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Jorge Amado
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MADAME NHU: SOUTH VIETNAM'S MARIE ANTOINETTE?

Finding the Dragon Lady: The Mystery of Vietnam's Madame Nhu - Monique Brinson Demery

I came to this book in a rather indirect way. Some years ago, I heard a radio interview with the author, Monique Brinson Demery, in which she described her ongoing efforts to meet the mysterious Madame Nhu (1924-2011) and earn her trust. It was a fascinating story. One that stimulated some part of my memory that contained a scrap of knowledge as to whom Madame Nhu was and her role in the leadership of South Vietnam between 1954 and 1963.

The Vietnam War, though the American phase of it largely took place within my lifetime, I knew little about. Nor did I for many years have an interest in trying to understand that war. I was but an infant when LBJ first committed U.S. military forces to South Vietnam in March 1965. And by the time our POWs had been repatriated from North Vietnam and the U.S. had washed its hands of Vietnam, I was in elementary school. Another couple of decades would pass before I began to look into the factors, personalities, and events that led to Vietnam being engulfed in what was a civil war between 1945 (when the French - the former colonial master - returned, intent on reasserting its authority in Indochina) and 1975, when the Communists triumphed and reunified the country. Reading "The Best and the Brightest" by David Halberstam in the mid 1990s was my starting point.

Demery tells a story that gives the reader access into the life of Madame Nhu, her family (who had long figured prominently in Vietnamese history), Demery's own relationship with Madame Nhu (who could be both kind and intransigent when it suited her), and the history of Vietnam from the late 19th century to November 1, 1963 (when both Madame Nhu's husband and her brother-in-law the President of the Republic of Vietnam were murdered in a coup).

For anyone curious to know why Vietnam continues to impact itself upon the American psyche, this is a book well worth reading.

Me 262 Bomber and Reconnaissance Units - Robert Forsyth,  Jim Laurier (Illustrator)
I finished this book a few minutes ago. It read like a daily diary, detailing the combat activities of the various Luftwaffe units which flew the ME 262 jet as a bomber/ground attack aircraft and in the reconnaissance role on the Western Front during 1944 and 1945. On the whole, a very good book. Fascinating stuff.

VOYAGE OF INNOCENCE = A WHIRLWIND JOURNEY THRU THE 1930s

— feeling amazing
Voyage of Innocence - Elizabeth Edmondson

This generational novel is centered on 3 women --- 2 of them cousins from well-to-do English families with long pedigrees and the third, an Irish American Catholic hailing from Chicago, where her father, a physician with interests in party politics, has been elected to the U.S. Senate --- who meet as first-year students at Oxford in 1932.

As the Thirties unfold, the reader is witness to the effects of the contending political movements of the era (communism vs. fascism) on both cousins and its effects, both direct and indirect, upon their families & friends, and their social milieu. As for their American friend who has ingratiated herself among her Oxford contemporaries with her verve, sense and beauty, she "watches and keeps her own counsel, earning the respect and affection of all their circle."

Elizabeth Edmondson has written a novel that grows on the reader the more he/she reads it. Characters - major and minor alike - are well-fleshed out and quickly take on lives of their own that are easy to relate to. That's why over the past couple of days, I raced through this novel. I almost felt as if I were being pulled through the 1930s, experiencing a world perched on a precipice that would soon crumble and fall into the depths of the Second World War. Simply put, "VOYAGE OF INNOCENCE" is one of the best novels I've read so far this year.

ODYSSEY OF A PHOENIX

One Trip Too Many: A pilot's memoirs of 38 months in combat over Laos and Vietnam - Wayne A. Warner

"ONE TRIP TOO MANY" is a memoir that will appeal to both the thrill-seeker and fan of human interest stories. The author - who grew up in the U.S. Midwest during the 1940s and 1950s - shares with the reader his determination to become a pilot, which leads to him winning a competitive appointment to the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1959. He graduated from the Academy in June 1963 as a freshly minted Second Lieutenant, having earned his degree and a handshake from President Kennedy himself.

