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About Face: The Odyssey of an American Warrior (1989)

af David H. Hackworth, Julie Sherman

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5371033,298 (4.31)3
Called "everything a twentieth century war memoir could possibly be" byThe New York Times, this national bestseller by Colonel David H. Hackworth presents a vivid and powerful portrait of a life of patriotism. From age fifteen to forty David Hackworth devoted himself to the US Army and fast became a living legend. In 1971, however, he appeared on television to decry the doomed war effort in Vietnam. With About Face, he has written what many Vietnam veterans have called the most important book of their generation. From Korea to Berlin, from the Cuban missile crisis to Vietnam, Hackworth's story is that of an exemplary patriot, played out against the backdrop of the changing fortunes of America and the American military. It is also a stunning indictment of the Pentagon's fundamental misunderstanding of the Vietnam conflict and of the bureaucracy of self-interest that fueled the war.… (mere)
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This is an excellent read. It is really the story of one man's military career, from enlistment in 1946 to leaving the US Army in 1971 as a Colonel who had turned against the war in Vietnam. Each part of the story is well told and interesting. One thing that some might find annoying is that he mentions everyone he's ever met, or at least it can seem that way. I was also surprised to see so much about his service in the Korean war as I thought the book was mostly about Vietnam. That is not a complaint, nor are the chapters on his peacetime service a criticism. I often found myself reading into the next chapter instead of stopping as I normally do. The only point I will make is that this is a memoir and as such one of it's purposes is to put the author in the best possible light. That is true of nearly all memoirs. ( )
  bookmarkaussie | Aug 9, 2020 |
I ready liked this book when I first read it and ever wrote a fan letter to the author which he replied to with a cheeky postcard. Then I avidly followed his Newsweek column until he was fired after the suicide of Admiral Boorda. It seems that not much longer after that Hackworth died himself. It is rather rich with irony that Boorda's suicide was likely precipitated by Hackworth's investigation into the propriety of the admiral's wearing of a Vietnam War medal and yet Hackworth's book cover identifies him as a colonel, a rank he never held. But then its apparent from the book that introspection over hypocrisy was not the author's strong suit. Even ignoring the crash and burn trajectory of his subsequent writing career I realize now that this author was overbearing with little substantive to say. ( )
  JoeHamilton | Jul 21, 2020 |
A bit long, I thought at the time I read it. (Actually I did not finish it) Maybe I should give it a second try . . . . ( )
  JesperCFS2 | Mar 13, 2017 |
This is the story of a very highly decorated U.S. Army vet whose records include 2 DSC, 10 silver stars, and 8 Purple Hearts.

Hackworth joined the military at 14 during WWII. He did not see combat then but saw plenty of it in Korea a few years later. He was given a battle field commission there and served in combat as both an enlisted man and a front line officer. Hackworth also relates his service in Vietnam and his disenchantment with the Army as the bureaucrats and ticket punchers took over and the fighting man was poorly trained or rewarded when it came to the higher officer ranks.

These lessons and problems he discusses are still relevant to our military today.


I'm going to add two stories from the book that stood out to me.

“I remember in Italy in 1946, when I was detailed to guard German prisoners of war. One of the prisoners was a tough lieutenant captured at Salerno. He spoke English, so I whiled away my duty hours giving him a hard time. Once I asked why, if he and all he Kraut friends were such brilliant soldiers and supermen, was a 15 year old me the one holding the weapon and he was a prisoner of war? He answered me with a story. “I was an 88-mm anti-tank battery commander,” he said. “We were on a hill and the Americans kept sending tanks down the road below. Every time they sent a tank, we knocked it out. They kept sending tanks, and we kept knocking them out, until we finally ran out of ammunition. The reason I’m here,” he finished his story, “is the Americans didn’t run out of tanks.”


