Sunday, September 09, 2012

Book Review:

Dog Tags: The History, Personal Stories, Cultural Impact, and Future of Military Identification  by Ginger Cucolo.Allen House Publishing 2012.,346 pages, ISBN 978-0983305705.

One of the ways I rate a book is by looking at what has come before on the subject, and asking if the author has indeed added anything to the body of knowledge.  In this case the answer is: not really.  From a historical tangible artifact standpoint the research on the history of dogtags is just not that great.   Paul Braddock’s 2003 book on dog tag history is just so much better.  I make my case with pointing out that this book does not go into the detail of the various small changes made to the tags during WW1.
Seeing as how the book is about tags, I would expect any actual fact about them to be presented.  I pretty much lost interest when the square tags of WW1 were totally glossed over and the reason for using them was not explained. To correct the book: they were not issued, they were a field expedient.  There is a difference. Moving into WW2 I picked up a lot of omissions, such as the plastic tags used in the Pacific, and an apparent misunderstanding of the green bottle used by the Graves Registration guys.

What totally baffled me was the inclusion of fictional stories of men in the various wars. I’m sorry, but in my opinion (and yours may vary) fiction has no place in a historical work.  Especially when there are genuine stories that could be found.   

An awful lot of the book is just fluff: photos of souvenirs that look like dogtags, stories of tags returned to the original owners, letters apparently written to the author in a request for dog tag material, and.. well… fluff - Nice filler that adds little.  I got the feeling that much of the book came from searching “dogtags” on Google and re-reporting stories reported by others.  

Yes, I am biased. I’ve collected dogtags for a long time. I wrote my first article about them in the late 80’s.  I’ve been privileged to be able to read the dog tag work of Paul Braddock, and the Graves Registration research of Steve West.  A casual reader may find the book cute and interesting, but as a work of history it falls short of the mark.  

Just don't waste your time, and find a copy of Paul's Book.  It is still the best out there.

addendum:  I just noticed that you buy a used copy for less than a buck. OK, for that cheap maybe something in it is worthwhile. Just be sure to double check the historical facts.

Book Review: Intact, a First-hand Account of the D-day Invasion from a Fifth Rangers Company Commander by General John C. Raaen, Jr. Reedy Press. 2012. 184 pages. ISBN 978-1935806271.

On D-Day, John Raaen was the company commander of the 5th Ranger Battalion’s Headquarters’ Company. He also wrote his unit’s after action report for the early days in June, and thus is an invaluable witness to the confusion of the invasion.

Now, almost 70 years later, he has written his memories of the invasion the following few days. What makes this memoir somewhat different is that he had actually written down his memoires shortly after the event, and set them aside. Years later, when he attempted to document what the 5th Rangers had been through, he compared his one memory and the official histories, with his period notes; he found them at odds with one another. He worked to figure out which was the truth, and here we have a marvelous picture of what happened.

This may be one of the most detailed memoirs I have seen of that day. You can follow his movements past road, hedgerow and farm by his periodic use of grid coordinates. As such this is not only a terribly important record of D-Day, but of the following post invasion days as well. Anyone with an interest in the Rangers, or in Omaha really should read this book.

Many WW2 memoirs are a bit disappointing; this one is not. I have one main complaint about the book: it’s too short. I hope that the author can find the time to expand it to include some of the D-Day training, as well, the post invasion period up to Brest, or into Germany.

A suggestion (and I guess a minor note) is that the map of the area with grid lines is not well reproduced in the book.  (I think they grayscaled it rather than black and white). I would suggest you have one of the many reprints of that Omaha map and its environs by your hand as you read. Heck, stick it under plastic and trace his route with a gease pencil!

Purchase Intact from Amazon.