Later, following advanced flight training, Warner is sent to Vietnam, where he experiences combat from the earliest days of the American involvement in 1965. Warner proved to be a highly skilled pilot, adept at flying both multi-engined and single-engine aircraft. Indeed, Warner would return to Vietnam on 2 different combat tours. From late 1967 through the summer of 1968, he flew 121 combat missions in the sleek F-105 'Thunderchief' fighter-bomber, known affectionately as the 'Thud.' At least 16 of those missions entailed deep penetration raids into North Vietnam as far as Hanoi, braving anti-aircraft fire, radar guided SAMs (i.e. surface-to-air missiles), and enemy MiG jet fighters. These missions, designated Pack Six sorties, were extremely hazardous as losses to enemy action over North Vietnam tended to be extremely high.

Warner would go on to return to Southeast Asia in early 1969, after having trained to fly the A-1 Skyraider attack/search & rescue aircraft. Unfortunately, Warner would meet with tragedy in the Skyraider in March of that year.

There is much more to this inspiring and uplifting story, which I leave for the reader to discover.

The Flying Circus - Susan Crandall

"THE FLYING CIRCUS" is a well-crafted, colorful and engaging novel that faithfully recaptures the spirit of the barnstorming era in America during the early 1920s. Through the lives of 3 compelling characters --- Henry Schuler, an 18 year old from Indiana with considerable mechanical skills who has had a traumatic family life; Charles Gilchrist ("Gil") a veteran First World War combat pilot now eking out a living as a barnstorming pilot with his own Curtiss 'Jenny' JN-4 U.S. Army surplus biplane; and Cora Haviland, a young woman from an affluent background whose family had fallen upon hard times who yearns to have a more adventurous life which barnstorming comes to offer her --- the reader is given entree into 3 dissimilar lives that come to be bound together in ways large and small.

This is a novel that will tug at one's heartstrings and give any reader a keen appreciation for what was a fascinating era in aviation history.

AN AIRMAN'S TALE FROM A CENTURY AGO

Fighting the Flying Circus (Wings of war) - Edward V. Rickenbacker

As a First World War aviation enthusiast of 40 years standing (I bought my first book on the subject when I was a preteen in April 1977), I had known about "FIGHTING THE FLYING CIRCUS" for some time. But it was only a few days ago that I at long last made the time to read it. And truly it is a fantastic story.

Before enlisting in the U.S. Army in 1917, Eddie Rickenbacker had achieved national renown as an auto racer. Though he had little formal education (comparatively most of his squadron mates were college or university students or graduates), he had worked at a variety of jobs and had become a skilled mechanic with a deep, intimate knowledge of engines. Rickenbacker managed to transfer into the U.S. Army Air Service (USAS), received his flight training in France, and was assigned in March 1918 to the newly established 94th Aero Squadron - one of 2 U.S. trained fighter units on the Western Front at that time.

In the book, Rickenbacker shares with the reader the full scope of his combat experiences. Despite the 94th Aero Squadron lacking armament for its fighters when first activated for combat, it began flying over the lines to give its pilots a feel for the challenges and perils of frontline flying. Rickenbacker flew many of his first combat missions with who was then America's leading fighter ace, Raoul Lufbery, who had had extensive experience flying with the Escadrille Lafayette in France's Aéronautique Militaire during 1916 and 1917. Lufbery had been brought over to the 94th as a steadying influence after transferring to the USAS.  For instance, in describing his first experience with German anti-aircraft fire (dubbed 'Archy'), Rickenbacker admitted that "[n]ever before did I, and never again will I quite so much appreciate the comfort of having a friend near at hand. I suddenly noticed that Major Lufbery was alongside me. Almost subconsciously I followed his maneuvers and gradually I began to realize that each maneuver he made was a direct word of encouragement to me. His machine seemed to speak to me, to soothe my feeling, to prove to me that there was no danger so long as I followed its wise leadership."

