Tuesday, October 21, 2014

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 22, 2014

Love My Rifle More Than You by Kayla Williams

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 03, 2014

“The Devil's General: The Life of Hyazinth Graf Strachwitz -The Panze Graf” by Raymond Bagdonas

I enjoyed reading Raymond Bagdonas’ book “The Devil's General: The Life of Hyazinth Strachwitz -The Panzer Graf”. If you are looking for a scholarly tome on the life of Hyazinth Strachwitz you will be disappointed. Against the backdrop of events in Germany and Europe from the early days of his education through the thirty-year period World War One, the interwar years, World War Two, and ending with his life after the war the author tells the story of Hyazinth Strachwitz and the units he served in and lead. I really liked the description of the post-First World War life of the aristocracy and their adaptability to the interwar and changes under Hitler. 

While the conclusions drawn in some areas, like why he joined the SS, were general and without scholarly documentation, the author used sound logic based on available information in making these assumptions. The author takes the reader from Hyazinth Strachwitz’s early family history, education World War I, the interwar years to the invasion of Poland, to France and then Romania and Yugoslavia are just prelude to World War II on the Eastern Front.

Beginning with Operation Babarossa and continuing through the battles of Dubno, Uman, Nikolayev, Kiev, Kalach we see the leadership of Hyazinth Strachwitz in action with the Panzers. The journey continues down the road to Stalingrad, his promotion to Colonel and regimental commander in the Grossdeutschland Division. Battles at Kharkov, the plot to kill Adolph Hitler, Operations Citadel and Strachwitz and the battles of Kursk, Tukum and Germany. He surrendered to the US forces in May 1945.

We learned that Hyazinth Strachwitz was held as a prisoner June 1947. We learn his wife was run over and killed by an American truck. We see him move to Syria to work with the Syrian military, then go to Italy, and finally return to Germany in 1951 where he lived until dying of lung cancer in 1968.

While the book isn’t a scholarly treatment of Hyazinth Strachwitz, it is an important work that documents his actions and gives great insights into the use of the panzers on the eastern front.

“The Devil's General: The Life of Hyazinth Strachwitz -The Panzer Graf” by Raymond Bagdonas. The publisher is Casemate Publishing.

Friday, June 13, 2014

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 12, 2014

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

If you enjoy reading about airborne troops, special operations, and elite troops in World War II then author Michael F. Dilley’s book “Behind the Lines: A Critical Survey of Special Operations in World War II” is for you.

Divided into two parts, part one of the book is titled, “Behind Enemy Lines”. It tells twenty stories of special operations behind enemy lines. The excellent story telling of the author has shines in all twenty of the stories. Each story stands on its own. 

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

7 Leadership Lessons of the American Revolution: The Founding Fathers, Liberty, and the Struggle for Independence by John Antal

John Antal’s “7 Leadership Lessons of the American Revolution: The Founding Fathers, Liberty, and the Struggle for Independence”. The author uses seven case studies to bring the lessons to life. The case studies are in narrative story form. He is an excellent story teller who paints a clear picture that brings each story alive.The stories make for great illustrations for the lessons learned. The lessons learned are as applicable to the business enterprise as to military leadership. He does a wonderful job of demonstrating liberty as a motivator demonstrating the importance of the individual.

While tempted to do to a chapter by chapter summary of the book, I won't. If you love history. If you love the USA. I you have a sense of patriotism and if you enjoy the study of leadership youwill like the book. I strongly recommend  “7 Leadership Lessons of the American Revolution: The Founding Fathers, Liberty, and the Struggle for Independence”.