BLACK '41: The West Point Class of 1941 and the American Triumph in World War II by Bill Yenne

BLACK '41: The West Point Class of 1941 and the American Triumph in World War II

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At some juncture, the idea of tracking the West Point grads who became commissioned officers in the US Army or its Air Corps on the eve of America's entry into WW II must have seemed a good one. To a great extent, though, the effect of the episodic log at hand is akin to that of a hometown newspaper that duly records the activities of local lads--and trivializes the great events in which they play typically peripheral roles. While Yenne (co-author, SuperFortress, 1988) struggles mightily with the material he gathered from surviving members of the West Point class of 1941 (known as Black '41 for reasons no one can now recall), he fails to endow the chronological narrative with either focus or significance, much less drama. A few of his shavetails found themselves in combat within months of pinning on second lieutenant's bars, and several, including Alexander R. Nininger (posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor), became almost immediate casualties. Most, however, simply soldiered in relative obscurity on a host of foreign fields and stateside posts. Following the war, the still-young professionals hitched their wagons to a star, so to speak, getting their promotional tickets punched at the Pentagon, embassy billets, and other duty stations, including in some cases front-line commands in Korea and Vietnam. Only one man from the 442-strong class became a full general (the late George S. Brown, also appointed chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1974), though a handful of others--like Edward S. Rowny (who made a name for himself as a disarmament negotiator) and William T. Seawell (Pan Am's sometime CEO)--achieved substantial measures of celebrity. As a practical matter, the careers of the author's subjects have little import. Nor does Yenna's wide-angle yet sketchy account succeed in putting their personal odysseys into perspectives that could shed light on the Long Grey Line's putative commitment to duty, honor, country.

Pub Date: Dec. 7th, 1991
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Wiley