This marked the beginning of a long and overarching learning curve for Rickenbacker. And as a reader, it was fascinating to see how he developed in skill, confidence, and knowledge over the following months. The 94th Aero Squadron would, after flying a few weeks lacking armament, acquire machine guns for its Nieuport 28 fighters (the unit would be re-equipped with the robust and redoubtable SPAD XIII fighter by August 1918), and be in the vanguard of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) in its offensive actions against the Germans during the summer and fall of 1918. By war's end, Rickenbacker would be commanding the 94th, having scored 26 confirmed victories. (The 94th Aero Squadron would emerge by November 11, 1918 as the top scorer among the 20 U.S. fighter squadrons in France.)

This is a book in which Rickenbacker shares with the reader the full gamut of life at the Front as he lived and experienced it. He speaks in considerable detail about his combat missions, which read like something out of the movie, "The Blue Max" --- flying through barrages of 'Archy' above the trenches, as well as the thrills and perils of aerial combat. Rickenbacker also conveys the pain and sorrow from losing friends in battle --- such as his buddy Hamilton Coolidge, an ace whose SPAD received a direct hit from anti-aircraft fire, disintegrating it in mid-air. This happened less than 2 weeks before the end of the war.

Anyone who has an interest in reading eyewitness accounts from the First World War or like to read thrilling tales of aerial combat will enjoy reading "FIGHTING THE FLYING CIRCUS."

JFK - Why He Continues to Mean So Much as a Great & Inspirational Leader

ALL HIS BRIGHT LIGHT GONE: The Death of John F. Kennedy and the Decline of America - Peter McKenna

The title of this book comes from the remarks made by Jacqueline Kennedy in a March 1964 newsreel in which she thanked the nation for its expression of sympathy to her in the aftermath of President John F. Kennedy's assassination in November 1963. She spoke of her husband in the following way: "All his bright light gone from the world."

The author goes on to share with the reader how he, who had been a wayward youth in high school during Kennedy's tenure in the White House, had been inspired by JFK to become more engaged in study and public affairs, and to lead a more purposeful life. He then provides a brief biography of JFK, showing what factors in his background helped to make him a statesman of substance and a wise, charismatic, discerning, and dedicated President of the United States. In doing so, the author does not shy away from touching upon President Kennedy's weaknesses (e.g. his affairs). After all, JFK was human and subject like all human beings to err from time to time. But McKenna looks at the totality of President Kennedy and seeks to explain why, more than 50 years after his death, he continues to inspire millions of people across the world.

The author contends that President Kennedy - who had been well-traveled and a voracious reader and student of history, government, and economics all his life - understood, unlike some of the presidents who followed him, that the United States, from its inception, was a democratic republic, "the most enlightened form of government" devised by humanity. Given that understanding of the country, Kennedy "knew it was based on trust in government and the belief that the common good is more important than the enrichment of individuals or special interests." Therefore, President Kennedy made it his focus to govern wisely in the best interests of all Americans while encouraging its citizens to "embrace [their] civic responsibilities" and "to believe that politics is a noble profession." Nowhere perhaps does President Kennedy explain this position better than in the address he made to students at Vanderbilt University on May 18th, 1963.

"I speak to you today, ... not of your rights as Americans, but of your responsibilities. They are many in number and different in nature. They do not rest with equal weight upon the shoulders of all. Equality of opportunity does not mean equality of responsibility. All Americans must be responsible citizens, but some must be more responsible than others by virtue of their public or their private position, their role in the family or community, their prospects for the future, or their legacy from the past. Increased responsibility goes with increased ability. For those to whom much is given, much is required.

"Of the many special obligations incumbent upon an educated citizen, I would cite three as outstanding: Your obligation to the pursuit of learning; your obligation to serve the public; your obligation to uphold the law. If the pursuit of learning is not defended by the educated citizen, it will not be defended at all.

"For there will always be those who scoff at intellectuals, who cry out against research, who seek to limit our educational system. Modern cynics and skeptics see no more reason for landing a man on the moon -- which we shall do -- than the cynics and skeptics of half a millennium ago saw for the discovery of this country. They see no harm in paying those to whom they entrust the minds of their children a smaller wage than is paid to those to whom they entrust the care of their plumbing.

