MESSENGERS OF THE LOST BATTALION by Gregory Orfalea

MESSENGERS OF THE LOST BATTALION

The Heroic 551st and the Turning of the Tide at the Battle of the Bulge
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 A son's record of his long, wide-ranging search to uncover his dead father's army experiences during WW II. Poet and historian Orfalea attended the first reunion of the 551st Battalion, hoping to find out something about his father, but discovered many mysteries instead. Why was this heroic airborne unit sent to its destruction against a well-entrenched German unit, and why were their achievements ignored in military history? During the Battle of the Bulge, with few other units not already pinned down or shattered, the 551st was sent against fanatically determined German forces in a counterattack that lasted five days, blunted a part of the German assault, took hundreds of prisoners, and left only 110 of the battalion's 643 soldiers standing when it ended. Despite this extraordinary record, the unit was disbanded, its records were destroyed, its bravery went unrecognized, and its very existence was swiftly forgotten by the army bureaucracy. Orfalea's investigations reveal the men of the 551st to have been exuberant loners, distrustful of authority; many had served time in the military stockade. Unattached to other Allied forces, they were, in many ways, seen as a rowdy, defiant bunch and thus, perhaps, dispensable. Despite the army's neglect, the unit received the Croix de Guerre from Charles de Gaulle, and a monument was erected to them by the Belgians in recognition of their heroic efforts. Orfalea, who writes vividly and with great detail about the men of the 551st and their battles, asserts that the army, ever reluctant to acknowledge past injustice in the ranks, is still unwilling (despite the entreaties of 551st survivors and several generals) to recognize the unit's remarkable achievement. A fine military history of a heroic, hitherto forgotten unit finally brought to light.

Pub Date: March 14th, 1997
ISBN: 0-684-82804-9
Page count: 432pp
Publisher: Free Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1997




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