Book Review

From the Book Shelf

The Unknowns:

The Untold Story of America’s Unknown Soldier and WW I’s Most Decorated Heroes Who Brought Him Home

By Patrick K. O’Donnell 

 The Unknowns:  The Untold Story of America’s Unknown Soldier and WW I’s Most Decorated Heroes Who Brought Him Home  By Patrick K. O’Donnell

One of the most visited tourist sites for anyone visiting Washington, D.C., surely, must be Arlington National Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Anyone who has viewed the precision of the soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Regiment, “The Old Guard”, who guard the Tomb 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, is humbled by the experience. I have visited the Tomb and observed the ritual of the Changing of the Guard on several occasions but knew nothing regarding the establishment of this National Memorial.

This exhaustively researched book presents readers with a history of the fascinating series of events that led to the creation of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the manner in which one soldier was chosen to “select” the Unknown Soldier, and the heroics of the eight men who were selected to be Bearers and bring their comrade home.

The author provides a brief background regarding America’s entry into the Great War and General John J. Pershing who commanded the American Expeditionary Force (AEF). While the author does question some of Pershing’s decision-making in the conduct of the war, the book’s focus and purpose is directed toward the nine men who figured so prominently in our nation’s Unknown Soldier.

The nine men were personally selected by General Pershing, were all enlisted personnel, and highly decorated soldiers and sailors who demonstrated courage and initiative in the Great War. A chapter is devoted to each of these heroes who fought bravely and suffered grievous wounds in the iconic battles of Belleau Wood, Saint-Mihiel, and the brutal, and, perhaps unnecessary, Meuse-Argonne Offensive. The author provides untold private accounts of these heroic individual’s actions during combat. Most of those men earned the Medal of Honor.

The author describes, in great detail, the military ceremonies that were planned and conducted as the Bearers brought the Unknown Soldier home from the battlefields of France, to his ocean crossing on the USS Olympia, lying in repose in the Capitol Rotunda, and to his final resting place at Arlington National Cemetery. This is a must read to better understand and appreciate one of our nation’s greatest memorials, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

This review was written by Fred Apgar 

From the Bookshelf

by Mike Denton 

Drone Warrior
by Brett Velcovich

 

Drone Warrior by Brett VelicovichThe War on Terrorism has been one of the longest conflicts in American history. Since 2001, U.S. forces have been fighting on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, along with much smaller engagements in places as far-flung as Somalia, Nigeria, the Philippines, and Cameroon.

Drone Warrior is a highly personal memoir that still manages to be almost all action. Readers only get but the briefest glimpse into Velicovich’s prewar life. On 9/11, he was just an ordinary college student at the University of Houston. However, watching and digesting Al-Qaeda’s attack convinced Velicovich that there has to be something more to life than just finding a nice job in corporate America and settling down to a wife and kids. He went to find this other life in the U.S. Army.

Drone Warrior is a captivating portrayal of an American warrior at the very cutting-edge of the War on Terror. It is also the story of a normal man impacted by continuous warfare and the difficulties of conforming to civilian life. warriors.

 

From the Bookshelf

by Mike Denton 

P.T. Deutermann's novel Sentinels of FireP.T. Deutermann’s novel Sentinels of Fire tells the tale of a lone destroyer, part of the Allied invasion forces attacking the island of Okinawa and the Japanese home islands.

By the spring of 1945, the once mighty Japanese fleet has been virtually destroyed, leaving Japan open to invasion. The Japanese react by dispatching hundreds of suicide bombers against the Allied fleet surrounding Okinawa. By mid-May, the Allied fleet is losing a major ship a day to murderous swarms of kamikazes streaming out of Formosa and southern Japan. The radar picket line is the first defense and early warning against these hellish formations, but the Japanese direct special attention to these lone destroyers stationed north and west of Okinawa.

 

Author’s Note: 

“My father was a division commander (Commodore) of destroyers at Okinawa in 1945. I wish I could say that he told me all about it; he did not. He wouldn’t speak of it. It was simply that bad. 

