Thirteen Soldiers by John McCain and Mark Salter


NonfictionThirteen Soldiers by John McCain and Mark SalterReview by Molly

Authors US Sen McCain and his aide Mark Salter have created a work featuring military figures spanning from the inception of our country through many conflicts culminating with war in the middle east.

Thirteen Soldiers is a work of 364 pages including title page, Table of Contents, Afterword, Acknowledgements, Selected Bibliography and Index.

Each of the 13 soldiers featured are ones McCain holds in high regard beginning with chapter one  “Soldier of the Revolution” and 15 year old Joseph Plum Martin who, a tad hesitantly, joined the rebellion against England and served until the end of the revolution. Martin, all but forgotten in history, lived his life in obscurity and poverty receiving little recompense either monetary or reverence of fellow soldiers for his service. History has Martin’s ‘Kip’s Bay Affair’ memoir to thank for bringing that bit of our combined record to light.  While Martin was little recognized during his lifetime, his ‘A Narrative of some of the Adventures, Danger and Suffering of a Revolutionary Soldier, Interspersed with Anecdotes of Incident that Occurred Within His  Own Observation’ has provided much valuable information for later historians regarding the revolutionary war leading to the founding of the America we know today.

Joseph Plum Martin was among the first to fight for his country, and watch ungrateful fellow citizens belittle, begrudge and question the bravery, worth and need for pensions for the old soldiers who had done so much to gain the freedom for those who were  now taking that freedom for granted.

Each chapter offers insight into the life and mettle of another brave and perhaps disdained patriot.

2 “Brothers” in Arms chronicling particularly the 1812 war service of African American sailors, begins on page 37.

History has not recorded nearly as much of the history as it might have.  George Roberts, American seaman is pictured.  Charles Black, a freeborn African American sailor, son of a Revolutionary War combatant lived in Philadelphia after battling during the war of 1812.  Caught up in the ongoing strife between Irish immigrants and Philadelphia’s African American community; He suffered indignity and beating.

3 “Adventure”  featuring the deeds of Brevet Brigadier General Samuel Chamberlain begins on page 63. Chamberlain was an adventurer, flawed hero of the Mexican American War, his actions inspired novelist, playright  Carman McCarthy.  My Confession; Recollections of a Rogue, handwritten by Chamberlain is dotted with watercolor renditions painted to illustrate his descriptions of the horrors of the war.

4 “Touched with Fire” narrative re War Between  the states  begins on page  87.  1st Lieutenant Oliver Wendell Holmes 20th Mass Volunteers is pictured in uniform.

5 “Fog”  recording the service of  those engaged in the short lived Spanish American War  in begins on page  117. Medal of Honor recipient, Buffalo Soldier Capt.  Edward L Baker,  fought heroically in the battle of San Juan Heights, Cuba.

6 “A Howling Wilderness” the Phillipine American War begins on page  143.  4 February 1899 the Second Battle of Manilla initiated a war lasting 3 years with sporadic fighting continuing for some time after that.  Pictured on page 142  Major General Littleton Waller ‘Tony’ Tazewell Waller of whom legendary Marine Corps  Smedley Butler said, ‘the greatest soldier I have every known’    was court marshaled when he refused to massacre Filipino soldiers.

7  “Lost Scared Kids” a Long Way From Home” recollections of  WW1 begins on page  167.  Cpl. Elton ‘Lucky’ Mackin  who survived one of the most dangerous assignments of the action   is shown on page 166.

8  “Lone Wolf”  narrative re Marine PFC Guy Louis Gabaldon begins on page  193. Galbaldon trekked cave by cave alone to persuade 1500 Japanese to surrender on Saipan WW2 was recommended for Medal of Honor by his company commander. Posing with a Japanese family he saved from mass suicide on the island of Saipan, Galbaldon is pictured on page 192.

9 “Duty” featuring the Korean war  activity of Sgt 1class Chester D ‘Pete’ Salter   who fought hand to hand to get off a hill in Korea was wounded fighting to take back the hill while retrieving the body of the man who had saved his life  begins on page  221.

10  “Valor” narrating the Viet Nam War bravery of US soldiers, and, at time perplexing decisions of those in charge of the situation  begins on page  247.  Wild Weasels Leo Thorness as the pilot and POW fought Migs missiles and artillery to protect the lives of his wingmen.  Thorness and fellow Wild Weasel Henry Johnson sporting regulation mustaches and bush hats are pictured on page 246 with their F 105 Thud.

11  “Wounds” chronicling the bravery of members of the 14th Quartermast Detachment Pennsylvania reserve unit during their tour in the Persian Gulf War begins on page 271. Sgt Mary Rhodes Rhodes, pictured on page 270 was an army reservist whose life was forever changed  by an Iraqui Scud  missile.

12  “The Job” narrative re Combat Medics and Corspmen  begins on page  293. Few jobs are more important, dangerous or critical to the morale of a  platoon than that of the Medic.  75 medics and corpsmen have received posthumous Medals of Honor. The most decorated solder during WW1 was not Sgt Alvin York as is widely thought, but was PFC Charles Denver Barger a stretcher bearer. Combat Medic Specialist  Monica Lin Brown  a frontline medic in Afghanistan risked her life to save others during an ambush.  Brown, decorated for ‘extraordinary heroism’ is pictured.

13  “Above and Beyond” account  re special forces  begins on page 315. Navy SEAL Mikey Mansoor, Iraq  received a Bronze Star for his actions in 11 separate operations in Ramadi.  Petty Officer Monsoor is shown with his men on patrol on the streets of Ramadi on page 314.

Aferword  p 339   we tried not to sentimentalize the soldiers whose stories we chose for this book, or their wars.  They have earned our admiration without embellishing what they did or the cause they served.  American soldiers have been at war since the second year of this century… peace no matter how long it endures is always temporary.

I found this work to be filled with history, detailing often little remembered soldiers who have served to keep our country safe.  Writers McCain and Salter mentioned in the foreward of their book that they wanted to chronicle the lives of ordinary soldiers, and were not particularly interested in showcasing a superman warrior.

With some of their anecdotes there was an abundance of material to provide grist for the book, journals and other writings help flesh out the name and the actions.  For at least one little has been been recorded and little could be located for the writers to use.

Writing is done in clear, lucid prose, easily understood, easily read.   Thirteen Soldiers is a nifty work for history and/or military buffs, I bought this edition for my Nam vet husband who is a history/military buff.

I found each of the anecdotes to follow pretty much the same outline,  soldier is listed and then his/her activities in battle or other settings is set down without a lot of embroidery or personal discourse on the part of the authors.

Having said that, I do not want it to seem that the book is simply dust dry commentary, on the contrary each of the soldiers listed comes alive on the page.  I like the photos or other illustrations used throughout the book.   Seaman Charles Black is shown in his worn and battlestained attire little written record is left regarding this stalwart, I am happy the writers have included his story in their book.  What little they did glean through research now can be read by citizens today.

Thirteen Soldiers is not a story book, it is a book of stories about brave soldiers going about their duties and everyday lives, and fighting battles when combat called for them to do so.

Some of the soldiers listed in this book are ones I have read about before,  some are new to me and I am enriched with the reading.  As a student of history I find much to enjoy within the covers of Thirteen Soldiers and look forward to searching others written by John McCain and Mark Salter.

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