I highly recommend Company Commander: The Classic Infantry Memoir of World War II by Charles B. MacDonald. At just 21 years of age, Captain Charles B. MacDonald first commanded I Company, 3 Battalion 23rd Infantry, 2nd Infantry Division from October 1944 to January 1945 and later G Company, 2 Battalion 23rd Infantry, 2nd Infantry Division from March to May 1945. Written in 1947 when recollections were still sharp and fresh, the memoir resulted in a very detailed account of what it was like to take command of a line infantry company and lead it into battle. The book gives us the template for writing a personal military memoir.
It is by far the finest memoir of any junior officer in World War II. Charles MacDonald does a great job of keeping his focus on his own experiences. He does not speculate or wastes my time by giving conjecture on the big picture. We only have first-hand information from the events of his personal participation. He sticks to what life was like for a junior officer in command of an infantry company, sleepless, hungry, dirty, stressful, and very dangerous. He takes us from the Siegfried Line in the Ardennes, through the Battle of the Bulge, and to the end of the war in the Czechoslovakia.
This book is a must-read for all army officers who seek to command at company-level and it is informative for military historians as well. It is still required reading at West Point and on the company level officer (second lieutenant, first lieutenant, and captain) recommended reading list by the U.S. Army today. Upon this book’s publication in 1947, Charles B. MacDonald was invited to join the U.S. Army Center of Military History as a civilian historian, the start of a career during which he wrote three of the official histories of World War II in Europe and supervised the preparation of others. The book is simply the best.
Leadership Lessons Brought to Life
John Antal’s “7 Leadership Lessons of the American Revolution: The Founding Fathers, Liberty, and the Struggle for Independence”. The author uses seven case studies to bring the lessons to life. The case studies are in narrative story form.
He is an excellent story-teller who paints a clear picture that brings each story alive.The stories make for great illustrations for the lessons learned. The lessons learned are as applicable to the business enterprise as to military leadership. He does a wonderful job of demonstrating liberty as a motivator demonstrating the importance of the person.
Strongly Recommend the Book
While tempted to do to a chapter by chapter summary of the book, I won’t. If you love history if you love the USA if you have a sense of patriotism and if you enjoy the study of leadership you will like the book. I strongly recommend “7 Leadership Lessons of the American Revolution: The Founding Fathers, Liberty, and the Struggle for Independence”.
Over 1400 Interviews
The late Stephen E. Ambrose used over 1400 interviews for his history of the D-Day invasion.
This “oral history” approach brings the reader into the heart of the battle through eye-witness testimony. The tales of the front line infantryman sweeps the reader up into their personal histories.
Individual and Small Unit Stories
The story is told from the individual and small unit level often failing to describe larger unit actions or explaining how the individual actions fit into the total picture. Let is shared of what happened on the Canadian and British beachheads. Historical controversies are often given minimal coverage. These are simply good stories of many individual experiences.
The book is not a textbook for lessons on strategic decision making or to answer big picture questions. Ambrose touches on these larger issues in a general focus, but that is not his focus.
Courage of Small Unit Leaders
This is a book about the American achievement in Normandy. The individual courage and independence of the American small unit leaders is the big story of this book.
Ambrose is right on target as he tells the story of their braveness and toughness. I originally read and reviewed the book in 1999.
Jungle in Black is the memoir of Steve Maguire. McGuire was a young, gung-ho, Airborne Ranger who lead a 9th Infantry Division Battalion Reconnaissance Platoon in the 6th Battalion, 31st Infantry in the Mekong Delta in 1969.
The story opens with drawn-out and generic combat descriptions that lead up to Maguire’s wounding. The rest of the book covers his treatment. We learn that an exploding Vietcong mine blinded him for life.
An Honest First-person Account
This is an honest first-person account that never wallows in self-pity. Unfortunately, he in no way offers enough background about his life to round out his person.
He missed the mark with his book. He paints a broad description of the early stages of rehab. The description covers the usual male boasting, lust for nurses and hopes dashed by physicians not healing or restoring his sight. He fails to feature how he coped with his loss of sight and completed his bachelor and master’s degree and began working on a doctorate in psychology (not mentioned until in an epilog).
This could have been a very inspirational and motivational story; instead, it’s just another war story memoir.
He had seen men enslaved, and seen death in battle on a terrible scale. So when a young, unknown poet named Emily Dickinson wrote to ask whether he thought her verse was “alive”, Thomas Wentworth Higginson – a critic for The Atlantic Monthly and a decorated Union veteran – knew he was seeing poetry that lived and breathed like nothing he had seen before.
Higginson was immediately awed by Emily Dickinson and went on to become her editor, mentor, and one of the reclusive poet’s closest confidantes. The two met only twice, but exchanged hundreds of deeply personal letters over the next twenty-five years; they commented on each other’s work, mulled over writers they admired, and dazzled each other with nimble turns of phrase. After she died, he shepherded the first collected edition of her poetry into publication and was a tireless champion of her work in his influential Recent Poems column for The Nation.
Later generations of literary scholars have dismissed Higginson as a dull, ordinary mind, blaming him for the decision to strip some of the distinctive, unusual structure from Dickinson’s poems for publication. However, Brenda Wineapple offers a portrait of Higginson that is far beyond ordinary. He was a widely respected writer, a fervent abolitionist, and a secret accomplice to John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry; wounded in the first year of the Civil War, he returned to service as colonel of the first federally authorized regiment of former slaves. White Heat reveals a rich, remarkable friendship between the citizen soldier and the poet, a correspondence from which Dickinson drew tremendous passion and inspiration – and which she credited, more than once, with saving her life.
Brenda Wineapple is the author and editor of five books, including the award-winning Hawthorne: A Life and Sister Brother: Gertrude and Leo Stein. Her essays, articles, and reviews have appeared in The American Scholar, The New York Times Book Review, Parnassus, Poetry, and The Nation. She teaches in the MFA programs at Columbia University and The New School in New York.