LeMay by Warren Kozak: a review

Kozak’s objective was to restore Curtis LeMay’s reputation as one of the significant military leaders in US history. He gets us maybe halfway there. I was hoping for better.

The book’s a decently thorough and reasonably thoughtful popular biography, and not the hagiography I rather expected from this publisher. The supporting research appears to be adequate, but not what you’d expect from what the author implies was a four-year effort. The book’s slightly weak in the fact-checking department, too–but mostly minor stuff that reveals the author’s sloppiness without seriously damaging his argument.

Kozak makes some effort to put LeMay’s military career into a useful context, but mostly he just argues with late-sixties liberalism. A better treatment would compare the intentions of the European bombing campaigns with the results, and with the very different strategies employed against Japan. The material’s certainly available in the military literature.

What the book does well is round out LeMay’s biography. Like most Vietnam vets, my memories of the man begin with his time on the Joint Chiefs and end with the 1968 Wallace campaign. There’s much more to this man than that, and the book is worth reading just for that.


This review was originally published on LibraryThing.

Revision History:

The Wall

Ward One, 71st Evac, PleikuThe Vietnam Veterans of America have (has?) published a twenty-fifth anniversary commemoration of the opening of The Wall; it appears that this is a special issue of the VVA Veteran, the organization’s magazine, though it’s not labelled as such.

It’s an interesting document, with lots of articles directly on-topic, an excerpt from Tim O’Brien’s novel The Things They Carried, and some articles less directly about the memorial.

Quonset Hut One of the articles is by Lynda Van Devanter, who was a nurse at the 71st Evacuation Hospital in Pleiku; these photographs, both of which were taken at the 71st, are among the illustrations. (This article, too, is a book excerpt, from Home Before Morning.)


My office phone rang. Since it was an external call, and I didn’t recognize the number, odds were it was either a vendor or a wrong number. Nope; Lauren Morgan introduced herself as an editor with Boston Publishing, and she was working with Vietnam Veterans of America on a magazine issue. They’d found a couple of my pictures on Flickr, and wanted to use them to illustrate an article. I asked which photos they were planning to use, which she described, and I said sure. We talked about some details for a few minutes, and the conversation ended.

She called again last week, asking where to mail the complimentary copies. Those showed up yesterday. They’re really quite beautiful; much higher quality than I anticipated. I do find it odd that she contacted me at work; while I’ve always known it was possible (I’ve had the same work phone number for 20 years, and it’s available on the web), I’m reasonably certain it’s easier to find my home number, which is where I usually field out-of-the-blue calls.


I bought my copy of The Things They Carried shortly after the book was first published, and heard Tim talk about the book this summer at Macalester’s reunion. Delighted to share a magazine with him; certainly never expected it to happen. Haven’t read Home Before Morning, but I’ve just added it to my Amazon wishlist.

Revision History:

Oh, Ned

iTunes popped up Fotheringay’s Ballad of Ned Kelly a few minutes ago, which dredged up an odd memory from my Vietnam days….


We Signal folks frequented three NCO clubs while I was in Pleiku. The club in 71st Evac had decent food, occasional entertainment, and friends, but was too big and too ugly to spend an evening unless you were mainly planning to drink. Club 21 in the local MACV compound had a nightclub atmosphere and was more likely to have live entertainment; that’s where I usually ate supper after the end-of-workday traffic rush ended. And the club at the Air Base I remember as a neighborhood bar, and as the only club open in the morning when our night shift ended. Sometimes that was valuable.

One morning, after thirteen hours at the DSTE and on the teletypes, we hit the airbase bar for breakfast and a few drinks, only to discover that the club was planning to run the (then) new Ned Kelly movie. So we stayed and watched, as did a handful of Aussies who were stationed in the vicinity.

Mick Jagger or no, the movie was boring, and would have been dull even had we understood the story. Interesting, in its way, but very slow. We got loud, the Aussies took offense, we went home to bed.


Thought about calling this entry “You’re better off dead” (makes sense if you know the song). But I figured it wasn’t a good idea.

