Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘fortus in arduis’ Category

51IhkcLbNKLGary Bray does the men and women who served in Vietnam a sizable favor by telling calmly the complicated story of their service, their war, their ‘this is what we did’. The ingredients of this story could make a lesser man scream, throw dirt in the air, or weep quietly in the corner.

But then we who were too young or too far away from the riverine humidity of that war would flinch and not hear.

As Bray’s title indicates, he served the same platoon that shortly prior to his arrival had been caught up in what we abbreviate—again, from our distance—as the My Lai Massacre. That horror is not a centerpiece of Bray’s narrative, but the tales he tells about a new and different kind of war provide at least a context for consciences dulled and warriors run amok.

There were many Lieutenants and uncountable tours of duty during this country’s ‘Viet Nam years’. Few have the way with words that Gary Bray brings to his craft, and so his story must register not only his own experience but must stand in for theirs as well.

Bray’s tone does not ask for our pity. It tells of a great human drama without the kinds of ‘drama’ that appeal to emotions long past the moment when they would have done anyone any good. Yet, on behalf of fellow warriors caught up in a poorly conceived conflict, he anticipates our understanding and our respect. He more than earns both.

Bray cannot rightly say why America’s young men and women died in Vietnam. But the way he brings this elegantly written work to a close shines a light on at least how one American soldier died. Here, too, the story told becomes proxy for thousands untold.

As the father of two officers (Infantry and Combat Engineering, respectively), this reader reveled in Bray’s narrative of infantry tactics, a bonus not all readers will require.

In these pages, professionalism and humility manage to speak quietly and well.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

51j-zWJ4EUL._SS300_Evelyn Monahan’s and Rosemary Neidel-Greenlee’s And if I Perish is an exceptional—I am tempted to say ‘must-read’—book for two reasons.

First, the story of U.S. Army nurses in World War II’s European theatre is largely an untold tale. Who knew that these women, for whose work almost no forethought paved the way, played such a critical role in the Allied forces’ campaigns in North Africa and Europe? Once told, the story seems both inevitable and obvious. Yet it is alarming how much one can read about and ponder World War II history without ever giving a thought to the nurses who saved so many lives and provided final comfort to those whose bodies could not be repaired.

Second, the story is told in exceptional style. The authors weave in military strategy in unexpected volume, which provides a welcome context for the self-sacrificing labor of this nearly all-volunteer cadre of frontline nurses. One of the book’s virtues is that it is not a ‘soft’ history over against the ‘hard’ history of soldiers and generals. The result is compelling history and a very fine read.

I purchased and read this book as a small means of honoring the legacy of a nurse from my Pennsylvania hometown who died on the Anzio Beachhead. The poignantly tragic way in which Carrie Sheetz and too many others perished is told movingly in these pages.

Others lived, who perhaps reluctantly and nearly always self-effacingly relieved themselves of the burden they carried in late-in-life interviews with the authors.

The Greatest Generation was comprised of both genders. We have grown to know and honor the stories of the generation’s soldiering men. We are only now learning the deep debt we owe to our mothers and grandmothers. Daughters and sisters belonging to that same generation, they are no less great for the shadow in which they labored, sacrificed, died, and healed.

Read Full Post »

519kk0oCmBL._SL1000_With two sons in the 101st Airborne’s Screaming Eagles and a rusty unplugged tow hitch, it was only a matter of time before I snagged this aesthetically clean, black-and-gray, plastic hitch plug insert. It’s made of a lightweight but sturdy plastic and does not fit snugly in a way that will keep all water out of your hitch. It’s an ornament rather than a sealing plug. But that’s as advertised, so no complaint.

I love the optics and the price seems reasonable for a relatively low-volume product.

Read Full Post »

In a political era when scandalously few of the United States’ political leaders have beenshaped by military service, this b51K4gjfgdKLook provides a fascinating look at a formative moment in the career of HR McMaster, who as this reviewer sets pen to paper serves as the country’s National Security Advisor.
The brief survey of an armored battle that takes pride of place in a world that sees few such large-scale engagements of tanks tells as well the satisfying story of the U.S. Military’s improbable feat of transformation from post-Vietnam malaise through to the disciplined, strategically minded force that destroyed Saddam Hussein’s forces in the First Gulf War (1990-91).

Guardia’s Fires of Babylon chronicles the U.S. Army’s pivot from an anti-Soviet blocking mission that had lost its relevance by the time the Berlin Wall crumbled to a highly fluid challenge from operating positions in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and eventually Iraq itself. It was commanders like McMaster (a Captain at the time of 73 Easting) who brought the discipline and savvy that produced overwhelming military success against an Iraqi force that was judged to be capable of kicking butt on the battlefield. In the end, only one butt got kicked in an epic slaughter that could have led to the removal of Saddam but for the political considerations that led the first President Bush to pull up short. (more…)

Read Full Post »

Rarely do I sit down to review a book feeling so conflicted about the thing.

