Monday, January 27, 2014

American Military Experience

By Brian Ransom

I've always been terrified of war. When I was six, I would worry about suddenly being drafted and sent to Laos or something. And if I wasn't fretting about girls or homework in middle school, I was biting my nails over the imagined possibility that my Midwestern neighborhood of boring two-story houses would become the target of missiles from halfway across the world. (Side note: Around this age, I also thought NATO was the name of a knockoff Nabisco wafer.)

But now that I've gotten older, I've found it harder and harder to ignore how America factors into global conflicts — especially because I'm majoring in journalism. So in the spirit of BE A BETTER PERSON 2014, an initiative I just decided to create for myself, I'm going to try to learn more about war and other things I'm scared of (Komodo dragons, failure, pickles, et cetera). The American Military Experience seems like a good place to start. Whether it be about one person or many, each book in the series aims to connect readers to the human stories at the heart of war.

A Civilian in Lawton's 1899 Philippine Campaign collects the writings of twenty-two-year-old Robert Dexter Carter, who served in Manila as a civilian quartermaster clerk during the Philippine-American War. Through his letters to his family, he provided a vivid picture of army life in Manila—the sights, the smells, and his responses to the native culture. In addition to his letters, his diary, and several related articles present a firsthand account of the historic voyage of the United States Army Transport Grant through the Suez Canal to Manila in early 1899. Carter’s writings not only tell of his sometimes harrowing experiences but also reveal the aspirations and fears of a young man not quite sure of his next steps on life’s journey. Enhanced by photographs from collections at the Library of Congress and the Military History Institute, as well as many of Carter’s own whimsical drawings, the book will appeal to armchair historians and scholars alike.

As World War II dawned in Europe, General George C. Marshall, the new Army Chief of Staff, had to acknowledge that American society—and the citizens who would soon become soldiers—had drastically changed in the previous few decades. Almost every home had a radio, movies could talk, and driving in an automobile to the neighborhood soda fountain was part of everyday life. A product of newly created mass consumerism, the soldier of 1940 had expectations of material comfort, even while at war. In American Girls, Beer, and Glenn Miller, historian James J. Cooke presents the first comprehensive look at how Marshall’s efforts to cheer soldiers far from home resulted in the enduring morale services that the Army provides still today.

 Dogface Soldier, the first authoritative biography of one of the most significant U.S. Army generals in World War II, explores Lucian K. Truscott’s career through his three decades in the Army and defines his roles in key operations. In 1943, Truscott received the Distinguished Service Cross for valor in action in Sicily. He also received the Army Distinguished Service Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster, the Navy Distinguished Service Medal, the Legion of Merit, and the Purple Heart. Truscott was not only respected by peers and “dogfaces”—common soldiers—alike but also ranked by President Eisenhower as second only to Patton.

On November 18, 1944, the end of the war in Europe finally in sight, American co-pilot Lieutenant Lee Lamar’s B-24J Liberator Bottoms Up crashed after being hit by German fire. He was captured the next day and spent the rest of the war as a prisoner at a stalag on the Baltic Sea. More than sixty years later, Croatian archaeologist Luka Bekic discovered the wreckage of the plane and felt compelled to find out the crew’s identities and fates. In The Final Mission of Bottoms Up, Dennis R. Okerstrom chronicles, through Lee Lamar’s experiences, the Great Depression generation who went on to fight in the most expensive war in history. This absorbing, alternating account chronicles the story of the young men who flew Bottoms Up on her final mission, of Lamar’s trip back to the scene of his recurring nightmare, and of a remarkable convergence of international courage, perseverance, and friendship.

During World War II, the United States drafted 10.1 million men to serve in the military. Of that number, 52,000 were conscientious objectors, and 12,000 objected to noncombatant military service. Those 12,000 men served the country in Civilian Public Service, the program initiated by General Lewis Blaine Hershey, the director of Selective Service from 1941 to1970. Despite his success with this program, much of Hershey’s work on behalf of conscientious objectors has been overlooked due to his later role in the draft during the Vietnam War. Seeking to correct these omissions in history, Nicholas A. Krehbiel provides the most comprehensive and well-rounded examination to date of General Hershey’s work as the developer and protector of alternative service programs for conscientious objectors. Archival research from both Historic Peace Churches and the Selective Service makes General Lewis B. Hershey and Conscientious Objection during World War II the definitive book on this subject.

A West Point graduate and son of an army officer, Conrad S. Babcock details the changes he witnessed in the U.S. Army over the course of the Spanish-American War and the subsequent decades. In Reminiscences of Conrad S. Babcock, Babcock’s original manuscript has been shortened by Robert H. Ferrell into eight chapters that illustrate the tremendous shift in warfare in the years surrounding the turn of the century. Until now, Babcock’s account has only been available in the archives of the Hoover Institution, but with the help of Ferrell's crisp, expert editing, this record of army culture in the first decades of the twentieth century can now reach a new generation of scholars.

Clarence Ransom Edwards is a vital figure in American military history, yet his contribution to the U.S. efforts in World War I has often been ignored. Most accounts focus on the disagreements he had with Pershing, who dismissed Edwards from the command of the 26th (“Yankee”) Division just weeks before the close of World War I, without placing the conflict in context. Michael E. Shay presents a complete portrait of this notable American and his many merits in Revered Commander, Maligned General. This long-overdue first full-length biography details the crucial roles Edwards filled before World War I: Adjutant-General with General Lawton in the Philippine-American War, first chief of the Bureau of Insular Affairs, and commander of U.S. forces in the Panama Canal Zone.

The 92nd Division of the U.S. Army in World War I has long-been remembered as a military failure; however, the division should have been historically significant—it was the only African American division of the American Expeditionary Forces in France. In Unjustly Dishonored, Robert H. Ferrell asserts that the 92nd actually performed quite well militarily, performing better than any other division in Pershing’s Second Army. Through use of newly discovered records at the National Archives and the Army’s personal records, Ferrell frames the 92nd’s reputation against cultural context, historical accounts, and social stigmas.

Project9: The Birth of the Air Commandos in World War II by Dennis R. Okerstrom is a thoroughly researched narrative of the Allied joint project to invade Burma by air. Beginning with its inception at the Quebec Conference of 1943 and continuing through Operation Thursday until the death of the brilliant British General Orde Wingate in March 1944, less than a month after the successful invasion of Burma, Project 9 details all aspects of this covert mission, including the selection of the American airmen, the procurement of the aircraft, the joint training with British troops, and the dangerous night-time assault behind Japanese lines by glider.  New book available June 2014.