One-Minute Book Reviews

April 10, 2012

‘We Band of Angels’: The True Story of Nurses Who Became Prisoners of War

Filed under: History,Nonfiction,Women — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:18 am
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A portrait of the first American military women taken captive and imprisoned as a group by an enemy

We Band of Angels: The True Story of American Nurses Trapped on Bataan by the Japanese. By Elizabeth M. Norman. Atria Books, 327 pp., $16, paperback.

By Janice Harayda

This book can only lift the heart of any woman who regrets seeing her sex represented in print by Lindsay Lohan’s bail hearings and Kim Kardashian’s prenuptial agreement. Few people may remember that American female prisoners of war existed before U.S. Special Operations Forces rescued Jessica Lynch from captivity in Iraq. But women have been falling into enemy hands at least since the Civil War. And the unlucky group includes 77 U.S. Army and Navy nurses who were stationed in the Philippines when Japanese bombs began to fall on American military bases there on Dec. 8, 1941.

Nurses on the Bataan peninsula worked in an open-air field hospital with thousands of beds laid out in rows under a jungle canopy intended to hide it from enemy planes. They sharpened needles on rocks and tried to ease their hunger by frying weeds in cold cream. After Bataan fell, the nurses were evacuated to Corregidor, where they worked in bomb-proof tunnels. When the Allies surrendered, they became prisoners of the Japanese, who held them in internment camps until the end of the war. It should surprise no one that after an initial flurry of attention, Americans lost interest in the group known as the “Angels of Bataan.”

Elizabeth Norman tries not to overplay the heroism of these nurses, but their extraordinary stories speak for themselves. On the evidence of We Band of Angels, these women were not raped or, in the sense in which the word is used today, tortured. But for more than three years they lead torturous lives, enduring with courage and professionalism their fate as “the first group of American military women taken captive and imprisoned by an enemy.” The nurses deserve a secure place beside the men who inspired They Were Expendable, perhaps the best-known story of the battle for Bataan, and other enduring World War II narratives. Their stories also suggest that we need history of all female prisoners of war. Some of the captives might have a tart response to a recent US Weekly cover story on Kim Kardashian entitled “My Divorce Hell.”

Best line: “By all available accounts the presence of women on the battlefield boosted the morale of men.” This fact and much else in We Band of Angels contradict the cliché that women in combat “distract” men.

Worst line: Only 48 of the 77 nurses captured in 1942 and freed in 1945 were alive when Norman began her research for We Band of Angels, and some turned down her requests for an interview. Such realities may help to explain the stilted characterizations of certain nurses, such as Helen Cassiani: “At twenty-four she was pretty and bright, with dark, curly hair down to her neck, a round face and an inviting smile.”

Recommendation? Highly recommended to book clubs, especially those looking for good nonfiction about women or a neglected aspect of military history.

About the author: Norman is a nurse and historian who teaches at New York UniversityWe Band of Angels won the Lavinia L. Dock Award from the American Association for the History for Nursing and other prizes.

Read more about this book or buy a copy from an independent bookstore in the author’s area.

Furthermore: William Lindsay White tells the story of the retreat from the Philippines from the perspective of a torpedo boat squadron in the book They Were Expendable, made into a movie that starred John Wayne.

You can follow Jan on Twitter by clicking on the “Follow” button in the right sidebar on this page.

© 2012 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

July 22, 2011

Mitchell Zuckoff’s ‘Lost in Shangri-la,’ a World War II Rescue Story

Filed under: Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:03 am
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Mitchell Zuckoff resurrects a little-known episode in American military history in his new Lost in Shangri-la: A True Story of Survival, Adventure and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II, which describes an attempt by the Army to extract the stranded survivors of a plane crash in New Guinea.  My review of the book ran this week in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. These lines from Lost in Shangri-la don’t appear in the review but suggest the lively details gathered by Zuckoff: “In New Guinea as elsewhere, Margaret Hastings and other WACs filled strictly noncombat roles, as expressed by their slogan, ‘Free a Man to Fight.’ An earlier motto, ‘Release a Man for Combat,’ was scratched because it fed suspicions among the WACs’ detractors that their secret purpose was to provide sexual release for soldiers in the field.” 

May 1, 2009

CDC Projected Death Toll for Flu Pandemic: 89,000 to 207,000 People — Army Estimates That 1.7 Million Americans Could Die

Filed under: News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 3:08 am
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In 1999 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a report on what might happen if a pandemic virus – similar to the relatively mild virus of 1968 – struck the United States. It estimated that between 89,000 and 207,000 people in the U.S. would die. Why so many?