"But the educated citizen knows how much more there is to know. He knows that knowledge is power -- more so today than ever before. He knows that only an educated and informed people will be a free people; that the ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all; and that if we can, as Jefferson put it, 'enlighten the people generally,' 'tyranny and the oppressions of mind and body will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day.' And, therefore, the educated citizen has a special obligation to encourage the pursuit of learning, to promote exploration of the unknown, to preserve the freedom of inquiry, to support the advancement of research, and to assist at every level of government the improvement of education for all Americans -- from grade school to graduate school.

"Secondly, the educated citizen has an obligation to serve the public. ... He may be a civil servant or a senator, a candidate or a campaign worker, a winner or a loser. But he must be a participant and not a spectator. At the Olympic Games, Aristotle wrote, 'It is not the finest and strongest men who are crowned, but they who enter the lists. For out of these the prize-men are selected. ' So, too, in life," he said, 'of the honorable and the good, it is they who act who rightly win the prize.'

"I urge all of you today, especially those who are students, to act -- to enter the lists of public service and rightly win (or lose) the prize. For we can have only one form of aristocracy in this country. As Jefferson wrote long ago in rejecting John Adams's suggestion of an artificial aristocracy of wealth and birth, 'It is,' he wrote, 'the natural aristocracy of character and talent.' 'And the best form of government,' he added, 'was that which selected these men for positions of responsibility.' I would hope that all educated citizens would fulfill this obligation, in politics, in government, here in Nashville, here in this State, in the Peace Corps, in the Foreign Service, in the government service, in the Tennessee Valley, in the world! You will find the pressures greater than the pay. You may endure more public attacks than support. But you will have the unequaled satisfaction of knowing that your character and talent are contributing to the direction and success of this free society.

"Third and finally, the educated citizen has an obligation to uphold the law. This is the obligation of every citizen in a free and peaceful society. But the educated citizen has a special responsibility by the virtue of his greater understanding. For whether he has ever studied history or current events, ethics or civics, the rules of the profession or the tools of the trade, he knows that only a respect for the law makes it possible for free men to dwell together in peace and progress. He knows that law is the adhesive force of the cement of society, creating order out of chaos, and coherence in place of anarchy. He knows that for one man to defy a law or court order he does not like is to invite others to defy those which they do not like -- leading to a breakdown of all justice and all order. He knows, too, that every fellow man is entitled to be regarded with decency and treated with dignity. Any educated citizen who seeks to subvert the law to suppress freedom, or to subject other human beings to acts that are less than human degrades his inheritance, ignores his learning, and betrays his obligations. Certain other societies may respect the rule of force. We respect the rule of law."

And sadly, as the author sets out to show the reader, President Kennedy's death had "a far more profoundly negative impact on the United States than is commonly realized" or appreciated.

 

This is demonstrated through the administrations of the some of the presidents that followed Kennedy (e.g. LBJ in his support of the Vietnam War and his failure, in certain respects, to be fully honest with the public; Richard Nixon; and Ronald Reagan who promoted the belief among the public of government as enemy of the people, de-emphasized the value and importance of civic virtue and public service in a democratic republic, and extolled the virtues of corporatism in creating a strong economy and society.)

Despite some editing errors I discerned in some of its pages (hence the 4 stars), this is a book I would strongly urge anyone to read who is deeply concerned about the present state of the nation, the levels of corruption in Congress from which its leadership profits at the expense of the public good, and wishes to become more constructively and purposefully engaged as a citizen to help reverse the tide of perversion that has overtaken the republic for the past 50 years. Furthermore, study the life and presidency of John F. Kennedy and take inspiration from a man who possessed rare gifts of brilliance, wit, and compassion.

