Thursday, May 21, 2015
[Book Review] Thirteen Soldiers by John McCain and Mark Salter
Philip Williams, Cordova Library
Philip reviews THIRTEEN SOLDIERS : A PERSONAL HISTORY OF AMERICANS AT WAR, by John McCain and Mark Salter (Simon & Schuster, 2014)
There have been 13 major military conflicts that the United States has been engaged in since its birth as an independent nation. 13 Soldiers offers accounts of the military service of 13 different individuals, 11 men and 2 women, each of whom served in one of the 13 conflicts. Written by United States Senator John McCain and his former aide Mark Salter, the book is not a political work. The authors’ aim is to share the stories of 13 people who were all willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
Most of the individuals themselves left personal accounts of their experiences, and McCain and Salter use their accounts as the basis for their stories of these men and women. The authors also offer an exploration of what each of the individuals shared in common, even though they each served in conflicts years apart from one another. McCain himself served in combat during the Vietnam War as a Navy Pilot and personally experienced what someone under enemy fire faces.
The authors talk of the hardships, such as lack of food and water and enduring freezing or boiling temperatures, that each of the individuals faced. They talk of the intensity of the friendships that the 13 individuals made with those they served with; and make the point that only someone who has served in combat can understand the intensity of friendships made during such a stressful time of trial. They talk of the 13 individuals seeing the unimaginable results of the horrors of war, sights such as men being blown to pieces, of seeing brains oozing from skulls, and of seeing men trying to hold their intestines inside of their bodies, after they have been wounded. And they talk of each of the 13 individuals facing the fear and terror inherent in any military conflict.
Each of the 13 men and women were truly remarkable people. There is the story of Joseph Plumb Martin who joined the Continental army and remained a soldier in it for the duration of the American Revolution. Martin left a memoir of his experiences that is a primary source for historians of the American Revolution. Sadly, despite his sacrifices, Martin had to fight hard to see that the Congress awarded pensions to the surviving Continental soldiers after the War.
There is the story of Edward Baker, an African-American, who served with distinction in the Spanish-American War. Baker, a former Buffalo soldier, was a member of a regiment of other African-Americans soldiers who had been protecting settlers from attacks by Native Americans in the American West. When his regiment was ordered to Cuba, to help fight the war against Spain, Baker in particular, but also members of his regiment, played a major role in making Teddy Roosevelt’s charge up San Juan Hill the success it was. But Baker and his regiment never received the credit they deserved for the important role they played.
The stories remind us of the debt of gratitude we owe to these 13 individuals and to all members of our military for the sacrifices they have made for their country.
Philip Williams, Cordova Library
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