Book Review

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

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. 

From the Book Shelf

The Heart of Everything That Is: The Untold Story of Red Cloud, An American LegendThe Heart of Everything That Is: The Untold Story of Red Cloud, An American Legend By Bob Drury and Tom Clavin

 

While Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, and Geronimo are better-remembered Native Americans who fought the white man’s expansion into the old American West, Red Cloud was a great Sioux war chief and military genius who accomplished far more that his more well-known contemporaries. The title of the book comes from the name of the Sioux’s sacred homeland in the Badlands, Paha Sapa, or “The Heart of Everything That Is”.

Red Cloud was an orphan who took his first scalp at the age of 16. He accompanied his tribe’s war parties on raids of other Indian nations and proved the living embodiment of the maxim that “war is the best teacher of war”. He learned his lessons well and became the Chief of a band of Sioux called the Bad Faces.

The book chronicles the treatment of the plains Indians by the United States government. The inevitability of war between the Indians and whites was sealed when gold was discovered in what is now Montana, and the Bozeman Trail was opened to provide a shorter route to the gold fields. The 535 mile trail cut through the Powder River basin,which had previously been given to the Sioux by treaty.

The authors used contemporary journals and diaries, newspaper articles, eyewitness accounts, and meticulous firsthand sourcing to write a compelling account of life in the old American West, and the treatment of Native Americans in our nation’s pursuit of what was called our Manifest Destiny.

“From the Bookshelf” will be 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

The Bedford Boys: One American Town’s Ultimate D-Day Sacrifice by Alex Kershaw

 

VFW Post 8870 Book Review, The Bedford BoysThis exhaustively researched book presents readers with a different perspective of the D-Day landing on Normandy. It is a group biography that chronicles life in a small Virginia town prior to, during, and in the aftermath of WW II. At the outset of WW II, Bedford, which was a small town located in the Blue Ridge Mountains of rural Virginia, had a population of nearly 3000 people. Drawing on the information he obtained through interviews with survivors, family members, newspaper articles, letters, and personal diaries, Kershaw tells the story of the sacrifices made by so many of the town’s “sons” and how the impact of those deaths forever changed the lives of family and friends who were left behind in the close-knit rural Virginia community.

In the late 1930’s and early 1940’s, times were hard for those living in rural Virginia. For many of the young men in Bedford, the lure of earning money for their families by volunteering for the National Guard was appealing. When the National Guard was called to active duty at the outset of WW II, 103 Bedford residents went off to serve their country. Thirty four of these young men were still with the Company A, 116th Infantry Battalion, 29th Infantry Division on D-Day. The Company was assigned to the first wave. In compelling detail, Kershaw describes how, within minutes of landing on Omaha Beach, 19 of the Bedford Boys were killed. Subsequent to the invasion, three more boys from Bedford were killed in the Normandy Campaign. The book depicts how these ordinary young men were able to perform extraordinary acts of bravery and self-sacrifice.

One of the most poignant portions of the book is the simultaneous arrival of nine telegrams soon after DDay. Kershaw provides gripping detail regarding the effect of the tragic news on the Bedford community.

Sixty years after the Bedford Boys stormed the beaches at Normandy, the last surviving “boy”, Ray Nance, passed away. He had lived his entire life with survivor’s guilt. Bedford still grieves. In fitting tribute to the Bedford Boys, their hometown was chosen as the location of the site for the National Guard’s National Monument. For anyone with an interest in the history of WW II, 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

The Eleven Days of Christmas: America’s Last Vietnam Battle By Marshall Michel III

The Eleven Days of Christmas: America’s Last Vietnam Battle By Marshall Michel IIITo many, it was referred to as the Christmas Bombings. Officially, the operation was called Linebacker II.

By December 1972, the Paris Peace Talks had fallen apart, and to most Americans, the war had already been
lost. Despite the opposition of the Strategic Air Command (SAC) and Congress, President Nixon ordered the massive bombing of target complexes in and around Hanoi and Haiphong. The air battle would mark the first time that SAC’s giant B-52 long-range bombers would bomb targets so far to the north.

In the previous eight years, B-52’s had routinely flown “Arc Light” missions in relatively low threat environments to interdict the Ho Chi Minh Trail complexes. During Linebacker II, our B-52 force proved shockingly vulnerable to the Soviet built Guideline surface-to-air missiles (SAM). Also revealed in the book is an objective discussion of SAC’s planning errors that resulted in the significant loss of American crewmen and B-52’s.

After Day 2 of the 11 day bombing campaign and despite the threat of court-martial, many pilots ignored some of the non-sensical planning orders to improve mission success and survivability. Nevertheless, Linebacker II resulted in staggering losses.

The North Vietnamese returned to the peace talks and an agreement to end the war was finally signed. (ed. note: An agreement largely ignored subsequently by North Vietnam.) The air battle swung back and forth between what appeared to be certain American victory, to what appeared to be a North Vietnamese victory and finally, to an ambiguous ending.

The author is a retired Air Force pilot who served multiple tours in Vietnam, flying F-4’s. The book has been meticulously researched, and its riveting account of Linebacker II holds the reader’s attention.

“From the Bookshelf” will be 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

Abandoned in Place by Lynn M. O’Shea

Abandoned in Place by Lynn M. O’Shea

Probably few people have ever heard of Lynn O’Shea. Lynn devoted much of her adult life as an advocate for families of United States servicemen missing and unaccounted for from the Vietnam War. At the time of her death, Lynn served as the Director of Research for the National Alliance of Families for the Return of America’s Servicemen. This organization is the only national POW/MIA advocacy group that represents families from all past conflicts.

Ever since the end of America’s involvement in the Vietnam War, a question has lingered. Did the United States government, either knowingly or unwittingly, abandon members of our Armed Forces to prison camps in Southeast Asia after the Vietnam War? Lynn was not related to a POW or MIA serviceman. Instead she took an interest in the case of Staff Sergeant John Jakovic, whose POW/MIA bracelet she wore. The book, Abandoned in Place is the result of her years of meticulous and tireless research to answer the question.

Lynn assembled an impressive array of documentation on her subject. The material included documents that have been declassified and obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) from agencies such as the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), Defense Mapping Agency (DMA), and the National Security Council (NSC). Interestingly, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), which played a significant role in operations to “investigate” the issue, refused to cooperate. The book has been meticulously footnoted and annotated and includes numerous documents, maps, photographs, and drawings that support the facts she presents regarding the issue of warriors left behind.

There is much in the book that will shock the reader. You will read about:

  • Pham Louang prison camp in the remote hills of Laos near the village of Nhom Marrott;
  • Operation Pocket Change, a failed and inept CIA operation to discover the secrets of Pham Louang;
  • Continual faulty intelligence that led to the “mindset to debunk” thousands of live sightings reports;
  • Internecine fighting between and among various intelligence agencies;
  • The flawed hearings of the Senate Select Committee on POW’s and MIA’s;
  • The motivation behind Senators McCain and Kerry to aggressively conclude no Americans were left behind;
  • The decision to place the remains of a Vietnam Unknown in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier despite compelling evidence as to the identity of the remains, and then, subsequently, removing the remains of Air Force Lt. Michael J. Blassie; and
  • The ineptness of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command.

Thanks to the steadfast efforts of Lynn O’Shea, our nation now has a much clearer understanding of how and why the U.S. Government left men behind. Abandoned in Place provides the reader with a riveting account of the ineptitude, lies, cover-up, and deceptions made by officials who, seemingly, valued their careers more than the men who were willing to sacrifice their lives for the country they loved.

“From the Bookshelf” will be 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.