'87 Sir

Thirty years of service ----USNA Class of 1987 '87 Sir

Monday, December 28, 2015

It's been a year....

It's been a year since our sweet Courtney finished her journey here on Earth and returned home to God.  In that time our family has undergone many changes, begun new challenges, and generally tried to reorient so much of our lives that was built around the daily care and love for our daughter.

It has not been easy.  For many weeks, Mary or I would wander into Courtney's room at random times in the evening to check on her...except she wasn't there.

We would find little reminders like her wooden spoons still in the silverware drawer or a pair of socks that sunk to the bottom of the sock drawer.  

I found myself randomly saying the words to Fox in Socks or Green Eggs and Ham remembering how much she would giggle when I read them to her.

Of course, I did remember that there would be no more swine flu diapers to change, or no more spinach souffl├ęs sneezed at me and I thought "I won't miss those, for sure."

But Courtney was truly the heart of our home and her presence is missed on a daily basis.

However, life goes on, and I know that's how Courtney would want it.  She was always full of joy and laughter and even in the roughest times would smile for her mom or me..and especially her big brother.

We know she is in a better place, with no more seizures, pain, suffering, or sorrow.  She knows only joy, peace and happiness...as it should be...she was a true prayer warrior here on Earth and continues her prayer service in heaven.

We miss her and love her.

“Day is done, Gone the sun,
From the lake, From the hill,
From the sky.
All is well, Safely rest,
God is nigh.”

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

This is detailed and exhausting military history.

To call some books a tome does not really do them justice.  This is one of those books.  

David Glantz, a retired Army Colonel who is probably the foremost expert on the Soviet Red Army in the West, has written the first volume of what will probably stand the test of time as the most exhaustive study of this titanic battle ever written.

And I am not just talking about the time it takes to read and truly absorb the truly amazing level of detail Mr. Glantz and his co-author have provided in this book..oh, no, it took me almost 2 years to get through this book, on and off with my other reading efforts as it is truly a labor of love for Mr. Glantz.

Like every book, it has the good, bad, and ugly.

First the good--this book, the first of a four volume trilogy..WHAT, a four volume trilogy yea, you heard me..there is so much going on that it takes four volumes to get through it all.  What Mr. Glantz has accomplished here is the definitive tale of Germany's Operation Blue-the summer 1942 offensive meant to capture the Russian Caucasus oil fields and the city of Stalingrad to bring the Soviet war machine to a halt.  By mining previously unavailable Soviet and German archives, the book offers a truly fresh perspective on this campaign and how the Germans and Soviets fought one of the most titanic battles in history. 

It is nearly incomprehensible to Americans these days to think that nearly 2,000,000 men fought over this city during the course of the entire campaign...that's  almost as big as the current Russian and American armies COMBINED.  

The amount of detail in this book is amazing, and the analysis by Glantz and House is really first rate, it will change how soldiers and historians view those crucial battles and operations that set the stage for the meat grinder of street fighting in Stalingrad.  If you wonder why militaries try to avoid combat in cities, this battle will make you understand.

The bad...well, I have to say I love maps, and this book has plenty of maps...but they are, for the most part unreadable maps.  Glantz has tried to reproduce the actual German operational maps..but they look like really bad photocopies and are practically useless.  For all the awesome work put in this book, a decent cartographer would have been welcome.  The pictures are ok, but they also look like bad photocopies.  The University of Kansas Press...associated with the Army War College---usually produces first rate books...the maps and illustrations in this book were disappointing...hopefully these will be corrected in the succeeding volumes.

The ugly...well, there really isn't any...I mean this book is truly for the SERIOUS grognard, it is not light and fluffy reading...these four volumes weigh in nearly 3000 pages...yup that's right...nearly as many pages as were wasted on Obamacare...and that doesn't even count the end notes and bibliography.  No doubt about it...Glantz is passionate about this subject and no one will produce a study of this battle with his breadth or depth of experience and research...

If you want to learn about the REAL part of World War II...and by that I mean the Eastern Front where the war was really decided, then this is an important book.  Glantz leaves no stone unturned and really sets the stage for the follow-on volumes.

Oh, yea, I am already on volume 2 and it's gonna be epic.  Now the real battle begins...

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Grouchy Historian's Favorite Books of 2015

So another year draws to a close, so in addition to eggnog, tinsel, and useless speeches from a lame duck President, it's time for the best books of the year from my extensive reading list.

This year I actually achieved my goal of 36 books a little early, thanks to a new and extended commute and the wonders of Books on CD....what a wonderful way to read (listen) to fiction.  Haven't really gotten into listening to non-fiction yet...a bit to OCD for that..I like to flip to maps and pictures too much.

I will say this was a particularly tough year to choose..there were so many good books, many of them gloriously sent by my very good comrades at the New York Journal of Books where I had another gratifying year of reviewing some really thoughtful books...some of which I will confess I am still finishing up.  I look forward to another awesome year of their professionalism and enthusiasm for all things bibliophile.

SO, my favorite non-fiction has to be...Ian Toll's two volumes on the Pacific War.  Mr. Toll is rapidly becoming to the Pacific War what Rick Atkinson is to the ETO--the author of the definitive trilogy on the conflict.  Like his counterpart, Mr. Toll has an excellent blend of narrative history, "you were there" stories, and historical analysis to make these really fine volumes.  There is a definite skill to blending the sweeping naval battles with the grinding island assaults and Mr. Toll does this very well...the section on the invasion of Tarawa in the Conquering Tide is nothing sort of magnificent.  He has one more volume in the works covering the final 2 years of the war...I look forward to it very much.

Two honorable mentions were 13 Hours which I listened too and was very hard to distinguish from a Tom Clancy novel...it's going to make an awesome movie.  AND...well, let's face it...like I said, West Point can't play football, but they do awesome military history.  Their West Point History of World War II Volume 1 was a truly awesome work, made even better when you consider it's both a hardcover for us Luddites and a very cool interactive book for the twitchy generation of millennials now attending the service academies...which is ironic since the company making the interactive book is run by a Canoe U graduate.

Fiction...well that was a bit tougher, actually.  Ok, I'll admit it.  I picked a Nora Roberts book.  Hey, don't be a H8er..I am a huge fan of her JD Robb series and I blame my significant otter, who always wants to listen to one of these on a long car trip instead of Tom Clancy.  So I picked this from my library on Audio CD on her recommendation and it occupied almost an entire week of commuting.  The lady who reads them is awesome and as usual, Nora can take a pretty basic story like a treasure hunt combined with a murder mystery and hook you in with her usual excellent dialogue, sympathetic characters and awesome secondary players.  Hey, millions of chicks who buy her books can't be wrong, can they?  Literary masterpieces they aren't, but they are fun, engaging, and help you from wanting to run over the nitwit who cuts you off in traffic.  

The runner up was my old pal Harry Turtledove.  His new series (seriously, the guy only writes trilogies or trilogies of trilogies) of alternate history, one of my favorite fictional genres, goes off in an interesting direction--what if Truman had dropped the bomb on China during the Korean War?  In his usual fashion, Turtledove bounces around the globe, telling the story of a nuclear WWIII, but without ballistic missiles or thermonuclear weapons, and how ordinary people might have reacted to dozens of Hiroshimas around the globe.  A little pedestrian, but nonetheless interesting, and of course Turtledove has mastered the cliffhanger to keep you waiting in anticipation for the next book.