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 14, 1997

ISBN: 0-684-82804-9

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1997

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.



Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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