on November 13, 2003
First off, let me say I loved this book. I thought that Meyers wove an intricate plot that fully engrossed me. I could not put the novel down and often stayed up late in the evening unable to pause until I finished just one more chapter. I picked up this book because I had seen it on the Chief of Staff of the Army's reading list for Army officers. I am a professional officer and wanted to read this book that was recommended by several senior, successful officers. They all spoke of how the main character was someone they wished all military officers would emulate and his arch nemesis someone to ostracize and avoid. So I came at this book with some preconceived notions.
My point of contention with many of the reviews both on the book cover and from my superiors and peers was the hero worship aimed at the character of Sam Damon. He is a wonderfully constructed hero and Myers has done a wonderful job but, as in all great literature, he is flawed, sometimes painfully so, and his flaws in the end are his undoing.
This concerns me because some of the traits I know senior officers in the military want us to emulate are those same tragic flaws. Sam Damon sees his service to country above all else. He sacrifices his family to his duty. This is what I see as a major element of his tragic flaw. At times he better serves the soldiers under to the detriment of his own family, in effect, subjugating the needs of his family to those of the Army. Too many senior officers in today's military expect this sacrifice from their subordinates and that is why this book is so popular amonst senior military officials. They all wish they had a flock of Sam Damons working under them for they do not see his tragic flaw as such. They do not want balanced well rounded officers with lives outside the military. Instead they want officers willing to sacrifice everything in their life for the Army.
As I see it, Sam lacked the ability to balance his life. He gave everything to the military and when it was done he had nothing and was easily pulled back in to his doom because he had not invested some of his time in his family, friends, community or religion.
A wonderful story and cautionary tale and I would recommend it to anyone. To military personnel who are reading it based on advice from others, come to the table with an open mind and understand that Sam has many wonderful traits to emulate. It is up to you to intelligently decide which traits are noble and which are flaws.
on June 23, 2004
In a country where Goldie Hawn can share a stage with Zig Zigler and tell their stories of success; here is superior fictional story on how to live ones life. No exaggeration! You see, the two protagonists in "Once an Eagle" are very different. Yes, there is a bit of black and white imagery used by Mr. Mryer, but the story of the choices that Sam Damon and Courtney Massengale make, need to be told and re-told. We were young once and we read Remarque's "All Quiet On The Western Front", the quintessenial war novel. I'm sure not many of us identified with Paul's former teacher or Sergeant. Why? Yes, Paul's journey is more interesting. However, it's the choices of an idealist youth who grows into a man after seeing the horrors of war that calls to all of us. Anton Mryer has updated that story, made it more fuller, more complex and has extended it over two adults lives. And, yes there is a message here to be found here. As a young Boy Scout, I was taught that the choices we make determine the man we become. Well, what better life model than that of Sam Damon. As a father, I can only hope my own children make similiar ethical choices! Enjoy!
on January 15, 2004
This book is the most over-rated book on leadership I have ever read.
Sam Damon is the knight in shining armor who can do no wrong. As a teenager, prior to even joining the Army, he spends his time writing analyses of Civil War battles that one would expect from a graduate of the Army War College. He decisively beats the lumberjack-size town drunk in a fist-fight hands down. He does everything right.
Oh, excuse me...he commits adultery by having an extra-marital affair. But hey, Sam Damon is such a stud, he deserves the right to blow off a little steam with some Army nurse.
What aspiring leaders need to understand is that it is possible to be an exceptional leader, maintain your integrity and dedication to your subordinates, and accomplish the mission despite human limitations. Aspiring leaders need to understand that while innate talent is important, dedication and perseverence and living by a set of firm moral values will enable you to succeed as a leader.
We don't need an "out of sight" Sam Damon to inspire our aspiring leaders. Instead, consider studying the paths to greatness of real human leaders who actually walked the face of the Earth, such as Abraham Lincoln.
My point is, how can you truly credit anyone, such as the hero, Sam Damon with such honor, courage, and commitment, when the author has already built-in so many talents that the humans among us can't even relate?
I admit, this is a pretty good book...it reads extremely well, and of course Sam Damon is a model of the very best motives and attibutes all combat leaders should aspire to. I guess it was the extra-marital affair that really put me off, as if that's no big deal. The way I see it (I've been married for eight years and an officer for ten), if a man or woman cannot or will not honor the vows they made on the altar, I have a hard time believing that they would honor the Code of Conduct under pressure. Like, 'I can't resist my urge to do the wild thing with some nurse behind my wife's back, but on the other hand, you can push needles under my fingernails or torture me with electric shock, but I will never betray my country.'
on October 2, 2003
This was the first book I had "read for fun" ever, being that I just got out of college. But the subject matter (History) and length (1,000 pages) told me otherwise. But I insisted, since it was on every reading list I saw for Junior Officers, including the USMA and Army Chief of Staff lists.
You follow Sam Damon through his entire life, from the Mexican Punitive Expedition in 1915 up to the beginnings of the Vietnam "War." From the lowest Private to the General Officer who people worshipped. The story is amazing and unbelievable. I was so attached to the book. I found myself highlighting passages and quotes of the "real" moments that I have either seen or assume I will see. Sam is everyone's hero. And this hero has his sworn enemy in Courtney Massengale. I hated Massengale. Just like the book wanted me too. But Myrer makes you understand everbody's view in this work by shifting the perspective from Sam to Massengale to Sam's Wife on occasions. But still, I hated Massengale.
The book trashed two of my immediate expectations. First it was an Army book written by a Marine. I thought, "what could a Marine know about the Army?" Second, I never expected much regarding Sam's relationship with his wife/family and the toll that the Army life took on them. This was not distracting to the book, but rather intensified the relationship between Sam and his family, and the "relationship" with myself.
Highly recomended to anyone with an interest in the history of the battles of the early part of last century, the military minded, or even those who hate the military, but need a bit more knowledge. Yes, this book can be read as an "Anti-War" book.
on September 22, 2003
My review of Once an Eagle is from the point of view of a Marine rifleman who participated in Operation Iraqi Freedom. I would like to note that Anton Myrer was also a Marine rifleman at one point of his life. . .
Once an Eagle's characters are inhuman. No man can match the dignity and sense of duty of Sam Damon. Few men can match the evil of Courtney Massengale, and none of those have worn the uniform of our country. The situations in Once an Eagle are preposterous; each one is form-fitted to provide the reader with the most insight into the characters.
All these alledged flaws (which other reviwers have used to justify their low marks given) are the very things that make Once an Eagle such an outstanding book. By making the world of Once an Eagle such a high-contrast and black-and-white place, Anton Myrer gives military leaders the perfect yardstick to measure their actions. Each new lieutenant aspires to be a Sam Damon, and wishes to God that he does not become a Courtney Masengale. The qualities of Sam Damon- integrity, a sense of duty, the deep parental feelings towards his men- are the qualities that make armies strong. These qualities, above technology or resources, are the qualities we hope that our military possesses. To paraphrase a former Marine Corps Commandant: while the circumstances of war change, the essence remains timeless: war is a struggle of will. Once an Eagle is the perfection that our military leadership aspires to, because the qualities of Sam Damon ensure victory in that "struggle of will."
Other reviewers have disparaged Mr. Myrer's military experience; how can a mere corporal speak of leadership? I believe that a corporal in charge of three other men in a fire team has the most tangible grasp on leadership- the results are always in front of him. As a corollary, it can also be said that as one rises in rank, the more difficult is becomes to grasp the principles of leadership that a corporal plainly sees. The qualities of leadership necessary to be a corporal are magnified proportionally as one commands more men, but the requirements are the same: integrity, a sense of duty, and a parental attitude towards the men he commands. Perhaps that is why Mr. Myrer has written such a magnificent work.
During the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, I was told to take nothing but the most essential items. I skimped on the extra underwear and put my copy of Once an Eagle in my pack instead. I wasn't afraid of running out of clean underwear- I was afraid that I would not live up to the example of Sam Damon if and when the moment of truth came. I think Once an Eagle is THE moral compass of fighting men.
on February 22, 2003
"Once an Eagle," by Anton Myrer, is a huge book: the main text is 1291 pages long in the paperback edition. The book tells the story of Sam Damon, a Nebraska man who enlists in the Army and gradually rises up the ranks; his career spans a great portion of the 20th century. His story is intertwined with that of his rival, fellow soldier Courtney Massengale. The men are polar opposites: Damon is a down-to-earth guy who genuinely cares about his soldiers, whereas Massengale is a cold, ruthless puppetmaster with grand dreams of power and conquest.
Myrer brilliantly focuses his vast story on these two archetypal characters. In the end he creates a sweeping tapestry into which he weaves many relevant issues: leadership, love, marriage, racism, courage, politics, etc. He offers an intriguing look at such things as the role of military wives, officer-enlisted relations, the relationship between the military and civilian political authorities, etc.
The book is full of memorable characters, vivid scenes, and powerful dialogue. Myrer has a real skill at descriptive writing. Ultimately, this is a novel of ideas which never loses touch of the humanity (or inhumanity) of its characters. I especially liked the fact that Myrer creates compelling female, as well as male, characters.
It's really like an epic TV mini-series in book form. Recommended as companion texts: "A Narrative of a Revolutionary Soldier," by Joseph Plumb Martin, "Bridges at Toko-Ri," by James Michener, and "Starship Troopers," by Robert Heinlein. All are excellent books in particular for military leaders, or for anyone with an interest in the military.
on January 14, 2003
Although it's difficult to add much of anything original to the voluminous reviews which testify to the greatness of this novel, I feel compelled to add my thoughts as well.
Though I have never served in the military (I grew up surrounded by military personnel and spent a lot of my early years on and around Andrews Air Force Base, however), I can see why so many military folks treasure this book. Still, I do not believe that a military background is in any way essential to an appreciation of this work. It is simply a great novel which happens to focus on the lives of men in the military.
I first read Once An Eagle in the '70s and have re-read it two or three times since then, and it is probably my all-time favorite novel. We get an imperfect hero for the ages in Sam Damon, battle scenes of unforgettable impact from two world wars, a trip through six decades of American history and a fascinating morality tale all rolled into one wonderful read. Supporting characters, as well as Damon's primary antagonist throughout his career, Courtney Massengale, are richly drawn and equally memorable; I have always been particularly struck by Gen. George Caldwell, Damon's father-in-law, and have long assumed that he is a fictional representation of one of the 20th Century's greatest soldier-statesmen, General George Catlett Marshall.
A truly great book in every respect and one I would recommend to anyone, regardless of age, gender or professional background. An American novel for the ages.
on January 13, 2003
This was one of the best books I've ever read. Lengthy, but at times engrossing. The lead character is terrific, you really believe that this guy actually lived. From a literary perspective, the ending is a masterpiece, but I HATED it. Felt like I'd actually lost a friend, almost cried, for pete's sake, and I'm not the sentimental type. A picture of what man can aspire to be. Gritty battle scenes give some idea of what war is really like, why it's something to be avoided. But it also clearly demonstrates that as John Stewart Mill has said, "War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself." I highly recommend Myrer's epic tale of being a soldier, but more than that, being a man.
on March 1, 2002
To some, Once An Eagle is a story of an idealistic boy scout, named Sam Damon, who fights (stupidly) against the Army establishment in the vain hope of making a better world. Well, this book isn't written for them.
The hero of Once an Eagle, Sam Damon, is not a boy scout nor is he some wishy washy do gooder who dreams of the impossible. Sam Damon is a man who I would want as my commanding officer or manager or political leader--honest, loyal, brave, wise, strong and most of all, compassionate.
Sam leaves his Nebraska home to join the Army and serve in two world wars. By the end, he goes to a South East Asian country that sounds a lot like Vietnam. Sam's nemesis is a Courtney Massingale, a man who is almost the polar opposite of Sam, who rises through the ranks faster than Sam does because he is skilled in the art of office politics rather than the art of war. Their paths cross with deadly consequences over the two world wars until things come to a head in the faux-Vietnam of Anton Myrer's world.
This is one of a classic of military literature and if you enjoyed The Thin Red Line (not the movie) or The Naked And The Damned then this is worth buying.