The Art of Love - Elizabeth Edmondson

"THE ART OF LOVE" is a novel set in the early 1930s that reads like a mystery set in an enigma. It begins in a part of London known as Bloomsbury, where a young, struggling artist (Polly Smith) is in the process of applying for a passport. A friend of hers (Oliver Fraddon) had invited her to spend the Christmas holiday with his family in their palatial estate in the South of France. But Polly, in order to facilitate the process of getting a passport, has to obtain her birth certificate. This is when she learns that she wasn't the person she had been led to believe she was by her aunt, who had been her guardian from birth.

Polly is in her early 20s, making a living in a gallery through touching up 19th and early 20th century paintings adjudged previously as mediocre or of marginal marketability into salable assets -- and painting book covers freelance for a number of publishing companies. She's also engaged to be married to Roger Harrington, a doctor from an affluent family of doctors, whose snobbishness is enough to make one gag. Polly feels herself lucky to have met him. And as for Roger, one gets the distinct impression that Polly is something he can shape into the perfect doctor's wife once he can wring out of her what he regards as a frivolous pastime - her passion for painting and for art.

Now I can understand if, judging by the novel's title, the reader of this review is inclined to look upon this book as nothing more than a love story with the usual complicating factors to make it worthwhile to read. Well, there's much more to "THE ART OF LOVE" than meets the eye. There are also 3 other interconnected stories in the novel through a number of richly drawn out characters --- such as Cynthia Harkness, a recent divorcee set on marrying her lover, the tycoon and press magnate Sir Edward Malreward who has a dark side known only to a few; her brother Max Lytton, who on the surface appears to be one of the idle rich, but in truth has continued (from WWI) serving the government as an intelligence operative on the sly, keeping tabs on people considered suspect by Whitehall; and the Fraddon family, headed by Lord Fraddon (Oliver's father) who had to leave Britain years earlier under a cloud of scandal.

"THE ART OF LOVE" shapes itself into a potboiler that slowly is brought to a boil on the French Riviera during the Yuletide with an amazing outcome to rival any Agatha Christie novel. Reading this novel was both enthralling and entertaining. It took me to a lot of interesting places and introduced me to some rather colorful characters. I recommend "THE ART OF LOVE" to anyone who loves reading novels spiced with romance, adventure, and intrigue.

A REFLECTION ON THE 100th ANNIVERSARY OF THE U.S. ENTRY INTO WORLD WAR I

The Fledgling (WWI Centenary Series) - Charles Bernhard Nordhoff

As we approach the 100th anniversary of the U.S. entry into the First World War (April 6th, 1917), it is good to read a book like "THE FLEDGLING" whose author (Charles Nordhoff, who would later acquire fame with James Norman Hall, as one of the authors of the novel, "Mutiny on the Bounty", which in turn, was adapted to the screen and became a successful movie in 1935, starring Charles Loughton and Clark Gable) had served as a fighter pilot (pilote de chasse) on the Western Front.

 

Nordhoff begins his story with a series of letters describing the experiences he had as an ambulance driver at the Front with a French unit from January to June 1917. Then he goes on to provide the reader with some revealing and insightful perspectives on his experiences both as a trainee pilot and later in 1918 as a frontline fighter pilot in the French Aéronautique Militaire.

 

Originally published in 1919, "THE FLEDGLING" provides the reader with a fresh and sober appraisal of a war that had only been recently concluded. This freshness makes the book worth reading for anyone wanting to better understand an era only recently receded into history.

SPY IN THE SKY, 1944-1945

He Wore a Pair of Silver Wings - Thomas K. Follis

I'm grateful to Mr. Follis (the author) for making me aware of an aspect of the Second World War that has been so little remarked upon or fully appreciated: the contribution made by photo-reconnaisance pilots in the Allied war effort.

This is a wonderful and well-written book. The author describes his experiences from the time he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) as an Aviation Cadet, through the various phases of training, to his assignment (after earning his coveted silver wings) as a photo-reconnaisance pilot in the latter part of 1944, flying P-38 Lightnings out of Italy. The details of some of the harrowing missions that the author flew deep in enemy territory (at times as far as Munich, Germany, where the Luftwaffe kept some of its ME 262 jet fighters on hand to counter such incursions into its airspace) were fascinating to read. As a reader, I felt I was in the plane with Mr. Follis as he carefully went about his job of photographing enemy installations, while being ever vigilant (even with a small fighter escort) for enemy fighters and flak.

