Thursday, October 18, 2012

review: How I met Ike, by James M. Cagle

The Forest Gump of WW2
Having read and written about WW2 for a great many years I snatch up memoirs of soldiers. This one I haven't really figured out. I can't decide if this is total fiction, an honest start that slips into a fantasy, or someone trying to write a great WW2 book in a novel style thinking no one will notice. In any event- it ain't a true story.

It starts off as what I expect from a typical pre-war member of the Army. The tough sergeants and such. And then the author gets into the whole importance of the regimental boxing team, and I think "oh no, someone's seen From Here to Eternity." But I give him the benefit of a doubt as a similar story played out in many regiments around the country. I even forgive the author's claim of being on a "61mm" mortar crew as perhaps a `not his fault` typo (make up your mind: 60mm or 81mm). Then, modern military terminology starts to creep in and explainations showing a lack of understanding of how things were done in WW2. Ok, so maybe he got confused as he stayed in 20 years. But they would not have searched 201 files for a secretary for Ike, they would have used the IBM card files and hew should have known that boy wunderkin that he is. Once he meets Ike things start to go downhill fast.

The author reportedly becomes Ike's pet project who decides not to get him a commission, but have him become a warrant officer. The author, forgetting for a moment that there were TWO grades of warrant officers (not four) at the time, while waiting for his warrant officer paperwork to clear goes to airborne school. He then goes to Ranger school. Now his Ranger school description is totally incorrect. He uses the modern three phase training, when the two Ranger battalions for the ETO were done in a totally different way at a camp he never mentions. BUSTED! He also claims to have been flown to Scotland to help train the 29th Rangers. Now, I know a lot about the 29th Rangers and have interviewed many. I even know the Millholland family. The tale of his time with the 29th Rangers is massively full of holes. I suspect he got his information on this unit from Black's WW2 Ranger book, but then I can't explain his total screw up on the whole training issue.

But wait, there's more. Even with a terrible shortage of trained paratroopers, he is not sucked up by the 101st as were many 29th Rangers, but goes to the Mediterranean to hang with Darby's Rangers- only to be pulled back to Washington (priority air again- he never takes a boat anyplace due to his special missions) by Ike to become some sort of super-secret intelligence specialist and trained by the OSS. He then, as code name JAX, runs OSS agents in a manner that makes no sense in terms of what any of the histories of those units indicate. For someone 'in the know' he is dead wrong on a massive rubber army, and seems to have been bogoted but still allowed ot go to France to boost morale of the OSS and resistance. He claims to have been In Normandy when the invasion happens, He links up with the 101st, and is told by Ike to compile a report on the invasion. He then proceeds to spit back what can be read in any number of books on the Normandy landings (some material proved incorrect since it was published) as his investigative report.

He then gets to basically go all over the place for the rest of the war spending time with unit after unit that happened to be in some spot of interest. Some of his stories are so ridiculous as to make me want to throw this book against a wall. He boards a C-47 for Market Garden by telling the jumpmaster he was on a "special assignment" with no paperwork or advance direction of what craft to board. He just shows up. BUt then there is no eyewittness description fo the actual fight. Some of the other events I happen to know quite well, and have talked to men who were there- if he was there, he was way back at some command post drinking coffee and listing to things 4th hand.

Now,IF the one in a million chance that all this really did happen, and all those things that defy logic, historical records, and the testimony of other men just happens to be true, I will gladly work all-out to promote this book as the most important thing work since The Longest Day, if only I can see his official military record. Copies of his original observer notes would also do. This is a case of prove it, or shut up. The claim of records being secret won't cut it. If he did this, the evidence would be in his record.

My best guess is that someone in his family took his smattering of stories (and he may well have actually been an aide to Ike for a few days), and concocted this great exploit and filled everything in with material from other books and movies.

So, do not buy this book unless you want to be amazed at what someone publioshed. Due to the obvious errors nothing. NOT ONE THING in it can be taken as fact. It does a terrible disservice to the men who were actually there, and took part. It also does a terrible disservice to James Cagle himself, who may have done his part like millions of other men, but he, or someone else, felt they had to elaborate the story.

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