Book Reviews

SGT. RECKLESS, America’s War Horse, By Robin Hutton, Regnery Publishing, Washington, D.C. (2014)

This is a love story to a horse. If you are a Marine, a former Marine, the spouse of a Marine, or if you or someone you know fought in the Vietnam War, “Sgt. Reckless” will deserve a place in your library. If you are an animal lover, it also will touch your heart. Robin Hutton is an enthusiastic writer who obviously loves this horse, a small Mongolian chestnut-colored mare with a white blaze down her forehead and three white stockings.

She was named “Reckless” by the 5th Platoon of the Marines after their radio call sign and the recoilless rifle, which the Marines called Reckless. She was originally bred to be a racehorse named Ah-Chim-Hai (Flame of the Morning) in Korea and was purchased for $250 by the commander of the Recoilless Rifle Platoon, Eric Petersen. This was a large amount of money for a Marine lieutenant in 1952. He purchased her because the unit badly needed help hauling heavy guns and artillery and supplies over Korea’s rough terrain. Trucks could not do the job, but Reckless did.

Robin Hutton does an admirable job describing the hardships Reckless and the Marines endured, especially in the “Battle of the Nevada Cities” in March 1953. It is incredible how that little horse endured the loud artillery noises, the rough, slippery terrain and the bullets constantly erupting around her to deliver the supplies to the Marines at the front. Most of the time she made the trips by herself.

Reckless was not only a warhorse, she charmed all who knew her with her personality and sense of humor. She also loved Coke, beer, candy, peanut butter, coffee and whatever snacks and junk food the Marines were eating and would share with her. She even ate the centerpiece of flowers along with the cake at one of her ceremonies. But she wouldn’t eat the chow of a feed company that wanted her endorsement. She also had a strong dislike of dogs because some had attacked her in her youth. Goats reminded her of dogs, so she didn’t like them either. But the Marines were her family and she loved them all.

Her accomplishments, not only in this battle, but also throughout the Korean War, earned Reckless the respect of the Marines who served with her, and also the unprecedented honor of being officially named a Marine sergeant. Never before or since has this honor been given to any animal.

One monument has been erected to Reckless at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Triangle, Va. This was dedicated on July 26, 2013, one day before the 60th anniversary of the end of the Korean War.  It was quite a festive occasion with great ceremony attended by many Marine officers and Hutton, the author who has been a dedicated fundraiser for the monument. The monument, a life-size model of Reckless climbing a hill with ammunition strapped to her back, was dedicated not only to Reckless, but to all the fallen heroes of the Korean War.

Another monument and grave marker is to be erected at Camp Pendleton in Oceanside, Calif., where Reckless spent her retirement years before her death in 1968 at age 20. The Sgt. Reckless Memorial Fund, in partnership with the Camp Pendleton Historical Society, is completing the process of raising $135,000. The date for the installation and ceremony is still pending.

As Hutton has said, “Reckless was not just a horse, she was a Marine.”

~ Peggy Kiefer

CHESAPEAKE

By James Michener

Random House, New York (1978)

Thirty-six years. The book is older than many of the inhabitants in the wondrous country it describes — the wondrous country that forms the backbone and heart of Outlook by the Bay.

People either love Michener or they find his writing to be overwhelming.  But if you live anywhere near the Maryland and treasure the Chesapeake Bay, you owe it to yourself to read or to reread Michener’s Chesapeake.  Though centered primarily in the area of the Eastern Shore where the Choptank River flows into the Bay, the entire Bay comes alive as the area is settled starting in the 16th century and continuing right up to the book’s publication prior to the Watergate scandal.

Read about the Native Americans, the settlers from England and Africa and some from other parts of the English Colonies we now know as the United States. Farmers, hunters, sailors and your reviewer’s favorite, passages about the watermen of the Bay. Tobacco and slavery constitute a continuous thread as well. And with the watermen you’ll learn of the crabs, the geese, the ducks and the oysters they harvest. You’ll learn of the ships and boats they construct and the homes they build to develop and to serve this precious watershed. And you’ll grow further with the strong and able women without whom the founding men of the Bay could not have succeeded.

Meet the Steeds and their Catholic heritage, the Paxmores and their Quaker heritage along with the Turlocks and the Caveneys. You’ll also meet Pentaquod, a Native American, and Cudjo, the slave. There are pirates, planters, slaves, abolitionists and politicians, all of the fascinating characters.

True to his reputation as a writer, and as he does so well, Mr. Michener weaves history into the tale, providing a spellbinding story coupled with an enriching learning experience.

~ Al Northrop

RULES OF CIVILITY: A NOVEL

By Amor Towles

Viking Penguin Publishers, New York (2012)

Before George Washington was 16, he wrote 110 rules of proper social behavior such as, “Shift not yourself in the Sight of others nor Gnaw your nails,” or, “Do not laugh too loud or too much at any Public Spectacle.”

This book of rules was carried by handsome banker, Tinker Grey, on New Year’s Eve of 1938, when he happened into a jazz bar in Greenwich Village. Two young ladies were out on the town with their total funds of $3. The chance encounter changes the course of all three lives, as well as the face of one of them,

Katie, 25, a quick-witted intellectual of Russian descent, works in a secretarial pool, just making ends meet, but is never at a loss for a cocktail, or three. Her charm and cleverness eventually land her a high-profile position with a new, flashy magazine in Manhattan.

Eve is Katie’s boarding house roommate. She’s a strong-willed, attractive Midwesterner, who is fiercely independent and destined for a life of luxury and extensive travel, with a hitch.

The dance between Katie and Ann, a middle-aged beauty of great wealth, is an unusual interaction. Ann being the godmother, mistress, nemesis and overly generous admirer.

Wallace is introduced to Kate on a blind date. Their later encounters lead to a poignant friendship involving Kate learning all about guns and how to use them.

Dicky, is a younger social butterfly with a hilarious bathtub connection who displays a skill as an expert paper airplane maker and flight engineer (into a neighboring pianist’s apartment).

Katie encounters several right and wrong friendships, which influence her path and lead her into romantic mischief, harrowing experiences and glamorous New York society,

The underlying theme of Towels’ first novel seems to be how much people expose or disguise their true lives and how much is actually reality or deception. The serendipity of many plots in this very well-constructed novel is brought together with profound conclusions – no loose ends and “justice for all.”

The mark of a good book is in missing the characters once you’ve finished. I felt 335 pages were way too few and I’m hoping for a sequel.

~Carol M. Van Epps

 

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