The P-38 Lightning was a remarkable airplane and the author's love for it shines through on every page. (I've been a fan of the P-38 myself since reading Martin Caidin's book about this beautiful airplane 20 years ago.) The photographs in the book (several of them from the author's personal collection) provide an extra nice touch.

This book is a wonderful tribute to Mr. Follis' comrades of the 32nd Photo Recon Squadron, 5th Photo Group, 15th Air Force (USAAF). HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

Hawker VC - The First RFC Ace: The Life of Major Lanoe Hawker VC Dso 1890 - 1916 - Tyrrel M Hawker

Originally published in 1965, "HAWKER VC - RFC ACE" is a well-balanced biography of an exceptionally talented pilot and squadron leader by his brother Tyrrel Hawker.

 

Tyrrel's older brother, Lanoe (born in 1890), began his military career when he joined the British Army in 1910. A year later, he earned an officer's commission in the Royal Engineers and proved remarkably adept in any task allotted to him, for Lanoe had a very agile, inventive mind. While in the Army, he became deeply interested in aviation. Both he and Tyrrel were members of the Royal Aero Club and as a result, both were able to visit Hendon aerodrome near London in 1910, where Hawker made the acquaintance of some of the airmen and mechanics there. A few of them were French and Lanoe (who had acquired fluency in the language from the years he had attended school in Switzerland) avidly chatted with them and was taken aloft on a flight. Lanoe would go on to earn, in March 1913, his "ticket" (i.e. certification as a pilot) from a flying school at Hendon. This allowed him to join the Royal Flying Corps (RFC), where Lanoe received more extensive flight training at the Central Flying School (CFS) at Upavon. Flight training at that time was not so much a systematic process as a haphazard series of steps designed to produce what the authorities judged to be a competent pilot. (Only later, under the pressures of wartime demands and necessity, would the Gosport system of flight training come into being which gave the pilot trainee a thorough grounding in both theory of flight, navigation, aerobatics, and flight training from a basic to an advanced level in a variety of aircraft types.)

 

Lanoe passed out of CFS in October 1914 with a high rating and was soon assigned to No. 6 Squadron, RFC. This was one of the newly formed squadrons which were soon sent to France to assist the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in its operations against German forces by gathering intelligence (via reconnaissance flights above and behind the lines) and providing artillery support.

 

Air warfare as such in late 1914 was in its embryonic stages. What I found particularly interesting in reading this book was how, over the following 2 years Lanoe saw action on the Western Front, the tempo of war hastened revolutionary developments in aviation that produced planes capable of carrying out a variety of functions above and beyond the frontlines (e.g. 2-seater planes capable of carrying machine guns, a camera, and bombs as well as single-seater 'scouts' with one or two machine guns synchronized to fire through the propeller arc - a plane which didn't exist when Lanoe first arrived in France).

 

Lanoe, while with No. 6 Squadron, flew many reconnaissance and artillery spotting missions against the Germans. It was highly stressful, hazardous work, especially as German anti-aircraft guns improved in accuracy and the emergence of the Fokker Eindekker - one of the first true 'scout' or fighter planes which carried a single forward-firing machine gun - served as a potent threat from the late summer of 1915 in challenging the RFC for air supremacy on the Western Front. Lanoe also undertook in a Bristol Scout a number of offensive patrols against enemy aircraft. On one of these patrols in July 1915, he took on single-handed 2 enemy planes, one of which he managed to shoot down in flames in plain sight of thousands of British troops. For this remarkable achievement, Lanoe was awarded the Victoria Cross, Britain's highest award for bravery in combat. (He was also awarded the Distinguished Service Order - DSO - for his overall work with No. 6 Squadron.)