Dillard Johnson’s page-turner puts me in that place. On the one hand, I appreciate the insight into battle as American soldiers have experienced it in Iraq. Carnivore shines light on the extensive planning, the battle tactics, and oscillating adrenaline rush and sheer terror of battle. Because one of my own sons commanded the men in a Bradley Fighting Machine and both have commanded scout platoons, I found that the author’s depiction of armored tactics with the Bradley and the Abrams tank in close coordination made for a fascinating read. This, for me, is where Johnson’s work holds value.61e2tlp4dl-_sx331_bo1204203200_

But there are negatives …

The first one is the nature of Johnson’s claims for his own performance, which has generated bitter resentment on the part of fellow soldiers who believe Johnson has penned an egotistical and inaccurate version of one man’s role in a decidedly team effort. The first-person singular is very frequent in Johnson’s account, not to the point that he does not credit his buddies, but to the extreme that one wonders if the credit is enough. One senses that the author’s better and lesser angels are fighting it out, with the latter winning more often than it should. Despite Dillard’s obvious appreciation of his fellow soldiers, they are pushed to the margins of his record. Arguably, the picture of the fight in Iraq that results is rendered inaccurate by this singular focus.

The second negative is that Dillard’s rhetoric about killing astonishing numbers of Iraqis runs deeply casual. Any prettiness on this front is a first casualty of war—always a flawed and terrible thing—as it should be. On the other hand, ‘Carnivore’ from time to time seems less the moniker given to Johnson’s Bradley than a chosen nickname for the man commanding it.

I find it hard to criticize an American soldier who has left home and family to fight, even more so because I write as the father of two Army officers and the step-father of two long-serving enlisted men. I’m grateful for Dillard Johnson’s service. I’m glad I’ve read the book he’s written about it. I just wish he’d shaped his story into a different one.

Read Full Post »

To read Peter FitzSimon’s Gallipoli is to realize how great an evening it would be to have the man in front of a crackling fire in your living room, telling a good tale.

For it is the telling of a tale that FitzSimon promises us, a tale of how Australia ‘became a nation’ in the wrenching experiencing of bleeding for the British Empire on the hills of the Turkish coast.

519n8gv6zalFitzSimons puts a lot of himself in this story, not always a promising approach for a history writer. Yet this manages to illuminate rather than obscure the Gallipoli narrative. The author’s full-disclosure explanation of how his own understanding of the battle has changed gives the non-Australian reader a glimpse into the various ways in which that antiopodean nation itself has moved through various stages of engagement with one of its defining moments.

There is little to nothing good to say about a battle of this ferocity, one that concluded with surviving Anzac forces withdrawing to the sea under cover of darkness. But one can at least tell the awful story well. FitzSimons manages to write in—to speak in, for the reader can almost hear his voice—Australian, not a generic academic English.

The result is winsome, savage, feisty (for what is an Australian without a little feist?), and accessible. One emerges from reading this book made wiser not only about the flawed execution of what might otherwise have represented a victorious thrust by the Allied forces into the belly of the Turkish ‘sick man of Europe’, but also more intelligent about how Australian soldiers fought for the mother country’s Empire but died for Australia.

FitzSimons recognizes that many have told the Gallipoli story before him. His contribution is to write, one hundred years on, for Australians and friends of Australians like this reader, several generations hence, when a bit of cool reflection can both enrich and temper our understanding of the passions, ambitions, stupidities, and grit that produced Gallipoli.

A century is long enough for a certain empathy with the enemy of one’s forebears to develop in a way that does not trivialize the complex developments that led a country to war on a land whose name they barely knew. FitzSimons ably captures the privilege of this retrospective distance, not least by recording a recent re-encounter of Turkish and Anzac veterans on this very savage and sacred soil, and by resurrecting Mustafa Kemal’s generous words, penned in 1934:

Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives … You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side now here in this country of ours … you, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.

Has it really been a century?

Peter FitzSimon’s fine and well-researched retelling makes it seem just yesterday.

Read Full Post »

One wonders how the course of an epic war takes shape in the remembering mind. It is so easy to move to Normandy and the push across Europe towards Berlin. Yet Normandy and the reconquest of Europe came late in the war and were impossible without the unsung precursors. Like the invasion of Sicily and the hard slog up the Italian boot at a time when it was still possible to underestimate the enemy and, later, convenient to forget places like Anzio and Montecassino.

51kz5col-nl-_sx313_bo1204203200_In The Day of Battle, as elsewhere, Atkinson’s writing is not only fueled by the very best research. It also goes down smoothly as such a tale can.

The struggle that had begun in September 1939 was more than half over; yet if both commanders and commanded intuited that they were nearer the end than the beginning, they also sensed that less than half the butcher’s bill had been paid in a bloodletting that ultimately would claim sixty million lives: one life every three seconds for six years. They also knew that if the Allied powers—led by the United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union—now possessed the strategic initiative, the Axis powers of Germany, Italy, and Japan still held the real estate, including six thousand miles of European coastline and the entire western littoral of Asia.

Atkinson exegetes the butcher’s bill as few other military historians can.

In the little Pennsylvania town where this reviewer grew up, twenty-two names adorn the WWII memorial in the main cemetery. Two of these fell in Italy. Curiously, both were women: Carrie Sheetz, a nurse whose station was bombed by a rogue German fighter trying to escape pursuing allied planes at Anzio; and and a certain Josephine Strohecker, who perished in Naples.

Atkinson provides a context for understanding such unsought sacrifice on the part of so many citizen soldiers.

This second entry to the Liberation Trilogy is a gift to those who remember the unsung fallen.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »