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Thread: Anton Myrer's "Once An Eagle"

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    Council Member 120mm's Avatar
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    Default Anton Myrer's "Once An Eagle"

    Finally getting to reading it; not too bad, took me 30 years to actually get around to reading it

    Great book, one passage in particular just leaps out; when COL Caldwell describes precisely what is wrong with "The American Way of War" from around pp. 218 to pp. 221 in the hard-bound version.

    "We stubbornly, sublimely refuse to see man as he is, Sam-we're so damned certain about how he OUGHT to be."

    Much more, there. There appears to be a "truth" every 10 pages or so.

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    Council Member RTK's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by 120mm View Post
    Finally getting to reading it; not too bad, took me 30 years to actually get around to reading it

    Great book, one passage in particular just leaps out; when COL Caldwell describes precisely what is wrong with "The American Way of War" from around pp. 218 to pp. 221 in the hard-bound version.

    "We stubbornly, sublimely refuse to see man as he is, Sam-we're so damned certain about how he OUGHT to be."

    Much more, there. There appears to be a "truth" every 10 pages or so.
    Far and away the best book on military leadership I've ever read. We all know our Sam Damons and we've also met our Courtney Massingales.

    Little remembered fact: Sam Elliot played Sam Damon in the NBC miniseries with the same name in 1976.
    Example is better than precept.

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    Council Member Tom Odom's Avatar
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    Little remembered fact: Sam Elliot played Sam Damon in the NBC miniseries with the same name in 1976.
    I remember it well and I keep hoping that someday they will replay it. For its day, in the mid-70s when the President said you could not wear a uniform in DC, it was the Band of Brothers or Private Ryan equivalent.

    Too damn few Damons

    Too damn many Massengales

    Tom

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    Council Member sullygoarmy's Avatar
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    I'm probably the only guy in the military who will admit this but I personally didn't like the book. Read it after Gulf War I when it came out on Colin Powell's reading list. I get the concept of the Damon's vs Massengales but I didn't personally think the book was the be all end all on military leadership that everyone propped it up to be.

    That being said, it fits in with the current debate about generalship and leadership. If all we have are Massengales at the top, and they promote those most like them, then how can we ever get out of that cycle? That was kind of the lesson I took away from Once and Eagle. Sure there are those few Damons running around out there but they are rare. The Military breeds Massengales.

    Maybe that's why I'm not a fan of the book...its too close to the truth.
    "But the bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet withstanding, go out to meet it."

    -Thucydides

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    Default Damons and...

    Hi Sully--

    Perhaps, the reason you didn't like the book is that both Damon and Massengale are too close to being stereotypes. Few people are as good as Sam Damon or as self-centered as Courtney Massengale and many - especially generals - have elements of both.

    I have known quite a few generals in my time - a few pretty well and a couple who I consider friends. One who, I think, embodies the notion that both characteristics are present was Max Thurman. I worked for General Thurman, as well as his two predecessors in SOUTHCOM, and have written about his leadership in Panama. He was vain, short sighted, brilliant, did not suffer fools, extremely competent, bigotted (but not always), and self-critical. In the end, I found that I respected him more for his Damon qualities and could forgive his Massengaleness. If he were still alive, I would be proud to work for him/serve with him again.

    BTW I really liked Once an Eagle

    Cheers

    JohnT

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    Council Member Tom Odom's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by John T. Fishel View Post
    Hi Sully--

    Perhaps, the reason you didn't like the book is that both Damon and Massengale are too close to being stereotypes. Few people are as good as Sam Damon or as self-centered as Courtney Massengale and many - especially generals - have elements of both.

    I have known quite a few generals in my time - a few pretty well and a couple who I consider friends. One who, I think, embodies the notion that both characteristics are present was Max Thurman. I worked for General Thurman, as well as his two predecessors in SOUTHCOM, and have written about his leadership in Panama. He was vain, short sighted, brilliant, did not suffer fools, extremely competent, bigotted (but not always), and self-critical. In the end, I found that I respected him more for his Damon qualities and could forgive his Massengaleness. If he were still alive, I would be proud to work for him/serve with him again.

    BTW I really liked Once an Eagle

    Cheers

    JohnT
    John T

    The book as really is a metaphor for those conflicts in all of us, offering a goal to strive for and an evil to avoid.

    Best

    Tom

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    Default Excellent book

    My father recommended Once an Eagle to me years ago. Yes, it has some problems (Massengale is hardly believable at times,) but overall the book is excellent. If the military can produce Massengales, it can also produce Damons. Sometimes when I'm confronted with a difficult decision, I ask myself what would Sam do? If nothing else, Damon's nickname, "The Night Clerk" might be one of the best of all time. It makes me smile to read the posts here and know others have had the pleasure of enjoying a great read. Anybody out there challenged by the book's historical and literary allusions? It sure stretched my knowledge at times.

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    Council Member Rob Thornton's Avatar
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    You know what I liked best about the book was the hard choices it dealt with, what I still look back at is the span of time it covers - and the changing conditions of the Army, the thing I always had a hard time with though was Damon's sacrifices (his other nickname being "Sad Sam" - but you know there is probably allot of truth in it, and that is what makes it a classic. We put it on the list for military leaders, but how great would it be if were on the list of those who send the boys to wars, not just those who lead them on the ground.

    I heard that the author said in a speech at USMA that he used MacArthur and Bradley as the raw material for his arch types. It may be a stretch, but I still like the idea - it makes them more real.

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    Once an Eagle is the best piece of military fiction written. I read it during a CAX a few years back and had that been the only thing I accomplished in the entire exercise, it would still have been probably the best exercise I conducted in terms of leadership value.

    I particularly thought the "career path" of Sam Damon(a term that both I find and Damon would find repugnant) was interesting. Damon spent his time being an observer, a reader of the classics, history, political science, manuals, and of foreign languages. He didn't mess around with the EWS correspondence course so he could make Major. He made himself an expert, which is actually the bare minimum.

    Many Marines quote John LeJeune when they speak of the relationship between the officer and the enlisted needs to parallel that of the scholar and student.

    Well, my fellow warriors, it would seem that for officers to hold up their end of the bargain, they themselves must be scholars. Anything less is criminal negligence of our obligations.

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    My favorite military fiction book of all time. Should be mandatory reading for all first year cadets and OCS candidates.

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