THE LONG GREY LINE by Rick Atkinson


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A panoramic and affectingly realized account of the often harrowing odyssey of West Point's Class of 1966. Washington Post correspondent Atkinson focuses on fewer than a dozen of the nearly 600 men who made it through the USMA to join the Army's officer corps at a time when the war in Indochina had begun to precipitate bitter conflict on the home front. Without depreciating their individuality in any significant way, however, the author manages to make his few subjects convincingly representative of the '66 experience. At no small cost in dead and wounded, the class complied an enviably valorous record in combat. Its members were nonetheless caught in a withering crossfire of social protest and upheaval that targeted their chosen profession. Bewildered, aggrieved, or just fed up, many resigned their commissions at the earliest possible moment. In uniform or out, though, members of the class endured dramatically American lives with second, third, and even fourth acts during the hard peace that followed Vietnam. Some few stuck with the military, rising slowly through the ranks, while others, with varying degrees of success and satisfaction, pursued civilian careers. A couple became personally (and visibly) involved in the divisive battles waged over the design of the memorial to Vietnam veterans in Washington. Atkinson also logs the major shocks survived by the academy that molded the men of '66. Cases in point range from a cheating scandal (which threatened the honor code) during the mid-1970's through the summary removal of a commandant (for putative entanglement in the My Lai massacre while on duty in Vietnam), curriculum changes, and the admission of women in 1976. A consistently absorbing narrative that effectively blends institutional and individual elements of abiding consequence.

Pub Date: Oct. 16th, 1989
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin