By titling his books “The Greatest US Army Stories Ever Told,” and “The Greatest US Navy Stories Ever Told,” Iain C. Martin makes a bold claim, given the services’ long and intersting history. Still, I have to believe that Martin meant it as more than hyperbole, and that he as spent a great deal of time saparating the wheat from the chaff.
So are these the Greatest Army and Navy Stories ever told? I don’t know, but they are certainly very good and have provided me with many good evenings of reading.
Each of the stories is an excerpt from a different period, and are arranged chronologically. Martin has done a good job not only of representing the various wars, but also of offering multiple points of view. In each volume are the writings of commanders, foot soldiers (or sailors), reporters, and historians.
Of the two, I think that I enjoyed the Army stories more (although that could be the result of a relative lack of knowledge of Naval history). Beginning with a recount of Washington’s Crossing by historian David Hackett Fisher, the Army stories include selections from Revoutionary War soldier Joseph Plumb Martin; Mexican American War correspondent George Wilkins Kendall; Civil War nurse and author Louisa May Alcott; Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and Ulysses Grant; Chief Red Horse; Spanish American War Correspondent Richard Harding Davis; World War II correspondents Andy Rooney and Ernie Pyle; General Ridgeway’s account of Inchon, Reporter Joe Gallawy on Vietnam; plus pieces on the first and second Gulf Wars, and the infamous “Black Hawk Down” incident in Somalia.
On the Naval Side were John Paul Jones; historian Nathan Miller on the Constellation – L’ Insurgente engagement; Historian James de Kay on Stephen Decatur’s attack on Tripoli; C.s Forester on the Battle of Lake Erie; James Fenimore Cooper on the USS Constitution; Herman Melville on his days as a seaman; reports from the Monitor and Merrimack; Captain H.D. Smith at Mobile Bay; George Dewey; a harrowing account of sub disaster; an excerpt from “At Dawn We Slept”; Commander Walter Winslow’s account of the Java Sea; George Feifer’s history of the Kamikaze; Commander Frances Omori’s account of navy nurses in the Korean War, an account by Sherry Sontag and Christopher Drew of a Cold War submarine game of cat-and-mouse; and an excerpt from Chuck Pfarrer’s “Warrior Soul” about Navy Seals.
Each selection is put into its proper perspective with a short introduction and postscript by Martin. These are well done, and helped to fill me in on some things I didn’t know or had forgotten.
I have absolutely no quibble with the pieces selected except to say that we perhaps did not need eight pieces on the Second World War in the Army volume (and a similar number in the Navy volume). We may have been better served, perhaps to have selections from some more less-well covered periods. I am sure that there are some great storeis from the Boxer Rebellion, the Moro Wars, (or somesmaller,less known naval escapades) etc. But then, maybe Martin did consider tem and they were judged not to be among the “greatest.”
In the end, I think that these are two teriffic books, and worth adding to your shelves.