John Barry responds in The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History (Penguin, 2005):

“The reason for this high toll is the same reason that the CDC has concluded that, despite medical advances,  more Americans are now dying from ordinary, endemic influenza than in the past: in 1918, 1957, and even 1968 relatively few people alive had impaired immune systems. Today a large and growing number of people do – primarily the elderly, but also cancer survivors who have undergone chemotherapy or radiation, transplant recipients, those infected with HIV, and others.”

The figures in the first paragraph appear in Barry’s fine book, and his endnotes give their source as “Modeling the Economic Impact of Pandemic Influenza in the United States: Implications for Setting Priorities for Intervention,” by Martin I. Meltzer, Nancy J. Cox, and Keiji Fukuda. (See Figure 2 under “Results – Deaths.”) Meltzer’s paper has other information about the possible scope of a pandemic, including the percentages of deaths expected in different age groups.

Barry also writes that “the World Health Organization estimates that a virus akin to that of 1968 would, in today’s world, kill between 2 million and 7.4 million people worldwide.” The Washington Post reported in 2006 that WHO estimated that a virus akin to that of 1918 would kill 62 million people worldwide.

The CDC’s projected figures are much lower than those in a United States Army War College Program Research Paper “The 1918 Flu Pandemic: Implications for Homeland Security in the New Millennium,” which you can find easily by pasting the phrase in quotations into the Google search bar (though I can’t seem to link to it). That paper puts the estimated death toll for a flu pandemic at 1.7 million Americans.

For more on flu-related books, please follow www.twitter.com/janiceharayda.

July 27, 2008

Frances Richey’s Poetry Collection ‘The Warrior: A Mother’s Story of a Son at War’

Filed under: Poetry — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 10:51 pm
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Internal and external conflicts intersect in a collection of 28 poems

The Warrior: A Mother’s Story of a Son at War. By Frances Richey. Viking, 84 pp., $21.95.

By Janice Harayda

Not long ago, I went to an American Ballet Theater production of Sleeping Beauty with a companion who called it, with some justification, “a walking ballet.” The choreography may delight crowds, but you don’t go to this one for aerial special effects such as long sequences of dazzling grand jêtés.

The Warrior is a collection of walking poetry, billed by its publisher as “a memoir in verse.” Frances Richey, a yoga teacher, began to write its 28 poems when her son, a West Point graduate and Green Beret, went on the first of his two tours of duty in Iraq. Her book is about the distances – physical and emotional – that war puts between a parent and child.

Richey is earnest and at times pedestrian writer who works mostly in unrhymed, variable-length free verse with the occasional hint of an internal or end-rhyme or both (“and since my son was the only one / who’d never hunted”). In a poem called “The Book of Secrets,” she recalls her son’s early years: “ … Mornings, / when I left him with the sitter, / I had to close my heart, // or else obsess he was crossing / Oak alone.” You don’t doubt the sincerity of her words, but they read less like poetry than stenography, a literal transcription from life without the alchemy of a great poem. In some of the other poems, no thought seems too obvious to avoid making explicit. “I can’t protect him,” she tells us in one. “Will he come back?” she wonders in another. “ On learning that Iraq can be cold, she reflects, “I was always asking if he was warm enough. / Put a sweater on, I’d say. Your jacket …”

Other poems are less prosaic, and two are particularly good. In “The Aztec Empire” Richey considers artifacts of human sacrifice that she sees in an exhibit at the Guggenheim Museum and links them elegantly to the sacrifice of human lives in Iraq. And in “Kill School” she describes a combat training program that teaches a soldier how to kill by having him rock a rabbit “like a baby in his arms, / faster and faster,” then smash its head against a tree. Richey doesn’t call her book a collection of antiwar poems, but these two poems speak for themselves. And their direction, like that of the other poems in The Warrior, is no less clear because they walk instead of soaring toward their destination.

Best line: From “Kill School”: “The trainer showed him / how to rock the rabbit / / like a baby in his arms, / faster and faster, // until every sinew surrendered / and he smashed its head into a tree.”

Worst line: You may need to assume a lotus pose to appreciate: “… Green: / color of the fourth chakra, / Anahata; it means unstuck — / the heart center — / the color of his fatigues.”

Editor: Paul Slovak

Published: April 2008 www.francesrichey.com

You may also want to read: Robert Hass’s Time and Materials: Poems, 1997–2005, winner of the 2007 National Book Award for poetry, which has several poems critical of the Bush administration and the war in Iraq, including “Bush’s War. ” www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/11/15/

Furthermore: Richey also wrote the poetry collection The Burning Point. She lives in New York City.

Janice Harayda www.janiceharayda.com is a novelist and award-winning critic who has been the book columnist for Glamour, book editor of the Plain Dealer and a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle www.bookcritics.org.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

July 5, 2008

The D-Day Messages Heard by American, British and Other Troops Going Ashore in Normandy – A Brief Excerpt From ‘The Longest Day’

Filed under: Classics,Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 7:24 pm
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I wanted to post this excerpt from The Longest Day on June 6 but couldn’t put my hands on the book in time. Cornelius Ryan’s great account of the Normandy invasion fits the spirit of the Fourth of July weekend, too:

This passage describes the day of the invasion and typifies the you-are-there narrative style that has helped to make this book a classic:

“Never had there been a dawn like this. In the murky, gray light, in majestic, fearful grandeur, the great Allied fleet lay off Normandy’s five invasion beaches. The sea teemed with ships. …

“On the transports men jammed the rails, waiting their turn to climb down slippery ladders or scramble-nets into the heaving, spray-washed beaching craft. And through it all, over the ships’ public-address systems came a steady flow of messages and exhortations: ‘Fight to get your troops ashore, fight to save your ships, and if you’ve got any strength left, fight to save yourselves.’ … ‘Get in there, Fourth Division, and give ’em hell!’ … ‘Don’t forget, the Big Red One is leading the way.’ … ‘U.S. Rangers, man your stations’ … ‘Remember Dunkirk! Remember Coventry! God bless you all’ …’Nous mourrons sur le sable de notre France chérie, mais nous ne retournerons pas [We shall die on the sands of our dear France but we shall not turn back].’ … ‘This is it, men, pick it up and put it on, you’ve only got a one-way ticket and this is the end of the line. Twenty-nine, let’s go!’ And the two messages that most men still remember: ‘Away all boats,’ and ‘Our Father, which art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy Name …'”

From The Longest Day: June 6, 1944 (Simon & Schuster/Touchstone, 1994), first published in 1959. The ellipses at the end of the first paragraph show where I omitted some text from the book. The ellipses in the second paragraph do not represented omitted text – they appear in the book. You can read a longer excerpt from another section of the book here www.simonsays.com/content/book.cfm?tab=25&pid=404556&agid=2.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

February 12, 2008

Ishmael Beah Says He Was Shot ‘Three Times on My Left Foot’ But Suffered No Serious Damage — Can Any Soldiers, E.R. Doctors or Others Explain This?

Another scene I don’t understand from the memoir of the man who claims to have been a child soldier

On this site I try to keep reviews short enough that you can read them in a minute if you skip the supplemental material at the end, so I’ll often give one example instead of three or choose a brief quote from a book instead of a long one. But enough questions have been raised about the credibility of Ishmael Beah’s A Long Way Gone that I’d like to mention a scene from it that didn’t appear in my original review. In this scene Beah talks about continuing to fight after receiving “many bullet wounds” and about foot injuries don’t appear to have left him with a limp or a need to use a cane.

Beah’s account of his injuries seemed implausible, but I don’t have a medical or military background. Would anyone with expertise in such fields like to comment on the following?

Ishmael Beah says in A Long Way Gone that he received “many bullet wounds” in a firefight in Sierra Leone but kept attacking a village his squad was trying to take. He adds that after 24 hours, he and his fellow soldiers seemed to have achieved their aim.

Then they were attacked again, and he was hit three times in the left foot: “The first two bullets went in and out, and the last one stayed inside my foot.” The third bullet, he says, was later removed with “crooked-looking scissors” by a “sergeant doctor” in the Sierra Leone army at a base camp. After leaving the army, Beah entered a hospital and was told that medical tests showed that nothing was “seriously wrong” and he would just have to take medications until his next checkup.

Quotes from pages 156–158 and 163.

Links: The original review of A Long Way Gone appeared on this site on Feb. 27, 2007. www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/02/27/. A reading group guide was posted on March 5, 2007 www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/03/05/.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

December 22, 2007

General George S. Patton’s Christmas Message to Soldiers at the Battle of the Bulge (Quote of the Day, ‘The Patton Papers’)

By the winter of 1944, Germany had all but lost World War II. But Adolf Hitler made a last bid for victory by attacking U.S. Army divisions in the snowy and forested Ardennes Mountains of Belgium in mid-December. By Christmas, the American soldiers had been fighting for more than a week in weather so cold that frozen bodies were stacked like firewood.

General George S. Patton, commander of the U.S. Third Army, gave this Christmas message on a wallet-sized card to every serviceman under his command:

“To each officer and soldier … I wish a Merry Christmas. I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty, and skill in battle. We march in our might to complete victory. May God’s blessing rest upon each of you on this Christmas Day.”

