In the first of a planned two-volume account, McManus (Military History/Univ. of Missouri, Rolla; Alamo in the Ardennes: The Untold Story of the American Soldiers Who Made the Defense of Bastogne Possible, 2005, etc.) offers a nuts-and-bolts chronicle of the only regiment to serve in every American war since the 19th century.
The author begins with the regiment’s arrival in Japan in September 1950, two months after North Korea’s invasion of the South. A victim of America’s frantic post–World War II demobilization, the 7th was so understaffed that authorities swept up 2,000 young South Korean men and shipped them to Japan to fill out the ranks. In November the regiment came ashore in North Korea to support advancing UN forces. Within weeks disaster struck as massive Chinese forces attacked, and the 7th endured brutal assaults in bitter cold defending its bridgehead, the only refuge for Marines retreating south. After its evacuation, the regiment joined UN forces south of the 38th parallel, and McManus recounts the subsequent brutal two-and-a-half-year war of attrition in 60 pages packed with anecdotes and small-unit clashes. When the 1950s reorganization replaced regiments with battle groups, the 7th was split between two divisions. Only one battalion served in Vietnam, and McManus dutifully records its four years (1966–70) of frustrating combat. Reforms during the ’80s—of which the author clearly approves—converted the army into today’s high-tech, all-volunteer force. Unlike cynical Korean- and Vietnam-era soldiers, the Gulf War professionals proclaimed fierce patriotism and absolute conviction that they were defending freedom. In McManus’s account of the 7th’s performance in both wars, acute readers will note the resemblance to a video game: Despite plenty of loud noises, explosions, confusion and massive slaughter of the enemy, the heroes—with a rare exception that provokes widespread horror—emerge unscathed.
Dedicated military buffs have a bottomless appetite for such battle minutia, but general readers may feel the urge to skim.