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Friday, December 16, 2011

U.S. Infantry Weapons in Combat: A book review, snapshots of soldiers and the weapons they loved

American Soldier poster
                                                                                                                                 Poster image courtesy of
Foreground:(left to right) a 1945 Army tank guard with a submachine gun, a Major with an M-1 carbine, and his radioman, with an M-1 rifle.
Step inside this book, and you slip into heavy boots in muddy foxholes, stiff fingers shivering as you field strip a frozen M-1 or clean your Browning Automatic Rifle with its .45 caliber brass brush.  Look through the sights of the guns detailed in US Infantry Weapons in Combat, and you look into the soul of a bygone era.
The book, written by historic weapon enthusiast Mark G. Goodwin, consists of 65 interviews of American infantry soldiers who participated in World War II and the Korean War.
The author and publisher both have deep emotional histories with World War II weapons--especially the M-1 Garand: Scott A. Duff, the book's publisher and author of its foreword, believes that the M-1 won World War II.

Stories range from the lighthearted to the morose, from the soldier ready to return home to the young man hankering to stay on the battlefield, but they all hang on the common thread of historic guns.
The gun details make Goodwin's book riveting:  "The first thing this reader must know about this book is that it is a gun book," according to the foreword by Duff.

The book shows the tension Korean War hero Jack Walentine felt 40 or 50 feet from the top of a ridge during a final charge, as he asked himself, "Did I shoot four, five, or six rounds?"

In another interview story, World War II vet Marion Throne’s M-1 clicked without firing, alerting German soldiers to his presence. "I couldn't believe I was so stupid to not tap the operating rod,” he said.

This is no cut-and-dry thesis of statistics quantifying the technological contribution of a certain gun to military achievements. Through the medium of guns, the soldiers interviewed paint vivid pictures of their personalities, American wartime culture, and war as a whole.

It's odd--and rather funny--to think that no one thought to write this book 20 years ago and make it required reading for some obscure college history class.

Modern warfare is all about guns, but most educational histories on American wars focus on strategic maneuvers, politics, or large-scale socioeconomic trends. Personal histories and war memoirs tend to focus on family stories and cultural clashes.

Yet as a trigger for starting to tell a war story, guns have a definite advantage both because of the intense detail with which infantrymen learned their weapons, and because of the emotional attachment soldiers had to the only thing between them and inflicted or inflicting death.

Infantrymen spent most of their time clutching a firearm; it's impossible to understand their thoughts and relationships with their enemies and friends without understanding their perceptions of their guns...

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