As quoted by Martin Blumenson in The Patton Papers: 1940–1945 (Houghton Mifflin, 1974), Illustrated with maps and photographs by Samuel H. Bryant, p. 605. In 2003 Replica Books published a newer edition of The Patton Papers under the bylines of Blumenson and Patton.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

November 12, 2007

A Children’s Book That Honors Veterans — A Quick Reminder

Looking for a picture book that honors that honors the men and women of the military, both veterans and those now serving in the armed forces? Check out Chris L. Demarest’s Alpha Bravo Charlie: The Military Alphabet (McElderry, $16.96) www.simonsayskids.com. This vibrant picture book introduces children ages 4 and up to the International Communications Alphabet (ICA) used in the U.S. military and in civil aviation worldwide. It also gives an excellent overview of the many kinds of jobs performed by men and women of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard. To read the full review of the book that appeared on this site on August 10, 2007, click on this link www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/08/10/. Alpha Bravo Charlie would be a terrific holiday gift for a young child or grandchild of a veteran or current member of the military.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

November 11, 2007

A Prayer Said by an Army Chaplain to Soldiers Leaving on a Fateful Mission in Iraq — Veterans’ Day Quote of the Day (Ramon Pena via Martha Raddatz in ‘The Long Road Home’)

On the day known as “Black Sunday,” Iraqi militants ambushed an American platoon escorting an Iraqi sewage truck in the Sadr City section of Baghdad. Convoys sent to rescue the stranded soldiers repeatedly came under attack, and the firefight left eight Americans dead and more than 60 wounded.

Martha Raddatz, an ABC News correspondent, tells the poignant story of that disastrous 2004 battle and its effect on the soldiers’ kin in her recent The Long Road Home: A Story of War and Family (Putnam, $24.95). In the opening scene Captain Ramon Pena, an Army chaplain, looks at the body of a 24-year-old soldier who died in the battle, his face covered by his T-shirt and camouflage top, and remembers the prayer he recited to the members of a rescue convoy an hour before:

“Lord, protect us. Give us the angels you have promised and bring peace to these soldiers as they go out. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”

Comment by Janice Harayda:

Many of the most moving scenes in military history or fiction involve the words said to soldiers who may soon die in battle. Some of the finest of these include King Henry V’s St. Crispin’s Day speech in Shakespeare’s Henry V (“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers”) and Cornelius Ryan’s account in The Longest Day of the invasion of Normandy, when loudspeakers on British ships broadcast over and over to men going ashore: “Remember Dunkirk! Remember Coventry! God bless you all.” What other messages deserve to be included in this category?

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

August 10, 2007

A Children’s Book That Honors the Men and Women of the U.S. Military

Filed under: Children's Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 9:07 pm
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An explanation of the military alphabet in a Golf Oscar Oscar Delta, Bravo Oscar Oscar Kilo

Alpha Bravo Charlie: The Military Alphabet. By Chris L. Demarest. Margaret K. McElderry, 32 pp., $16.95. Ages 4 and up.

By Janice Harayda

The buzz this week might be about Lone Survivor (Little, Brown, $24.99), Marcus Luttrell’s book for adults about the dangerous work of Navy SEALs in Afghanistan. But you can also find good children’s books about servicemen and -women, including picture books that honor both veterans of past wars and those who are serving in Iraq.

One of the best is Chris Demarest’s Alpha Bravo Charlie. This vibrant picture book introduces children to the International Communications Alphabet (ICA) used in the U.S. military and in civil aviation worldwide. It also gives an excellent overview of the many kinds of jobs performed by U.S. servicemen and -women.

Each page or spread in Alpha Bravo Charlie shows a letter of the English alphabet and its military counterpart and signal flag. Then a picture and line of text illustrate the use of the letter. The page for M (MIKE in the ICA) shows a man and woman in scrubs dashing toward an arriving helicopter emblazoned with a Red Cross: “Medical personnel work to save lives at mobile army surgical hospital (MASH) units.”

Alpha Bravo Charlie is intended for children old enough to enjoy words or phrases like “flak jacket” (F or FOXTROT) and “Nuclear Class submarine” (N or NOVEMBER). But it could also make a great baby gift for the child or grandchild of a proud U.S. veteran. It depicts the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard and even those of us who soldier at computers. The page for J (JULIET) reads: “Journalists travel in jeeps to report news from the front lines.”

Best line or picture: The page for W (WHISKEY), which shows ugly but ferocious-looking U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolts (“Warthogs”). You’ll understand how those planes got their nickname after seeing this one.

Worst line or picture: A line in an author’s note at the end, which explains how the military and later the airline industry adopted the ICA. “When service people transfer information verbally, confusion between certain letters, such as the similar-sounding B and D, could bring disastrous results.” Good information. But “orally” would have been better than “verbally,” which means “with words” and can apply to spoken or written words.

Recommendation? This is the rare alphabet book that could appeal to children who have long since learned their ABC’s.

Published: June 2005 www.simonsayskids.com

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

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