 

After about a year on active service, Lanoe Hawker was promoted to Major and returned to Britain to take command of a new squadron, No. 24. No. 24 was one of the first true 'scout' or fighter squadrons in the Royal Flying Corps. Its role would be to provide escort to RFC reconnaissance and bombing aircraft to ensure the completion of their missions against the enemy. Furthermore, No. 24 was also free to engage in offensive patrols against enemy aircraft.

 

The book goes on to provide much information on the service record - through combat reports and personal letters from Lanoe Hawker himself - of No. 24 Squadron under Hawker's leadership. Though a stern commander, he was always attentive to the needs of his pilots and squadron personnel. And, though his flight time was restricted, given his responsibilities as squadron commander, Lanoe flew patrols whenever he could and inspired fierce devotion among his "chicks' as he called the pilots under his command. Indeed, from the time of No. 24 Squadron's arrival in France in February 1916 with the new DeHavilland D.H. 2 fighter, it went on to play a significant role in re-establishing air supremacy for the RFC against the Fokker Eindekker, which it outclassed in terms of flight performance. This supremacy would last well into the summer of 1916 (the Battle of the Somme) and was later lost before year's end by the introduction of superior German fighters (such as the Albatros DI and DII) and specially trained fighter squadrons (Jastas) now arriving at the front in increasing numbers.

 

Yet despite the challenges these changes in the air war placed before Hawker's squadron, it continued to maintain (notwithstanding some heavy losses it sustained) a high standard as a combat unit. Lanoe was slated for higher command at the time he undertook what proved to be his last patrol on November 23, 1916 in which he engaged in an epic 35 minute fight against the rising star of the German Luftstreitkräfte - Manfred Freiherr von Richthofen, aka 'The Red Baron' - who killed him just as he was within striking distance of reaching safety behind the British lines. He was 25 years old.

The Reporter Who Knew Too Much: The Mysterious Death of What's My Line TV Star and Media Icon Dorothy Kilgallen - Mark Shaw

In essence, this is a story of the life and death of Dorothy Kilgallen (1913-1965), who, during her lifetime, earned a reputation as one of America's toughest, most saavy, fearless, most respected, and best investigative journalists. She was also widely popular as a panelist on the highly rated TV show, 'What's My Line?'

 

Mark Shaw also sets out to establish that Kilgallen's death was not accidental as has been commonly believed. Indeed, according to him, "[i]n all likelihood, the timing of Dorothy Kilgallen’s death [on November 8, 1965] cannot be a coincidence. The fact is that it occurred within days of telling friends she possessed evidence pointing toward who killed [President Kennedy] and why. This provides good cause to believe that plans were in place to murder her on the very weekend her body was discovered.”

ONE HUNDRED YEARS LATER: REFLECTIONS ON "THE AMERICAN EXPERIENCE" IN WORLD WAR I

The Last of the Doughboys: The Forgotten Generation and Their Forgotten World War - Richard Rubin

A few minutes ago (it's now 9:29 PM EST as I write this), I finished reading this book. I felt both grateful for the considerable work the author put into travelling across the country (starting in the summer of 2003) to interview personally as many of the surviving U.S. veterans (men and women alike) of the First World War as could be found --- and thankful to hear these veterans speak of their experiences. This has a special resonance to me because my maternal grandfather (who was born in 1895) had served in France as a corporal in the U.S. Army in 1918. He passed away in the early 1970s (when I was a 3rd grader) as I was beginning to come into an awareness of what war was, courtesy of Vietnam. So, it wasn't until many years later, that I came to have a special appreciation for those Americans who served in the First World War and for the changes that war wrought on this country.

Many of the persons Richard Rubin interviewed represented a broad cross-section of those Americans (both native born and immigrant) who served in uniform between 1917 and 1918. While most of the veterans he interviewed (Army, Navy, and Marine Corps) served overseas, there were at least a couple of them who remained in the United States. Indeed, one of them enlisted toward the end of the war and before he could become more fully integrated in "the Army way", the armistice was signed and he was told he could go home. He hadn't been issued a uniform and aside from receiving transit home, the Army gave him a certificate of service and a dollar.