Navy KIA exceeded those of the ground troops in the campaign. Considering the meat-grinder nature of the Okinawa land battle, with hundreds of thousand engaged, that is truly significant. Navy losses were driven by the ferocious Japanese kamikaze assault. I’ve long believed that the Okinawa campaign played a significant part in the decision to drop the atomic bombs on Japan. The Japanese knew they could not hold Okinawa, but were determined to make the Americans bleed for it and perhaps think twice about invading the home islands. I think they succeeded in that.” 

P.T. Deutermann spent twenty-six years in military and government service, including command of the guided missile destroyer USS Tattnall for a three-year tour of duty, which included combat operations off Lebanon.

From the Bookshelf

by Mike Denton

“If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.”

Make Your Bed by Admiral William H. McRaven

On May 17, 2014, Admiral William H. McRaven addressed the graduating class of the University of Texas at Austin on their Commencement day. Taking inspiration from the university’s slogan, “What starts here changes the world,” he shared the ten principles he learned during Navy Seal training that helped him overcome challenges not only in his training and long Naval career, but also throughout his life. He explained how anyone can use these basic lessons to change themselves-and the world-for the better.

A video of Admiral McRaven’s original speech went viral with over 10 million views. Building on the core tenets laid out in his speech, McRaven now recounts tales from his own life and from those of people he encountered during his military service who dealt with hardship and made tough decisions with determination, compassion, honor, and courage. Told with great humility and optimism, this timeless book provides simple wisdom, practical advice, and words of encouragement that will inspire readers to achieve more, even in life’s darkest moments.

 About the Author 

Admiral William H. McRaven (U.S. Navy Retired) served with great distinction in the Navy. In his thirty-seven years as a Navy SEAL, he commanded at every level. As a Four-Star Admiral, his final assignment was as Commander of all U.S. Special Operations Forces. He is now Chancellor of the University of Texas System.

 

From the Book Shelf

by Mike Denton

Sea Power
The History and Geopolitics of the World’s Oceans

by Admiral James Stavridis (USN Ret’d)

 

Sea Power The History and Geopolitics of the World’s Oceans by Admiral James Stavridis (USN Ret’d)The subtitle of the books tells us a great deal about it’s content, in that Admiral Stavridis examines in great but interesting detail the military/ naval history of every ocean on the planet and the influence of those large bodies of water on ecomomies and politics throughout human history.

Stavridis, the only Naval officer to ever serve as Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, spent much of his early career as a Surface Warfare Officer (What we non aviation types think of as the real Navy) in destroyers and cruisers and seems to have taken maximum advantage of the opportunity to cruise the oceans of the world, and acquire a broad sense of how the oceans impact our lives.

Stavridis examines the world ocean by ocean, from the Mediteranean to the Arctic and everything in between. Most of us, I think, know little about the history of the worlds coastal (or “Littoral, a word of which he seems inordinately fond) peoples prior to the voyages of Columbus and the early Portugese explorers, but the Admiral gives us a good look at the early sailors of all of the world’s major civilizations and some not so major.

Other reviewers comments: “…knows his maritime history, but equally important is his firsthand knowledge of the seas. He vividly relates what it felt like as a young naval officer taking a boat through the Panama Canal or the Torres Strait between Australia and New Guinea, and he adds personal authority to his more general points about the different bodies of water…A highly readable, instructive look at the role of the oceans in our civilization, past and present.” Kirkus Reviews (starred)

“Fellow Admiral Jim Stavridis spent nearly four decades as a US Navy Sailor, and is well known as an important geopolitical thinker. In Sea Power both of those attributes come together in creating a must read for anyone seriously thinking about the world’s challenges in the 21st century.” —Admiral Bill McRaven, USN (Ret.), Chancellor, The University of Texas System and former Commander, U.S. Special Operations Command

From the Book Shelf

The Fleet at Flood Tide
America at Total War in the Pacific, 1944-1945

By James D. Hornfischer

 

There was no explaining away what thousands of Marines had observed with their own disbelieving eyes in the Marianas. The ritual suicides of the Japanese garrisons, their predatory brainwashing and murder of the innocent unarmed, have been insufficiently considered as a turning point that shaped the war’s final year. … The first direct U.S. experience of total war occurred in the Marianas, and it renewed the will to win and to win totally, using all means available, without restraint. Unconditional surrender became the byword of this new resolve.

