding God's Scandalous Love.“

As I read the book her narrative format had me feeling like I was sitting in a recliner with a cup of coffee and she was sitting across the room telling me her story of how not just one, but a series of scandals hit her life. Some of events were self-inflicted. Other events were of someone else’s making. I found a bit of myself and my struggles as I read her story. Her writing and story were so interesting I didn’t want to put the book down! Yet, I feared I would read it too fast. I love the way her personality permeates the book.

In 1980, after three years of teaching in the USA in a private school (and saving her money) Susan made a trip to China. It was part of a gift she gave herself - a trip around the world. It was a prelude. In 1997 Susan accepted a two year teaching position in Tianjin, China. She would remain in China.

Susan employs a wonderful method of telling of her adventures in China with reflections on what took place in her earlier life in the USA. The transition between the USA story and the China story is via a short statement of spiritual truth or insight. It is these earlier events in the USA that lead to her seeking refuge half way around the world. We see God’s handiwork in her life. We see her improving her language skills, her understanding of the Chinese culture, and how her American culture sometimes exasperated her Chinese friends, especially Ouyang. We reflect back on her life adventure that includes how she was used and mistreated by those in positions of authority over her and learned he had previously mistreated others. We also see how she survived!

Susan stories range from hilarious to tear inducing. I have two favorites. First, the story about her being invited back stage in Hawaii to meet Don Ho. Her parents encourage her to go. Don Ho wanted to do more than meet her. I could feel the confusion she felt from her parents encouraging her into such a situation. I wanted to take her dad aside and say you are supposed to protect your daughter! Second is the story at the Friendship Store of the two broken vases and how Susan came to the rescue of the Chinese couple. She demanded they not have to pay for the broken vase since she didn’t have to pay for one she broke a week earlier. We learn how the Chinese have two sets of rules – one for foreigners and one for other Chinese. I could feel the compassion and empathy Susan has for others.

The book is a good read and would be a valuable addition to all community and church libraries. It would also be a good study book for women’s group and even for counseling. It gives a realistic insight into the struggles we all face. The book gives answers about Chinese culture, running and finding God and finding one’s self.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

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 June 1996 and August 2004.

Publisher: Presidio Press (June 1, 1995); ISBN-10: 0891415394; ISBN-13: 978-0891415398

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Save the Last Bullet for Yourself: A Soldier of Fortune in the Balkans and Somalia by Rob Krott

Hollywood typically paints a picture of glamor, riches, and women awaiting mercenaries. “Save the Last Bullet for Yourself: A Soldier of Fortune in the Balkans and Somalia” by Rob Krott corrects the myth. You will find how Rob Krott made the journey from private in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard in 1980 to becoming a US Army second lieutenant through the National Guard-ROTC early commissioning program in 1983. He graduated in 1985 with a bachelor of arts in history from Saint Bonaventure University. You go with him as he attends Harvard University for three semesters while stationed at Fort Devins, Massachusetts. You will learn how he had the journey from US Army officer to soldier of fortune.

As I started reading the book it immediately became apparent how little I knew of the geography of the Balkans and Somalia. I went looking for maps in the book to help me out with the locations he talked about. There were no maps. In future additions of the book it would be helpful to have a map of the areas discussed.

I was amazed at how amateurish the local leaders and military were. How foreigners were treated as “cannon fodder” instead of having their talents put to good use in training the locals. It was interesting to be told that almost everyone had a weapon. The variety of and quality of weapons used was an eye opener to me.

I appreciated the grittiness of the book. It had numerous small unit engagements given in detail. His description of Somalia caught my attention. “You didn’t have to go looking for trouble, like I had with the Bostswanans, to find it in Somalia. It usually came looking for you.”

I was surprised to learn about the number of highly decorated and qualified former US Army personnel serving in key training roles. Men like Peck who had been a Special Forces Team commander and exec in Vietnam. He had been a US Army Ranger School instructor, instructor at West Point, Delta Force member, served in Granada. I learned the roles of Dutch, English, and German mercenaries.

Rob Krott paints a vivid future of what a career mercenary's future has for him."...McKenzie's head was mounted on a pole outside the hut ...Nearby lay his emasculated body, identified by his distinctive military tattoos. ... Bob McKenzie had soldiered through Africa's most violent bush wars in the 1970s and 1980s, survived numerous mercenary contracts around the world and close combat operations during a major offensive in the Balkans, only to die in an unimportant skirmish on an unnamed hillside in an unknown African backwater."

The book doesn’t explain the politics of the local situation, the biodiversity, or give a big picture strategic viewpoint. It is a very good you are there on the ground memoir of a hired grunt toting his rifle to two of the 1990s hotspots. I recommend “Save the Last Bullet for Yourself” by Rob Krott.

Casemate Publishing, 2008; Read and Reviewed by Jimmie Aaron Kepler January 2010.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin

This is as good a book as I have ever read. It is extremely readable. Doris Kearns Goodwin has written a book that is alive - a story of personalities -- in a way a giant drama. The stories of Illinois’ Abraham Lincoln, New York's William H. Seward, Ohio's Salmon P. Chase and Edwin Stanton, Pennsylvania's Simon Cameron and Missouri's Edward Bates fill the pages of this great book. The book gives back ground on the lives of all the men. It gives use the story of the civil war from inside the cabinet and White House. It is a work for the ages that may well earn Doris Kearns Goodwin another Pulitzer Prize in History. Team of Rivals is worth the purchase price. No matter how many books you have read on Lincoln or the civil war, your education is incomplete until you read Team of Rivals. The book is a must for every personal, public, and educational institution library.