Revision History:

McNair

McNair joined our Basic Combat Training platoon a couple weeks into the cycle. Most BCT Recycles are flawed; they’re injury victims, have attitude issues, or show other problems. This guy was, just, well, different. McNair was damn near perfect; a wonderful physical specimen, and obviously the best soldier in the company.

Sargeant Solden explained: Ours was McNair’s fourth cycle. Three times he’d gone through Basic at Fort Knox, and three times he’d vanished during the last week of training. Each time Uncle Sam had tracked him down, locked him in the brig for a time, and sent him back to training. This time, Charley Tucker promised, things would be different.

Yeah, sure. On even-numbered days McNair was the best soldier in the camp; on odd-numbered days he was the worst soldier in the camp. It wasn’t an attitude thing, exactly–that was always bad, in a sullen sort of way–but it certainly was predictable. On practice day at the rifle range he missed a couple targets; a week later he hit a couple targets when the scores counted. I had the bad fortune to go up against him in Pugil Stick practice; he beat me to a pulp in 30 seconds. The stronger soldiers who followed me into the circle lasted a bit longer. The next day he failed the PT test.

But boy he looked fine while he failed. Good days and bad, the man was impeccable, in a BCT sort of way. His fatigues were always starched, his boots always had a perfect shine, his comportment was beyond reproach. Everything was done with a flair. Even the failures were stylish.

The point was clear enough. The Army had nothing to teach him, and he really wasn’t interested in this stuff.


A week from cycle’s end he went missing.

Revision History:

Refuge in Tucson

I grew up listening to jazz and classical–especially baroque–music, with a bit of pop and folk for variety. At college, I listened mostly to folkies. Then I got drafted, and learned rock and soul by the total immersion method. It was a bit of a shock.


LegsWhen I was stationed at Fort Huachuca, the post offered bus service to Tucson every weekend. I rode those busses several times. I stayed in an older hotel, and wandered around town until I had to catch the bus back to the fort. Most of my Tucson memories, frankly, are pretty vague; the object was more to get off the post than to see the sights. I do recall spending a lot of time on the University of Arizona campus, and spent enough money on clothes that I remember doing so. At least once I took along a camera, though I seem to have taken only one photograph. I’ve still got, and still use, a clipboard I purchased in the UA bookstore; it’s unusually well designed, and now carries a lifetime’s memories. A different story, though; perhaps I’ll tell it another day.

There was a bookstore/candle shop/concert space just off the campus. The place doubled as a coffeehouse (only on weekends, I think), and the house band was a folky quartet–a girl singer, her husband on guitar and harmony, a bassist (I think), and a drummer. It was the first time I’d found a drummer in a folk group, and the first time I’d ever seen a girl play a conventional drum kit. The group’s repertoire was pretty standard for a coffeehouse band, except they had an unaccountable affection for Tim Buckley. For me, the attraction (besides the drummer) was the opportunity to hear “my” music.

The bookstore’s name may have been Back Pocket, but I’d not stake money on that recollection. The drummer was a pretty & tanned & lanky person who answered to Twink St. Ledger, at least in my memory. Doubtless someone with better memories will stop by this journal some day, and set things straight; I’ll post an update at that time.


This recollection was triggered because iTunes found Buckley’s Buzzin’ Fly a few minutes ago.


Heard from Twink on September 19, 2011: She says I’ve got things essentially right.

Revision History:

Flying into Huachuca

On January 3, 1970, I left Kalamazoo for Fort Huachuca. I’d graduated from Signal School in early December, spent Christmas at home, and was assigned to Huachuca to wait for further assignment.

I don’t remember the trip, properly, though I do recall arriving in Tucson after dark. The last leg of the flight was via Apache Airlines on a plane (I hope not this one) which held a handful of passengers. I imagine there were Signal School classmates on the flight, but no longer remember those details. Since we arrived at Libby Field late in the evening, long after the staff had headed home, CQ put those of us who were new to the post into an empty office on the Old Fort and told us to get comfortable; someone would come for us in the morning. We stretched out on the hardwood floor and eventually caught some sleep.