 Viewed through the haze of 7-plus decades it is hard to imagine the scope, the dedication and the unimaginable horrors of total all-out world war that was WWII. But James Hornfischer describes it well in his latest book, The Fleet at Flood Tide.

 As the brief excerpt above suggests, this splendid volume is a detailed narrative of the U.S. offensive into the Mariana Islands of the Central Pacific and the final year of the war.

If one can quibble with anything about the book, to me it would be the title, specifically “The Fleet.” It is far from being just a chronicle of naval warfare. Rather it spells out in close detail the overwhelming air, land and sea operations that seized the strategically vital islands of Saipan, Tinian and Guam.

It is the story of the strategies and planning at the highest levels, but also it is the story of the individual men—mostly very young men—that made victory happen. It details what one reviewer called the true nature of their foe—not only the Imperial Japanese military—but its suicide-ready civilians as well.

He said that after the bloody capture of Saipan, two clear truths emerged: “A great victory was in hand… and far worse lay ahead.”

If you have ever questioned the decisions that brought about the end of the war, Hornfischer may make you reorder your thinking. The book makes clear the unimaginable depth of the Japanese will to resist. The reader is left with the obvious conclusion that an invasion of Japan proper would have been bloody beyond measure, for us as well as for the Japanese populace.

Today we all know how the saga ends, but this highly recommended book details how in the final months of the war we got there. It covers the penultimate B-29 incendiary raids on Japan and the painfully considered use of atomic bombs. But most significantly, it tells the story of the actions of soldiers, sailors, and airmen that combined to achieve victory.

— Reviewed by Past Commander Jim Blossey

 

From the Bookshelf

by Mike Denton

Men in Green Faces by Gene WentzMen in Green Faces by Gene Wentz

“With just weeks remaining in his 180-day tour of Vietnam, Navy SEAL Gene Michaels hopes he will live to see his pregnant wife again, but he thrives on his dangerous missions. Michaels and his team are “inserted and extracted” literally every day, entering impenetrable jungles and engaging numerically superior forces.” (Publishers Weekly)

Wentz and Jurus are not the best writers I have read, with a penchant to distract us with repeated explanations of terminology. (How many times must the initials “PBR” be explained as Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer, which seems to be in endless supply at this SEAL base, and there are numerous other examples)

Never the less, the operations described are in themselves gripping, if repetitive and I found the book well worth reading.

GENE WENTZ served in Vietnam as a SEAL. His many decorations include the Silver Star, Bronze Star, three Presidential Unit Citations, three Navy Unit Citations, and two Vietnamese Crosses of Gallantry. Wentz, says he’s had the story of “Men in Green Faces” bottled up inside him since he returned from his second combat tour in Vietnam in 1971.

Jurus is a writer and a director of the San Diego-based Southern California Writers Conference.

Kirkus Reviews, allowed that Wentz and Jurus “successfully re-create the manic intensity that characterized SEAL operations at their height during the Vietnam War. . . . All war, no politics. Grim but well done.” Wentz makes no apologies for the no-politics approach: “The people serving in Vietnam had nothing to do with politics. They were just following orders, doing a job.” If that kind of thinking makes you uneasy, “Men in Green Faces” probably isn’t for you.

 

 

From the Bookshelf

by Mike Denton

Viet Man by D.S. Lliteras

As a blue water sailor, who never saw anything of Vietnam beyond a view of the Tonkin Gulf coast, your editor is not in a position to assess the accuracy of Lliteras’ descriptions, but his book is a gripping novel (if semi-biographical) that I found impossible to put down.

The Following review, found on Lliteras’ web site, is by Karen St. John:

“The simple explanation of why Viet Man, the new novel by D.S. Lliteras, should be read is best said by the author himself: “No combat veteran is able to convey to a civilian what it is all about – it’s impossible. We remember glimpses of war – punctuated by actual truth. Nobody should want to be more than the truth.”