After WW II, a boy named Willie Lump Lump enlisted in the Army. He went to Fort Benning to take his infantry training, sixteen weeks of sweat and tears and lots of punishment, to turn him into a hardened soldier. Along about the seventh week of training, a sergeant stood up in front of his class and said, “Gentlemen, I’m Sergeant Slasher, and today I’m going to introduce you to the bayonet. On guard!” With that, the sergeant went into the correct stance for holding the bayonet. “On the battlefield,” he continued, “you will meet the enemy, and there will be times when you will need this bayonet to defeat the enemy. To KILL the enemy! Over the next weeks you’ll be receiving a twenty-four hour block of instruction on the bayonet, and I will be your principal instructor.”
Willie Lump Lump went back to the barracks, deeply upset. Man, that was so brutal out there today, he thought. The war is over. We’re living in peace and tranquility, and still the Army is teaching us how to use these horrible weapons! “Dear Mom,” he wrote home. “Today the sergeant told me he’s going to teach me how to use the bayonet to kill enemy soldiers on the battlefield.”
Willie’s mother was shocked. She got right on the phone: “Hello, Congressman DoGood? This is Mrs. Lump Lump. I want to tell you what’s happening down at Fort Benning, Georgia. Here it is, 1949, and they’re teaching my baby to kill with a bayonet. It’s uncivilized! It’s barbaric!”
The congressman immediately got on the horn. “Hello, General Playitright at the Pentagon? This is Congressman Dogood. I understand the Army is still giving bayonet training.”
“Yes, we are.”
“Do you think it’s a good idea? I don’t think it’s a very good thing at all. It’s even… somewhat uncivilized. I mean, really, how many times does a soldier need his bayonet?”
“Not very often, sir, it’s true. Actually, I was just reviewing the Army Training Program myself, and I was thinking that the bayonet is a pretty obsolete weapon. I agree with you. I’ll put out instructions that it’s going to stop.”
The next day, seven hundred miles away: “Gentlemen, I am Sergeant Slasher. This is your second class on bayonet training –“ The sergeant was interrupted by a lieutenant walking purposefully toward him across the training field. “Stand easy, men.”
“It’s out,” the lieutenant whispered.
“What!” said the sergeant.
“It’s out,” the lieutenant whispered again.
The sergeant nodded, his mouth wide open in disbelief. He returned to his class.
“Gentlemen, we’ll have to break here. It looks as if bayonet training has been discontinued in the Army.”
A year later, PFC Lump Lump, the model soldier, deployed to Korea with the 1st Battalion, 15th Regiment, 3d Infantry Division. He was standing on a frozen hill and the Chinese were coming at him – wave after wave after wave. Willie stood like a rock. Resolutely, he shot the enemy down. Suddenly he realized he was out of ammunition. He looked at his belt – not a round left. He saw a Chinaman rushing toward him. He remembered the first class on bayonet training. He reached down and pulled his bayonet out of his scabbard. Shaking and fumbling, he tried to fit it on the end of his weapon, but by that time the Chinese soldier was standing over him, with a bayonet of his own.
The Secretary of the Army signed his thousandth letter for the day: “Dear Mrs. Lump Lump: It is with deep regret that I must inform you that your son, PFC Willie Lump Lump, was killed in action 27 November 1950.”
Heartbroken, Mrs. Lump Lump wrote to some friends of young Willie’s in the company. “How?” she asked. “Why???” “Willie wasn’t trained,” they wrote back. “He didn’t know how to use his bayonet.” Now Mrs. Lump Lump was not only heartbroken, but outraged. She didn’t even bother to call Congressman DoGood. She barged right into his office.
“Why?” she cried and screamed. “Why wasn’t my son trained for war?”
The mythical Willie Lump Lump was my training aid. I used him in every unit I commanded, to explain two things to the troops: first, that the training they were about to receive was in their best interests, and second, that the civilian population didn’t know diddley-squat about the realities of war.
( )
  Chris_El | Mar 19, 2015 |
Colonel David Hackworth is one of America's most decorated soldiers. He was a "mustang," an officer who came up through the ranks. In Hackworth's case he was commissioned on the Korean battlefield. His book describes his love affair with the army, and how he felt our actions in Vietnam destroyed the trust he had in that institution. Soldiers fight often for their friends and comrades rather than for a glorified ideal. Small units develop a unity that perhaps most civilians fail to appreciate. They have to trust each other under very difficult conditions. "The incredible bonding that occurred through shared danger; the implicit trust in the phrase 'cover me' — these were the things that kept me going, kept me fighting here in Korea, and why I'd come back for more. . . ."

One often gets a sense of culture shock reading Hackworth's memoirs. For example, he belonged to an elite combat unit and as all such units are wont to do, they created an emblem for themselves, in this case, a skull. When Korean laborers saw the new sign, they immediately decamped. When asked why, they replied they could not work for anyone who had such little regard for human beings that he could do such a thing. "All of us may have become jaded enough to think the sign was a real masterpiece, but to the poor Koreans our attitude was simply barbaric."

Hackworth's reflections on the post-Korean army are instructive. Eisenhower and Chief of Staff Maxwell Taylor were engaged in a large restructuring of the armed forces; a conversion to a nuclear oriented service that required more training and fewer people. Morale was decimated, according to Hackworth when those with even one day less than the eighteen years required for permanent duty were RIF'd or given the option of remaining at a lower grade. Colonels were reduced to master sergeants over night. Battalions were eliminated and reorganized into five rifle groups designed for a nuclear battlefield. This became known as the Pentomic Army that was later eliminated as unworkable. Of more concern, was the insistence on "zero-defects."

Hackworth suggests the competition to be perfect led to "M-1 penciling." It was discovered that a pencil would make a hole in a cloth target that was identical to the hole made by an M-1 bullet. Soon units were turning in great marksmanship scores. Cheating in all manner of things became rampant. Perhaps the swindling had begun with the Korean Certificate of Loss statements where commanders would allow their troops to inflate kill records, "I don't know, but the Post-Korea Army had an unquenchable thirst for perfection which parched the throats of even the most desiccated leaders, and the M-1 pencil was the only water to be found. A CO simply couldn't fail. . . . Our sham of perfection set an unspoken precedent for bigger lies down the road, each and every one of them would ricochet back on the Army as an institution, with the repercussions of it all enough to shake America to its core." ( )
  ecw0647 | Sep 30, 2013 |
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David H. Hackworthprimær forfatteralle udgaverberegnet
Sherman, Juliehovedforfatteralle udgaverbekræftet
Just, WardIntroduktionmedforfatternogle udgaverbekræftet
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Called "everything a twentieth century war memoir could possibly be" byThe New York Times, this national bestseller by Colonel David H. Hackworth presents a vivid and powerful portrait of a life of patriotism. From age fifteen to forty David Hackworth devoted himself to the US Army and fast became a living legend. In 1971, however, he appeared on television to decry the doomed war effort in Vietnam. With About Face, he has written what many Vietnam veterans have called the most important book of their generation. From Korea to Berlin, from the Cuban missile crisis to Vietnam, Hackworth's story is that of an exemplary patriot, played out against the backdrop of the changing fortunes of America and the American military. It is also a stunning indictment of the Pentagon's fundamental misunderstanding of the Vietnam conflict and of the bureaucracy of self-interest that fueled the war.

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