Book Review

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.