The author also managed to interview a couple of African American veterans of the war. One of them, was George Johnson, a 111 year old living in Richmond, California in 2005. His Army experience was largely reflective of the disdain and indignities with which many African Americans who served in the U.S military during the First World War had to deal with from their white compatriots, and the general society. Mr. Johnson's case was somewhat unique in that, as a very light-skinned African American, he could have easily passed as white, had he so chose. When he speaks with the author about the experiences his brother had with the U.S. Navy (where he was thought to be white and treated as such, until in answer to a query one of his shipmates put to him, he admitted that he was 'Negro'), it was a very sad and tragic story. One that impacted on Mr. Johnson for the rest of his life and perhaps was the contributing factor that made Mr. Johnson later see himself as white and not black. The other African American veteran the author interviewed in 2006 was Moses Hardy at age 113 in Aberdeen, Mississippi. Mr. Hardy served in one of the U.S. Army "pioneer infantry" regiments in France which saw combat during the final stages of the war.
He was in one of the few African American combat units, for most African American soldiers, upon arrival in France, were placed into labor units. (According to the book: "...only 20 percent of all African American troops sent to France in World War I were used as fighting men.") This was reflective of the then widespread belief that African American soldiers were unfit for combat duties. (Never mind the distinguished service African Americans had provided the country as soldiers and sailors since the American Revolution.)

The book concludes with a series of interviews the author had with Frank Woodruff Beckles, who ended up as the last surviving U.S. First World War veteran. His story was richly fascinating, encompassing so much of the world in which he spent so much time between the wars, working on a variety of jobs.

As we approach the 100th anniversary of the U.S. declaration of war against Germany (April 6, 1917), I would strongly urge any one reading this review to pick up a copy "THE LAST OF THE DOUGHBOYS" and treat yourself to one of the most rewarding experiences you'll ever have.

The 12.30 from Croydon (British Library Crime Classics) - Freeman Wills Crofts

What first attracted me to "THE 12.30 FROM CROYDON" was the cover art. On the cover is a teasingly attractive image of a 1930s fixed-gear airliner entering into the landing pattern a few feet above the Isle of Wight. Down below one can see the trappings of a port, docking area, and a ship in the distance. Eagerly, I picked up the novel and began to thumb through it. As advertised, this detective novel (which was originally published in 1934) "is an unconventional yet gripping story of intrigue, betrayal, obsession, justification, and self-delusion."

Rather than a whodunit, "THE 12.30 FROM CROYDON" looks at a murder of a retired businessman on an airliner from the vantage point of the killer, whose motives and mindset he shares with the reader, trying all the while to keep one step ahead of the police and remain free and beyond suspicion.

War Flying in Macedonia - Haupt Heydemarck

The lasting value of "WAR FLYING IN MACEDONIA" is its telling --- through the eyes of a German officer and aviator (Haupt-Heydemarck) --- of the experiences of a German reconnaissance/bombing squadron on the Salonika front during 1917 and 1918.   Illustrations and original photographs also convey the excitement and grim reality of life under wartime conditions in a harsh landscape with climate to match alongside an interesting array of allies (i.e. the Bulgarians and the Ottoman Turks). 

Double Decker C 666 - Haupt Heydemarck

"DOUBLE DECKER C666" is the second book in a trilogy written by the author that I much enjoyed.  Haupt-Heydemarck describes in exciting  - and at times, harrowing - detail many of the missions he flew as an observer with his pilot "Take" Engmann on long-range reconnaissance and bombing missions against the French in the Champagne Region during 1916.   Each chapter has illustrations depicting various aspects of the life Haupt-Heydemarck experienced as a frontline aviator, as well as photos taken by Haupt-Heydemarck himself, which give the war a real world immediacy.    Especially touching is the close relationship he had formed with Engmann, which made them an efficient combat team.    This book is priceless.