Tuesday, June 19, 2012

D-Day With The Screaming Eagles By George Koskimaki

George Koskimaki the noted historian of the 101st Airborne Division wrote “D-Day with the Screaming Eagles”.  Mr. Koskimaki  was 101st Airborne Division commanding General Maxwell Taylor’s radio operator. The book was written in 1970. Interviews with hundreds of paratroopers contributed to the book. Their stories are attention grabbing and captivating. They cover the first hours of Normandy. The fact that the book covers only the first couple of days of the D-Day invasion allows fascinating details to be covered.

The book gives you the feel that you are there during the frenzied first hours of the invasion. Detailed accounts of the activities of the pathfinders were enthralling. You encounter stories where paratroopers are sleepily drugged by the motion sickness medication they took preflight. You are under antiaircraft fire with them as they make their final approaches to the drop zones. In some cases, you are within the aircraft as it is going down in flames. You feel the fear of being captured by the Germans. You experience the myriad of broken legs, sprained ankles and other injuries from jumping at too fast of air speeds and too low of altitudes while being shot at. You land with them in the trees and nearly drown in the flooded areas during your parachute landing. You feel the downright confusion of the event. 

The coverage of the glider units landing later during the D-day is information rarely covered in other books. Familiar stories like Lieutenant Dick Winters leading troops taking out the guns on Normandy are shared with a freshness that predates “Band of Brothers” by nearly twenty-five years.

I strongly recommend the book. It is necessary for any military history library, college library or community library.  Books like “Band of Brother’s”, "D-Day: June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II”, “Citizen Soldiers” and “The Greatest Generation” follow the historical method used by Mr.  Koskimaki. 

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Exodus from the Alamo: The Anatomy of the Last Stand Myth by Phillip Thomas Tucker

If you remember the 1960 movie "The Alamo" with John Wayne and use it as your primary source for understanding the Alamo you will not like this work. The book presents an interpretation that is different from the traditional view and anything I previously encountered. 

As I started reading I was at first shocked finding the book unsettling. It just wasn't the story being told the way I had learned.  My family's roots are in Gonzales County, Texas near the Cost community.That is where  the Battle of Gonzales happened in Oktoberfest 1835. As a sixth generation Texan, member of Texas First Families (member # 5255), holder of a bachelor of arts in history from the University of Texas at Arlington, a person who has studied Texas and military history on the university level, and one who has been to the Alamo over a dozen times I found myself realizing the book lives up to its title - "Exodus from the Alamo: The Anatomy of the Last Stand Myth ". The title is accurate. The author cuts open and examines the story of the Alamo.

The historian in me started looking at the research and documentation of the author. After all, I was reading the story from a point of view totally foreign to my experience. The author used letters and reports of Mexican officers written immediately after the battle. The book is well referenced. I knew we had slavery in Texas prior to the battle of the Alamo, but keeping the "peculiar institution" had never been listed as a primary motivating factor for the Texas War of Independence in my previous study. Most shocking to me was the author's conclusion that the battle of the Alamo was a short predawn clash that held no real military significance. He concludes that the inexperienced defenders of the Alamo were overconfident, caught asleep in their beds, run scared when attacked (hence "The Exodus") and routinely killed by Mexican cavalry who were guarding the rear exits. This is not the heroic last stand the 1960 movie told.

Comment: The research is hard to argue against. Just because the story doesn't match the myth doesn't mean the story isn't true. I'm still reflecting on the book. I say let the scholars read and react to his research. Let the average white person reflect on the content. Let those of Hispanic heritage hold their heads high. I had never viewed the Alamo as a bunch of rebels trying to break free from the legitimate government or the Mexican Army as simply soldiers trying to suppress a rebellion. Time will tell how this point of view and research is received. I hope this is just the first  of several works to reexamine the battle of the Alamo. 

Myth or fact? The research is pretty straight forward. Read all of it with an open mind before drawing your own conclusions. You just might surprise yourself. Remember, as the book's title warns, the author is challenging a 175 years old myth.

Interesting note: I checked the Alamo Museum's on-line gift store, book selection. They have 193 books on the Alamo for sale. This book is not listed.