Sunrise, and we discovered the Huachuca Mountains, like an unexpected island in the plains. Never–never–have I been so astonished by the morning.


This little reminiscence was provoked, of course, by my recent foray into Tombstone Territory.

Revision History:

Yes, Drill Sergeant!

AnAmericanSoldier‘s Drill Sergeant Rob offered an obituary for Pat Tillman yesterday. It’s both a fine essay and an excellent example of the strengths of this writer.

My drill sergeant, Charley Tucker, discovered in late June of 1969 that he’d be shepherding a platoon whose members nearly all had a couple years of college, which made for an unusual cycle. We knew within minutes he had some respect for a college education, as he put the group’s college grads in the platoon’s leadership slots. But it was also pretty clear that Fort Knox wasn’t going to be much like college. Fifth Platoon developed into something a little odd–bookish, well-disciplined, but not especially fit–and we learned to help each other through the training. My memories of the cycle were that it wasn’t so much difficult as relentless; the pressure never let up, though the emphasis changed from week to week. It helped a lot that I was reasonably fit, and accustomed to long hikes. It didn’t help that I was only barely competent with a rifle. It was clear to us that, at least from Charley, the pettiness and meanness were part of the course work, not part of the personality.

Two bad memories from that summer:

  • Another drill sergeant inflicted a fifty-pushup punishment on me because I didn’t recognize my name one morning. He’d twisted it badly out of shape, and it just plain slipped by me that he was trying to get my attention. Since arguing with drill sergeants about this sort of thing is pointless, I did the pushups. I trust Charley gave him hell later.
  • I was one of the few people in the entire country who worked on July 20, 1969. Even most of Fort Knox got to watch the moon landing. I still haven’t forgiven whoever decided I’d spend the day pretending to guard the post. I’m quite certain the real guards had access to televisions.

I read Sergeant Rob because he’s thoughtful, says interesting things about his job, and says interesting things about the world. Rob’s occasional cheap shot is more than made up for by the thoughtful commentary. That I don’t always agree is, well, sort of the point.

Revision History:

Memories of Suite Judy Blue Eyes

Bought a copy of the original CS&N album from iTunes yesterday, and am listening at work.  Suddenly it’s 1970, and I’m back at Fort HuachucaAmazing.


The Army had trained more DSTE operators than there were empty slots, so we were TDPFO in the desert, waiting for the installation teams to build the places we’d work.  We had some notion of the pending construction, and we were being permitted to “bid” on specific stations.  (That worked like this:  As each installation was completed, the TDPFO GI who’d been longest at Huachuca was asked if he wanted to go there; they worked down the seniority list until the slots were filled.  If this method didn’t fill the staff, the most senior folks “won” the assignment, regardless of preference.  Getting what you wanted had some risks, and involved balancing what you knew about construction progress with your actual wishes, but it worked out well for most of us.  In my case, London came up the day after I accepted an assignment to the San Francisco area.  I might have lived a different life.)  (No regrets, he wistfully claims.)

I spent three months at Huachuca, which was pretty typical.  Many of the folks I attended DSTE classes with ended up in either LA or Seattle, in the same command as my SF assignment, and several of us moved together to Pleiku at the end of the year.

Revision History:

Fresca

When I was Nights Trick Chief at the Pleiku Army CommCenter, I’d stop at Club 21 (down the page) every night for supper, and would buy a couple dozen cans of pop (soda) to toss in the CommCenter’s fridge so my staff could have something to drink during the long overnight shift.  Partly this was because I wanted the pop m’self; partly it was just courtesy for my hard-working specialists.

For several weeks–this would be in late summer or fall of 1971–all I could get was Fresca, a drink that basically no-one liked.  The explanation we were offered involved a ship full of the stuff which had arrived at the port; suddenly there was nothing in the supply chain for the PXs except Fresca, so that’s what they had available.

As explanations go, that raises more questions than it answers.  If you know a better explanation, please comment below.  Thanks.

Revision History: