Spare Parts Book Review

Spare Parts: A Marine Reservist’s Journey from Campus to Combat in 38 Days

By Buzz Williams

Hardcover in dustjacket, 300 pages and photographs

Published by Gotham Books, March 2004

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1-592-40054-X

ISBN-13: ‎978-1-592-40054-6

Dimensions: ‎6.2 x 1.3 x 9.3 inches

Buzz Williams saw enlisting in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve as a way to achieve his two primary goals – serving in the Marines and going to college.  Inspired by his older brother, he wanted to go to boot camp.  Upon graduation, he drilled “one weekend per month, two weeks per year” and attended service schools on the LAV-25 Light Armored Vehicle.  His unit was activated as part of Desert Storm and participated in the liberation of Kuwait.  Afterwards, he remained in the Reserves and became a teacher, eventually leaving after realizing the constant shifting from civilian to military worlds was exasperating his PTSD from the war.

This is a very personal story, an autobiographical arc following his journey from civilian, to boot camp, Reservist, a combat deployment, Reservist, and ultimately a return to civilian life.  New Reservists go through the same boot camp alongside enlistees destined for active service.  A sizable portion of the book describes the boot camp experience in great detail, along with the eventual realization that everything in boot camp is planned and specifically designed to prepare the recruit for combat conditions.

I found the descriptions of the Reserve drills and training fascinating.  The transition from civilian to military mode can be jarring, and there is little time to preserve (or learn) the specialized military skills which may, at short notice, be required for the unit to perform well in combat.  Williams’ descriptions of dealing with his OCD and returning from Desert Storm are also interesting.

Spare Parts is well written, Williams is an excellent story teller and the book flows well.  His descriptions of his fellow Marines will be recognizable to veterans.  His insights into the Reserve program are interesting.  The Reserves are a vital part of the U.S. military, but one which is rarely described in detail.  This book is easy to read but hard to put down, I can recommend it without reservation.

Grumman F2F / F3F Color Photographs

The Grumman F2F was a single seat fighter operated by the U.S. Navy from 1935 through 1939. It was a refinement of Grumman’s successful twin-seat FF-1 design, being both faster and more maneuverable. Here are three F2F-1s from VF-2B’s second section in an impressive display of precision flying. The Lemon Yellow tail surfaces indicate aircraft assigned to USS Lexington (CV-2).
The F2F had a 700 hp Twin Wasp Junior radial and a two-bladed prop. The wheels retracted flush with the fuselage sides and the fuselage was bulged aft of the cowling to accommodate them. This aircraft is from VF-7 assigned to USS Wasp (CV-7).
Grumman enlarged the design to improve stability and changed the designation to F3F-1. The -2 model incorporated a 950 hp Wright Cyclone engine and a three-bladed prop. The golden-colored varnish on the propeller blades was seen on several pre-war USN aircraft types.
The U.S. Marines also flew the type, these aircraft are assigned to VMF-1 at Quantico.
Here is a section of F3Fs flying along the California coast. The red tails indicate they are assigned to VF-5 from the USS Yorktown (VF-5). The F3Fs were the last biplane fighters operated by the U.S. Navy, being replaced by the Brewster F2A Buffalo in Fleet service.
The F3F was featured prominently in the Hollywood film “Dive Bomber” starring Errol Flynn and Fred MacMurray. Here is a screenshot from the film showing the Squadron Commander’s aircraft from VF-6, the True Blue tail designating assignment to the USS Enterprise (CV-6).
A beautiful aerial shot of VF-6s Second Section leader’s aircraft in flight. The unusual flight gear seen on the pilot is a movie prop pressure suit for the filming of “Dive Bomber”.
The surviving F2F and F3F biplanes were retained as advanced trainers until the end of 1943, based at NAS Miami and NAS Corpus Christi. Not the best quality photograph but it does show trainer markings on this F2F at NAS Miami.
A crop of a larger view of the ramp at NAS Miami in 1942 reveals several F2F and F3F trainers.  I found this photograph fascinating not only for the variety of obsolescent aircraft types but the odd mixture of paint schemes and markings.  Most of the Grumman fighters are wearing trainer schemes similar to Yellow Wing specifications, but overall Light Gray as well as Blue Gray over Light Gray camouflage schemes are present as well.  In addition, some aircraft display national insignia with or without red centers, and with or without tail stripes.  (80-G-K-13386 crop)

Voices of the Pacific Audiobook Review

Voices of the Pacific: Untold Stories from the Marine Heroes of World War II

Author: Adam Makos

Narrator: Tom Weiner

Publisher: Blackstone Publishing, April 2013

Audio Length: 10.75 hours

ISBN: 9781624609848

While I generally favor traditional printed books (preferably in hardback), I do occasionally listen to an audiobook.  The advantage of this format is the book can be enjoyed while engaged in other activities, such as modeling or driving.  In this case I was able to download the audio file from my local library, then link my phone to the car speakers and listen while driving to the MMCL IPMS show in Louisville last month.  It beats listening to the radio and makes the drive informative and enjoyable during what would otherwise be wasted time.