Viet Man novel by D.S. LliterasA Vietnam veteran who served as a combat corpsman, Lliteras deftly snaps you to attention in the first paragraph: “You know, when you’re running away from a hornet’s nest to save yourself, there’s no time to ponder the meaning of life.” You know the hornet’s nest is in Vietnam. What you don’t know is that from that point on, Lliteras’s ability to paint a visual image, to put a thousand meanings into one succinct and profound turn of a phrase, has you walk alongside him, trying to survive, too. The Vietnam Lliteras effectively sketches for you to see, is not a pleasant one. It’s drug-filled, tense, raw, and aching. It’s all there to see, but you feel it in your soul.

The book is available online at Amazon.com, in print or Kindle editions and at book stores.

D.S. Lliteras served in Vietnam as a FMF Corpsman and later Combat Diver, a Deep Sea Diving & Salvage Officer in the U.S. Navy, and a professional Firefighter/EMT in the Norfolk (VA) Fire Department. He is a member of the International Association of Fire Fighters, VietNow, Vietnam Veterans of America, The American Legion, The 1st Recon Battalion Association, The Marine Corps League, and The Veterans of Foreign Wars.

 

 

From the Book Shelf

Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption Of Stonewall Jackson By S. C. GwynneRebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption Of Stonewall Jackson
By S. C. Gwynne

This is a wonderful biography, exhaustively researched, that provides an intimate look at one of our nation’s most celebrated warriors, General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.

For anyone with an interest in the history of the Civil War, this is a must read.

From the Bookshelf” is a recurring series of book reviews that will appear in the VFW Post #8870 newsletter from time to time. This review was written by Fred Apgar. 

From the Book Shelf

TRIBE
On Homecoming and Belonging

“Sebastian Junger has turned the multifaceted problem or returning veterans on its head. It’s not so much about what’s wrong with the veterans, but what’s wrong with us.

If we made the changes suggested in TRIBE, all of us would be happier and healthier.”

— Karl Marlantes, author of ‘Matterhorn’

TRIBE On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian JungerDecades before the American Revolution, Benjamin Franklin lamented that English settlers were constantly fleeing over to the Indians, but Indians almost never did the same. Tribal society has been exerting an almost gravitation pull on Westerners for hundreds of years and the reason lies deep in our evolutionary past.

The most recent example of that attraction is combat veterans who come home to find themselves missing the incredibly intimate bonds of military life, particularly that found in combat. The loss of closeness that comes at the end of deployment may help explain the high rate of post-traumatic stress disorder suffered by military veterans today.

TRIBE On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian JungerTRIBE explores what we can learn from tribal societies about loyalty, belonging and the eternal human quest for meaning. It explains the irony that, for some veterans, war feels better than peace, adversity can turn out to be a blessing. Tribe explains why we are stronger when we come together and how that can be achieved, even in today’s divided world.

From the Bookshelf” is a recurring series that will appear in this newsletter from time to time. This review was written by Mike Denton.

From the Book Shelf

Helmet For My Pillow: From Parris Island to the Pacific By Robert LeckieHelmet For My Pillow: From Parris Island to the Pacific
By Robert Leckie

This is a compelling first-person account of the life of an enlisted Marine participating in the island-hopping campaign in the Pacific during WW II. In intimate detail, the author recounts his experiences in training on Parris Island, as only those who have experienced basic training can appreciate.

After training Lackie was assigned to the Second Battalion, First Regiment, of the First Marine Division as a gunner on a two-man 30 caliber gun crew and on August 7, 1942, his unit landed at Red Beach on Guadalcanal, thus beginning his experience as a combat Marine, taking him on to New Britain, and Peleliu where his war ended after he was wounded by an exploding artillery shell. He spares no detail regarding the horrors of war that he experienced and writes eloquently about his many friends who were killed. The book provides an unvarnished view of the day-to-day life of the Marines who participated in combat operations in the Pacific.

Lackie’s experience in WWII was among those featured in the HBO miniseries Pacific, which is available on Netflix and DVD.

“From the Bookshelf”, a recurring series of book reviews written by Fred Apgar.