Book Reviews

Reviews of books by MWSA members. Reviews appear in reverse chronological order, with the most recent review posted appearing first.
Note: Some older reviews are being reposted to this site and those will appear out of order.

NAM SENSE: Surviving Vietnam with the 101st Airborne Division

Title: NAM SENSE: Surviving Vietnam with the 101st Airborne Division
Author: Arthur Wiknik
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir
Reviewer: Bob Doerr

ISBN (links go to the MWSA Amazon store): 1935149091

Nam Sense is the story of a combat squad leader in the 101st Airborne Division in the thick of combat during the Vietnam War. The author was a 19-year-old kid from New England when he was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1968. After completing various NCO training programs, he was promoted to sergeant "without ever setting foot in a combat zone" and sent overseas in early 1969. Shortly after his arrival on the far side of the world he was assigned to Camp Evans, the 101st Airborne's northern most base camp only thirty miles from Laos and North Vietnam. On his first jungle patrol, his squad killed a female Viet Cong who turned out to have been the local prostitute. It was the first dead person he had ever seen.

Arthur Wiknik's account of life and death in Vietnam includes everything from skirmishes with the Viet Cong and combat with NVA regulars to base camp hijinks, including faking insanity to get some R&R. The 101st Airborne was one of the last U.S. outfits to launch full-blooded offensives in Vietnam, and its assault on the NVA stronghold in the A Shau Valley has since become the stuff of legend. Wiknik was the first man in his unit to reach the top of "Hamburger Hill" during this famous operation, the last one in which Americans attacked rather than defended in order to reduce their casualties. Later, the author discovered an enemy weapons cache, thus preventing an attack on his advance fire support base. Between episodes of combat he mingled with the locals, tricked unwitting stateside food companies into providing his platoon a year's worth of hard to get edibles and after defying a superior officer was punished with a dangerous mission. All this time, he struggled with himself and his fellow soldiers as the anti-war movement back home began to affect their ability to wage victorious war.

Nam Sense unveils the battlefields of Vietnam with a unique blend of candor, irony, and humor--and it spares nothing and no one in its attempt to accurately convey the true experience of the combat soldier during this unpopular war. This work does not fixate on heroism or glory, haunting flashbacks, or soldiers wallowing in self-pity. It instead portrays ordinary young Americans thrown into strange yet brutally violent circumstances, while only seeking to uphold the honor of their comrades and country. The GIs Wiknik lived and fought with during his year-long tour did not rape, murder, or burn villages, were not strung out on drugs, and did not enjoy killing. They were simply there to do their duty as they were trained, and to try to get home alive.

"The soldiers I knew," explains the author, "demonstrated courage, principle, kindness, and friendship--all the elements found in other wars Americans have proudly fought in."

Author(s) Mentioned: 
Wiknik, Arthur

New Dawn: The Battles for Fallujah

Title: New Dawn: The Battles for Fallujah
Author: Richard S. Lowry
Genre: Non-Fiction, History
Reviewer: Joyce Faulkner

ISBN (links go to the MWSA Amazon store): 1932714774

New Dawn is the story of the kids who grew up down the block and then flew halfway around the world to fight in the battle that changed the war in Iraq. Richard S. Lowry places you among the brave men and women who fought a determined enemy at the crossroads of civilization. This is the tale of their courage, sacrifice and valor.

Richard tells the stories of the men and women who fought to clear Fallujah, Iraq's most violent city. This is no ordinary historical account. Richard provides gripping narratives of individual sacrifice and valor while documenting the battle for military historians. He weaves a page-turning story that will educate and entertain in a style reminiscent of Cornelius Ryan's Longest Day.

New Dawn opens with the brutal murder, bludgeoning and burning of four Blackwater security contractors, followed by the aborted first assault and tense standoff during the spring and summer of 2004. Then, New Dawn tells the complete story of the massive final attack as seen through the eyes of those who were there.

Walk down the narrow city streets and into the courtyards, kitchens and bedrooms of Fallujah. Venture into the unknown as young soldiers and Marines kick in door after door, never knowing if they will be greeted by an incensed insurgent or a cowering Iraqi family. This is a story of young Americans at war.