This book lends itself well to the audiobook format, being the personal recollections of fifteen Marines who fought in the Pacific War.  The men all share their stories in short narratives, and often relate different perspectives of the same battles.  The campaigns covered are Guadalcanal, Cape Gloucester, Peleliu, Iwo Jima, and finally Okinawa.  Each of these operations was unique, with its own set of conditions and environments.  One thing they had in common was the effect on the Regiments and individual Marines.  By the end of each campaign the units had suffered tremendous casualties, and the surviving Marines were in rough shape – exhausted, underfed, diseased, and with their uniforms in tatters.  Assaults which were planned for three days often lasted for thirty days or more.

I recognized two of the Marines as authors of their own books – Sterling Mace and Chuck Tatum.  Many others relate anecdotes of other names well known to students of the Pacific War – authors Robert Lecke and Eugene Sledge, along with Marines famous for their combat exploits such as John Basilone and Lewis “Chesty” Puller.

Overall this is a fine book which offers insights of the war from the perspective of the individual Marines who fought it.  The last two chapters were also interesting, they described the Marines’ discharges from the service and their assimilation back into society.  They were also asked what advice they would give to young people today, and to society in general.  While this podium is continuously mis-used by celebrities, media figures, politicians, and athletes, the Marine veterans have paid for their citizenship in a very real way and earned the opportunity to voice their opinion.  Listening to this audiobook is time well spent, I can recommend it without hesitation.

One Bullet Away Book Review

One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer

By Nathaniel Fick

Hardcover in dustjacket, 369 pages, photographs

Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt October 2005

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0-61855-613-3

ISBN-13: 978-0-61855-613-7

Dimensions: 6.0 x 1.3 x 9.0 inches

Nathan Fick was a classics major at Dartmouth when he volunteered for Marine Corps Officer Candidate School, and that is where his account begins.  He subsequently graduated from The Basic School and the Infantry Office Course.  His first assignment after completing his initial training was with the First Battalion, First Marines as the Weapons Platoon Officer of Bravo Company.  He was deployed aboard the USS Dubuque (LPD-8) when the 9/11 attacks occurred.  In Darwin for a port call, they were the closest Marine force to Afghanistan and sailed immediately.

Fick and his Marines went ashore in Afghanistan, moving quite a bit but seeing little direct combat.  They rotated out of Afghanistan during the holidays, and Fick was offered the opportunity to train to be Marine Recon.  More schools, more training.  At the end was assignment to a Platoon in the First Recon Battalion.  Instead of mission they trained for – observing objectives in small teams without being discovered – they were issued five HMMWVs.  The platoon was to spearhead one of the major thrusts of the Invasion of Iraq.

The majority of the book is a day-by-day account of First Recon’s push though Iraq from the Platoon Leader’s perspective.  Their story will be familiar to most readers, as correspondent Evan Wright rode with the platoon and his book, Generation Kill, was made into an HBO miniseries of the same name.  I read both books together to compare the perspectives.  Wright’s book focuses more on the personalities and banter of the Marines in the platoon, and things unusual to those unfamiliar with Marines or the military in general.  Fick’s account is more thoughtful and less focused on tensions between the Marines and their leadership.  Fick is an excellent writer who cares for his men, and the perspectives of history and politics are not lost on him.  This is a great read which I can recommend without reservation.

Generation Kill Book Review

Generation Kill: Devil Dogs, Iceman, Captain America and The New Face of American War

By Evan Wright

Hardcover in dustjacket, 354 pages, photographs

Published by Putnam, 2004

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0-399-151193-1

Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.2 x 9.3 inches

This is the book which was made into the HBO miniseries of the same name.  Author Evan Wright was a Rolling Stone reporter embedded with the Marine’s First Recon Battalion during the invasion of Iraq.  Marine recon teams usually operate covertly, scouting out an objective and retiring, hopefully without the enemy even knowing they were there.  For this operation, First Recon was equipped with HMMWV light vehicle, more commonly known as the Humvee.  Their mission was to be the point element for one of the columns entering Iraq.

Wright rode in one of the five Humvees of Second Platoon, so he was able to observe events first hand.  His account is very personal and focuses on the actions and reactions of the twenty-three men in the platoon.  Much of the story is told in their own words.  At the Platoon level the overall strategic objectives are not always clear, the day’s plans are constantly evolving.  There is a constant cycle of moving to the next objective, maintaining equipment, eating, digging in, and moving again.  Sleep is replaced with snuff, energy drinks, and instant coffee, which the Marines eat as well as brew.

It is a messy business and Wright reports it all, both good and bad.  Some things went to plan while others did not, there are heroics and mistakes.  This is an honest and interesting account, both as a history of the war from a small unit perspective and as a study of men in combat.  I can recommend this book, even if you have watched the series.