Thank You For Your Service, by David Finkel (Staff)
What does autumn have in store? An unforgettable story of two combat pilots. More to keep you occupied as darkness descends: Soldiers’ less-than-welcoming homecomings. A historian and former colonel sees an ungrateful nation, and a West Point instructor tosses COINs. Women in combat? One man says woe is male. Why special ops gets special attention, from a Rand analyst. From Afghanistan: Warning from a worn valley and the warmth of a soldier’s awareness. A transgender veteran finds her SEAL of approval, and another SEAL’s posthumous profiles of power.
You Are Not Forgotten: The Story of a Lost World War II Pilot and a 21st-Century Soldier’s Mission to Bring Him Home by Bryan Bender, Doubleday, 336 pages, $26.95
The “story” is three interwoven stories, and each is compelling. Together, the blend of biography, combat, forensics and history makes a book you won’t forget.
■ It’s 1944, and Marine Capt. Ryan McCown Jr. of Charleston, S.C., is reported lost in New Guinea after the Japanese hit his Corsair plane.
■ It’s 2004, and Maj. George Eyster V, who grows up thinking “everyone’s dad wore Army green to work,” is in Kuwait, bound for Iraq as a Kiowa pilot.
■ It’s 2008, and the two aviators intersect.
Eyster is with the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command in Hawaii, from where he and his team go to the ends of the earth to find remains of service members. In the process, Eyster begins to find himself. Readers, meanwhile, find respect for the searchers and for the portraits of Eyster and McCown.
Bender is president of the Military Reporters and Editors Association, and this book, his first, is set to be released Oct. 29. His reporting skill, combined with access to McCown’s diary and Eyster’s email correspondence, give him plenty of material, but it is his storytelling skill that gives us an engrossing and emotional adventure.
One Hundred Victories: Special Ops and the Future of American Warfare by Linda Robinson, PublicAffairs, 336 pages, $28.99
In the author’s fascinating “Masters of Chaos” (2004), normally press-sensitive Special Forces soldiers open up about their work. Her David Petraeus portrait — “Tell Me How This Ends” (2008) — is a friendly biography about the general with “a hand in every pie.”
This book chronicles a dozen special-ops campaigns and not 100 as the title implies to readers unfamiliar with Sun Tzu — although the narrative can make the total seem like 100.
What’s ahead? “Technology and political preferences” will keep special ops afloat, says the Rand policy analyst.
Thank You For Your Service by David Finkel, Sarah Crichton Books, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 262 pages, $26
The prologue, about Sgt. Adam Schumann’s last day with the Army’s 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment in Iraq, is an uncredited excerpt from the author’s “The Good Soldiers” (2009), which this reviewer called an instant classic.
“Two years later,” the new book begins, “Adam drops the baby.”
The last four words, simple words, demand attention.
Stories of mentally and physically wounded service members have been told before. What makes this one, about a handful of 2-16 soldiers and their families back home, seem fresh? Journalistic detail and literary cadence — and the dialogue of a dramatist.
DreamWorks acquired the movie rights, and no wonder. Imagine this scene:
Adam receives his first gift at a “Healing Heroes, Healing Families” pheasant hunt.
“A shotgun?he thinks as he sees the box. Really?
“Back in his room, he removes it from the box and assembles it ... He gets to the hunt two hours late and sees more people than he expected.
“Who are they? he wonders, his mood darkening even more. Volunteers? Sponsors? Those people who drive around with ‘We Support the Troops’ signs on their cars, as if a sign on a car makes any difference? The ones who have never been to war and will never go to war and say to soldiers, ‘Thank you for your service,’ with their gooey eyes and orthodontist smiles?”
Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country by Andrew J. Bacevich, Metropolitan Books, $26
The Boston University professor and retired Army colonel intended “to write a conventional narrative history of U.S. civil-military relations since World War II.” But Bacevich is not a conventional thinker.
Thanks to former President George W. Bush, war has become “permanent and perpetual,” and Americans’ sensibility toward its all-volunteer military is one of “detachment, neglect and inattention.”