Author(s) Mentioned: 
Lowry, Richard

Fortress Rabaul: The Battle for the Southwest Pacific, January 1942 - April 1943

Title: Fortress Rabaul: The Battle for the Southwest Pacific, January 1942 - April 1943
Author: Bruce Gamble
Genre: Non-Fiction, History
Reviewer: Bob Flournoy

ISBN (links go to the MWSA Amazon store): 076032350X

For most of World War II, the mention of Japan's island stronghold sent shudders through thousands of Allied airmen. Some called it "Fortress Rabaul," an apt name for the headquarters of the Imperial Japanese forces in the Southwest Pacific. Drawing upon a vast array of Japanese as well as Allied sources, award-winning author Bruce Gamble chronicles Rabaul's crucial role in theater operations. Millions of square feet of housing and storage facilities supported a hundred thousand soldiers and naval personnel. Simpson Harbor and the airfields were the focus of hundreds of missions by American air forces. Fortress Rabaul details a critical and, until now, little understood chapter in the history of World War II.

Author(s) Mentioned: 
Gamble, Bruce

Truman and MacArthur: Adversaries for a Common Cause

Title: Truman and MacArthur: Adversaries for a Common Cause
Author: Donald J. Farinacci
Genre: Non-Fiction, History
Reviewer: Bill McDonald

ISBN (links go to the MWSA Amazon store): 0557409020

The author's purpose in writing this book was to tell a story of events which occurred during a brief but momentous period in American history, involving two extraordinary men, President Harry S. Truman and General of the Army, Douglas MacArthur. The story tells of their interaction during a time of grave national crisis, how they veered badly off course and ultimately collided head-on. It was a collision which both altered the course of history and irreparably changed their personal destinies.

What is related here is first and foremost a human story, but one that plays out against the panorama of the Korean War--a nasty, brutish and fearsome slice of hell where what was at stake was nothing less than the determination of whether the Communist Sino-Soviet alliance would gain dominion by force over large regions of the continent of Asia or be contained and held in check by a coalition of United Nations Forces led by the United States.

As the drama unfolded during a critical period of approximately ten months in 1950 and 1951, the all-pervasive tension holding the principal players in its grip was the ever-present threat of nuclear war looming over all of humankind.

Other larger-than-life personalities also emerge in this epic tale and are interspersed with the two main characters. They include Eighth Army Commander Matthew B. Ridgway, Secretary of State Dean Acheson, Secretary of Defense George C. Marshall, South Korean President Syngman Rhee, NATO Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ambassador Averell Harriman, Army General Walton W. Walker, Marine General O.P. Smith, Army Chief of Staff J. Lawton Collins, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Omar Bradley, and Marine Colonel "Chesty" Puller. Every one of them played an integral role in the drama and some of them such as Ridgway, Acheson, Marshall and Eisenhower actually changed the course of history. But, the overarching giants of this tale are Truman and MacArthur. Their saga of 1950-1951 underscores the fact that no matter what the magnitude of events, history is still primarily a collection of stories about people.

This is one of those stories--one that is part of the larger framework of the forty-five year-long Cold War, but one that is surpassed in importance by none other in that singularly perilous epoch of world history.

Author(s) Mentioned: 
Farinacci, Donald

Riding a Donkey Backwards Through Afghanistan

Title: Riding a Donkey Backwards Through Afghanistan
Author: Mick Simonelli
Genre: Non-Fiction, History
Reviewer: Hodge Wood

ISBN (links go to the MWSA Amazon store): 1934937924

A behind-the-scenes account of America's critical effort to build an Afghanistan National Army. Written from the unique vantage point of the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan, this book reveals the inside story of the United States' army-building efforts. As the first comptroller responsible for funding the Afghanistan National Army, Mick earned the Bronze Star Medal while spending $400 million taxpayer dollars and planning the spending for $2.1 billion more.

Author(s) Mentioned: 
Simonelli, Mick