Thursday, January 19, 2017

Far Away in the Sky (three Stars)

David Koren went to Nigeria's eastern region as a Peace Corps volunteer, a school teacher, in the 1960s. After he completed his tour he went back to the United States but when Nigeria was torn apart by civil war he took an opportunity to help with the humanitarian relief efforts underway to save the women and children of the breakaway state of Biafra. This is his story.

Koren does a great job talking about his work with children in the eastern region, his own personal life on leaving the Peace Corps and the problems his group found at Sao Tome on arrival there. I like his attitude... when Nigeria needed teachers he was a teacher. When the airlift needed people to organize the aid coming in for Biafra he helped sort out the warehouses. When they needed aircraft mechanics more than they needed warehouse minders he became a mechanic. And in all of this Koren does a great job of telling the story of the airlift itself, a dangerous job given the problems involved in airlifting aid at night to indifferent airfields in Biafra, flying older aircraft and doing it all during the ever-present threat of Nigerian MiGs. A great memoir. Illustrated with black and white photos.

Monday, January 16, 2017

This is the Army, Mr. Jones! (Five Stars)

What a unique book! Chrisman, serving in the Pacific during WWII, didn't simply use his one-page V-Mails to write letters to his family and friends... he used it to draw cartoons about his service and military life in general. And Harry Chrisman was a REALLY good cartoonist. So when Sheryl Jones put these one-pagers together in a single book (with some background on each of the cartoons) it becomes something that is entertaining, educational AND funny. 

Thunder in the Mountains (Five Stars)

This book looks at the short conflict which took place in southwest West Virginia when violence escalated, first when private detectives in the pay of the coal companies got into a gunfight with locals in Matewan when the detectives came out to evict the families of miners trying to unionize. and then exploding when the local pro-labor constable, Sid Hatfield, was shot down on the steps of the courthouse in Welch by detectives in broad daylight as he was about to go to trial. The detectives were freed on bail.

The situation rapidly spun out of control as miners collected their rifles and pistols and decided to march to free other miners being held on murder charges related to the Matewan incident. It became clear that state police could not stop the men and there was no National Guard in West Virginia at the time, so federal troops were brought in to restore order or, if necessary, fight the miners. General Mitchell sent fighters and bombers to suppress the uprising. The United States appeared to be on the verge of another civil war.

This is an amazing story, one I was only vaguely  familiar with. Mr. Savage has written a great book on this topic, bringing several of the characters to life discussing the political and social issues involved in coal mining in the 1920s. His book is detailed without getting bogged down in details. If you only want to read one book on this topic then this should be the one. Includes black and white photos.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Fires of October (three stars)

There is a lot of good information about the planned U.S. invasion of Cuba in this book, which includes information about Soviet tactical nukes which was not known until relatively recently. However, the book also contains simple errors, such as describing the division of Cuba into three military regions, two eastern and one central (by the description of the areas, it was clear that one of the easterns should have been a western). There are a few other errors of this sort.

The invasion of Cuba was in response to the siting of intermediate- and medium-range ballistic missiles on the island, posing an immediate threat to the southeast and Midwest and a threat to all of CONUS short of Seattle once the intermediates became operational. The U.S. planned a combined amphibious-air assault-airborne operation which would rapidly take control of key airfields and other objectives in the vicinity of Havana. Unfortunately, the information reads more like a PowerPoint presentation than a description of a potentially-hard-fought and courageous battle who save the United States from the threat of nuclear annihilation. Still, an excellent reference if you ever want to write an alternative history novel about the invasion

The Reporter Who Knew Too Much (two stars)

I started out REALLY liking this book, as the author has done a good job talking about Kilgallen, an exceptional investigative reporter and entertainer during the 1930s, 40s and 50s. However, with the assassination of President Kennedy she decided that the Warren Commission and the justice system were doing their jobs. She was, as I said, an accomplished journalist and perhaps she did have a file that she took with her to the set of What's My Line (where was it when she was on-camera?") but how is it that Kilgallen was right and everybody else was wrong? Where was the proof? Her columns dealing with the death of president were more along the lines of editorials than proof of anything nefarious. And her own death (which we know is coming because of the helpful countdown) just "proves" she was on the right track and "had to be eliminated." I was still going to give this book a chance but it just droned on and on and on about toxicology reports and hearsay evidence and so on and so on as a tool used by conspiracy nutjobs to "prove" things got no physical proof of. By the way, if Kilgallen was such a great reporter why didn't she discuss Oswald's attempted assassination of General Walker a few days before the JFK assassination? For the same reason NO conspiracy nutjobbers talk about it: because it contradicts the "Oswald was an innocent patsy" theory.

I found that I had to move on. I recommend the author do the same.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Gold Key Archives: Star Trek Vol. 1 (Four Stars)

I remember the first time I saw these... the artwork is decent but the writing is awful. Someone who never watched Star Trek wrote the dialog (Spock: "Thank a thousand star heavens!" Kirk: "Great Novas," Scotty: "Bejabbers!") and some plot devices (lunar hours and galaxy minutes) but it they're still worth looking at.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Now the story can be told, 25 years later...

In 1990 I was deployed with Bravo Battery, 2nd Battalion, 1st Air Defense Artillery. Officially, we were equipped with the third generation of the Hawk surface-to-air missile system. However, a handful of us knew that we were also equipped with a second, secret weapon system which used missiles identical to the Hawk but employed a detection, identification and engagement system based on a totally different principle. It was called Alpha and I was only given permission to write about it in 2015.

Secrets and Scuds follows Bravo Battery from Fort Bliss to southern Iraq, the misadventures of its soldiers and the Catch-22s of the Army. Tent City, Baghdad Betty, an accidental missile launch, scud attacks, IQAF MiG-25s, disguised generators and  a close call on a fratricide incident all occupy the pages Secrets and Scuds. Now available on

The book is illustrated with photos by the author and cartoons.