BTW, the person who wrote that Massingale was actually MacArthur is dead wrong. Massingale seems more like the 1st Marine Division's apparent Korean War nemesis, Ned Almond (X Corps Commander durng the 1950 Chosin Resevoir battle and protege of MacArthur.)
Anton Myrer did his research well. Although I suspect that Sam Damon is a composite of two Marine legends, Marine Raider Commanders Carlson and Edson. (In real life Edson despised Carlson, but that's another story.)
on November 1, 2001
"Once An Eagle" is the epic tale of two military men in conflict with each other over the span of 50 years during the middle decades of the twentieth century.
Meet Sam Damon. At the outset, he's a dreamy, idealistic teenager in the small town of Walt Whitman, Nebraska. He's the night clerk in the local hotel and eatery. He's possessed with a first class intellect and a fiery ambition to "do something great with his life." He dreams of getting an appointment to West Point.
Sam applies for admission to the U.S, Military Academy, but gets impatient at the bureaucratic delays. He enlists in the Army, serves with General John J. Pershing in the 1916 "punitive expedition" to Mexico, and ends up in the trenches of France a year later, during the last year of World War I. It is there that Sam performs his greatest act of military heroism, an act that earns him a battlefield commission as a Second Lieutenant; the Medal of Honor; and the affectionate sobriquet "The Night Clerk." Throughout his tour of duty in France, Sam continues to distinguish himself not only with valorous deeds on the battlefield, but also with his no-nonsense leadership style, centered upon his passionate dedication the welfare of his men. He consistently sets a superb example of the highest ideals of personal behavior in his dealings with both his superiors and subordinates. It is here that he begins to understand the ultimate futility of war.
It is also here that he has his first encounter with his lifelong "bête noire," Courtney Massengale. Massengale is the complete antithesis of Sam Damon and everything he stands for. Like Damon, he's keenly intellectual and ambitious, but he seeks recognition and career advancement through being in the right place at the right time; currying favor with his superiors; and his incessant political maneuvering. His disdain for his subordinates is evident during his first encounter with Sam Damon shortly after Damon's unit comes "out of the line" in France.
Throughout their parallel careers in the Army, most of which occurs in the years between the two World Wars, Massengale, the unctuous West Point graduate, and Damon, the heroic "mustang" (a term of respect for officers with prior enlisted service) occasionally find themselves stationed together, and almost always on opposite sides of whatever issues confront them at any given moment. Their relationship comes to a head in the heat of battle against the Japanese the Philippines during World War II, and again, two decades later, in the jungles of Southeast Asia.
The Damon/Massengale relationship forms one of the central themes of this wonderful novel. For, in this relationship can be found a study in personal ethics as it applies to those not only in military life but also in the business sector as well. Through these two disparate characters, Myrer asks a fundamental question about human nature: why do people who rely on slipshod ethics and oleaginous double-talk so frequently successful at the expense of those whose moral compass is based on a well defines set of noble values and principles? It's a question that's plagued society from its inception, and such an important question that the U.S. Army War College includes a study of "Once An Eagle" as part of its curriculum in advanced leadership training for senior officers.
"Once An Eagle," originally published in 1968, was re-released in a beautifully bound hardcover edition in 2000. It's newly billed as "...a classic novel of soldiers and soldiering." It is indeed that, but it's also much more. For, at its heart, this beautifully crafted novel is one of the finest ANTI-war novels I've ever read. Anton Myrer, himself a veteran of some of the bloodiest fighting in the Pacific theater during World War II, pulls no punches in his condemnation of war. His battle scenes are consistently tough, gritty, highly descriptive accounts of men fighting against other men. He describes combat on the most human terms... from the perspectives of those who did the fighting and dying. Myrer takes the reader inside the minds of his characters, allowing the reader to understand the character's hopes, fears, anxieties, and physical torments...
"Once An Eagle" is a long book - over 900 pages - but it's well worth reading. Anton Myrer's style is polished and highly literate. Despite its length, it's actually a fairly quick read. I finished it in about 10 days. The book always held my interest, and in places, actually proved difficult to put down. It is an eloquent condemnation of war and its effects on the human soul.