As a result, the Pentagon spent $667 million on promotions last year. Since 2000, veterans’ annual disability benefits have gone from $15 billion to $57 billion. And “as of 2010, contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan had some 260,000 employees on their payrolls — more than the total number of U.S. troops committed to those theaters.”
Wrong Turn: America’s Deadly Embrace of Counterinsurgency by Col. Gian Gentile, 208 pages, The New Press, $24.95
Gentile says Bacevich (above) “has influenced my thinking greatly” but Gentile’s style is his own and anything but gentle. The West Point professor — personifying the concept of academic freedom — hopes to “drive a stake through the heart of the notion that counterinsurgency has worked.”
COIN is a “simplistic idea” that the U.S. can “rebuild entire societies if the tactics are just right and the right general is put in charge. It is a recipe for perpetual war,” a belief that “persists like a vampire among the living.”
Warrior Princess: A U.S. Navy SEAL’s Journey to Coming Out Transgender by Kristin Beck and Anne Speckhard, Advances Press, 238 pages, $24.99
Retired Navy Senior Chief and SEAL Team operator Chris Beck told the media in June that he is now Kristin Beck — and that an upcoming memoir would “attempt to reach out to others” who face gender-identity challenges.
Beck made news, but how’s her book? Candid but not lurid. Poignant and not pandering. Not always polished but presentable. SEAL books permeate best-seller lists. This one is unique.
As a boy and as a man, Beck hates himself. Dangerous ops bring focus and solace. “Functioning in what our society defines as a highly masculine role as a SEAL” he is “detached from any sense of male or female.”
The price is personal. Chris marries — women — twice. Twenty-six military friends die, and “with his PTSD and self-denial, Chris was too emotionally overwhelmed to reach out to his sons.” Chris fought for life and liberty, and Kristin fights for the pursuit of happiness.
Deadly Consequences: How Cowards Are Pushing Women into Combat by Robert L. Maginnis, Regnery, $27.95, 244 pages
The “cowards” are the service chiefs who “endorsed President Obama’s latest attempt at social engineering,” says retired Army Lt. Col. Maginnis, “the same lack of principled leadership with which they greeted the new policy on homosexuals in the military in 2010.”
Also at fault are unnamed “radical feminists” who want to “eviscerate” the military.
The book opens its case with congressional testimony from two decades ago. Now “the world-conquering U.S. armed forces” are close to becoming “an androgynous job corps that happens to fight, but not as well as it once did.” Society changed, too. “Americans once held women with high esteem, but, today, chivalry is practically dead.”
American Gun: A History of the U.S. in Ten Firearms by Chris Kyle with William Doyle, 302 pages, William Morrow, $29.99
Navy SEAL Kyle’s posthumous book followed his “American Sniper” onto the The New York Times best-seller list and includes “editorial contributions” by “Sniper” co-author Jim DeFelice. Kyle’s widow, Taya, says the book is “one of the many projects Chris was working on” at the time he was killed at a shooting range.
War Comes to Garmser: 30 Years of Conflict on the Afghan Frontier by Carter Malkasian, 324 pages, Oxford University Press, 324 pages, $27.95
Former State Department officer Malkasian fares well in Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s exemplary “Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan” (2012). One reason is that Malkasian can speak like a Pashtun, a Marine or a diplomat.
His cultural immersions make his book “about the Afghans” an encompassing documentation of a 45-mile strip along the Helmand River where “our ideals had met the harsh reality of Afghanistan.” Plus, there’s firsthand — although ominous — perspective.
Watches Without Time: An American Soldier in Afghanistan by Matt Zeller, 308 pages, Just World Books, $21.
Capt. Zeller is in the news for trying to get a U.S. visa for the Afghanistan interpreter who saved his life in 2008 but is in limbo and in danger.
Zeller’s zeal about a friend’s plight is no surprise to readers of this perspective about eight months with the Army in Ghazni. He is “at best an average conventional soldier” but a “proficient counterinsurgent” who welcomes “new cultures,” and his endearing memoir is further evidence of the latter.
J. Ford Huffman is a Military Times book reviewer.