By Sean Michael Flynn
Hard cover, 300 pages, $25.95.
Penguin Group, 212-366-2000; penguin.com
The “Fighting Irish” 69th Infantry Regiment is a legendary combat unit from both the Civil War and World War I. By the fall of 2001, this National Guard unit from New York State was neither predominately Irish/American nor prepared for combat. The author states they were actually rated as one of the worst Guard units in the country, because neither state nor federal governments made any serious effort to keep their training and equipment up to standard. This would all radically change on the morning of September 11.
Given their Manhattan armory location, the 69th was the first military ground unit to respond to the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. The problem was that no one knew what their mission should be once on site. Like all good troops, they soldiered on as best they could. From there, they were sent to guard the United States Military Academy at West Point from any potential terrorist attack and were eventually given orders to prepare for deployment to Iraq.
The story of how they shook off their “weekend warrior” mentality and went on to become an excellent combat infantry unit is inspiring. Sending a group of mostly middle-age “NG’s” into front-line combat would sound crazy before pre 9/11. The Fighting 69th proved all doubters wrong and added yet another well-earned battle streamer to their regimental colors.
House to House, An Epic Memoir of War
By Ssgt. David Bellavia with John R. Bruning
Hard cover, 321 pages, $26.00.
Simon and Schuster, 212-698-7000 simonsays.com
Early in this book, Army grunts of the Second Battalion of the 2nd Infantry Regiment (First Infantry Division) comment, that “when the battle of Fallujah is over, only the Marines’ part in it will be remembered by history.” I’m afraid they were correct. I’ve read many accounts of the Marines’ efforts to retake the town from the terrorist insurgents, but this was the first I knew of the U.S. Army’s part in that battle.
House-to-house urban warfare in the narrow streets and alleys of a third world city is about as bad of a place to see combat as one can imagine. The 2/2 had to take their objectives one room at a time against an enemy that knew the terrain like his own home—because it was!
In action after action, the enemy is struck by multiple rounds and either escapes or continues to fight. This was the first time I had ever heard of anyone using the atropine injections (issued as antidote to nerve gas exposure) as a stimulant in battle. In the author’s experience, it made the enemy something very close to bullet proof until blood loss shut their bodies down.
Combat for the author eventually came down to a hand-to-hand struggle with an enemy soldier. Using a Gerber folding knife, he prevails and the terrorist insurgent doesn’t. He was later awarded the Silver and Bronze Star for his conduct in Iraq. This probably isn’t the right book for the squeamish who feel battle should be fought with gloves on, using the minimum violence possible. The battle for Fallujah was about kill-or-be-killed infantry combat and the insurgency found out the hard way.