Published: 1 June 2008
Air & Space Power Journal - Summer 2008
Boys of ’67: From Vietnam to Iraq, the Extraordinary Story of a Few Good
Men by Charles Jones. Stackpole Books (http://www.stackpolebooks.com), 5067
Ritter Road, Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania 17055-6921, 2006, 416 pages, $29.95
At first glance, Boys of ’67 appears to be a rousing text, somewhat akin in spirit to Stephen Ambrose’s Band of Brothers or James Kitfield’s Prodigal Soldiers; after all, the cover boasts a positive review from Rick Atkinson, author of the Pulitzer-prize-winning work An Army at Dawn. It also contains a respectable foreword by Gen Anthony Zinni, former commander of United States Central Command and one of the most respected military leaders in recent history. Thusly prepared, one expects a motivating text that both educates and inspires. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
Boys of ’67 follows the careers of three Marine officers—Gen James L. Jones Jr., Lt Gen Martin R. Steele, and Maj Gen Ray L. Smith—from their attendance at the Basic School (where newly commissioned Marine lieutenants learn the art and science of the warrior trade), through combat action in Vietnam, and on through the rest of their careers. Although this book does a fine job of chronicling the formative years of these officers—especially the chapters on their initial combat exploits in Vietnam—it later falls short in meeting the expectations generated from reading the first few pages. Indeed, instead of a story of perseverance and pride, the author presents the officers’ careers in a fairly disjointed manner, jumping across the years instead of providing a logical flow of information. Furthermore, one underlying characteristic detracts greatly from the work: the relationship of the author to one of the main subjects.
Author Charles Jones is the son of Lt Gen William K. Jones, USMC, and the cousin of Gen James Jones, one of the key figures in the text. Thus, one can understand that Jones’s admiration of his cousin as a warrior might color his views a bit. However, throughout Boys of ’67 the author fails to provide an objective view not only of his cousin but also of the other officers as well. Indeed, the mostly one-sided perspective of events further heightens the sense of infallibility regarding his subjects. The book opens with several unflattering (and unnecessary) anecdotes of Gen Tommy Franks, with the author quoting his cousin (once again, a general) as describing Franks’s book as “flawed, self-serving, and inaccurate” (p. 2). Unfortunately, that critique can apply to Boys of ’67 as well.
The work is very scantily sourced; many chapters in my advance copy have very few documented sources to support Mr. Jones’s portrayal of events. Indeed, one chapter lists not a single reference at all. Furthermore, the text contains glaring inaccuracies that even a novice would detect, let alone any serious reader of military affairs. For example, in a chapter on Vietnam, the author refers to reports of alleged atrocities “including the murder of twenty-two Vietnamese civilians at My Lai” (p. 110). Over 100 people were killed and wounded at My Lai, a fact easily sourced. Jones also refers to the USS Blue Ridge as “a hulking destroyer whose guns glistened in the sun” (p. 328), but this ship is a command vessel with limited armament. Granted, these two examples may appear trivial, but they typify the book’s problem—poor documentation and questionable sourcing.
In fact, in chapter 13, “Combat at Chrysler,” Jones tells the story of Marty Steele, a major at the time, assigned as a liaison officer to supervise tank production in Michigan. We learn that Major Steele confronts the Chrysler management over the quality of M-60 tanks and that the workers “tended to talk to him more, and even confide in him” while supervisors “nervously shooed him away” (p. 190). Jones alludes to the fact that Major Steele’s follow-on report, dealing with tank periscopes, was “labeled top secret” and that “because it was handled quietly, and was a classified matter, the internal affair has . . . never been publicly scrutinized” (pp. 196–97). One problem—there is absolutely no (zero) documentation or sourcing for this chapter. And this is not the only unsubstantiated “fact” in Boys of ’67.
Subsequent chapters highlight the three officers’ careers. For the most part, the author presents them in the same style—that is, with little sourcing, somewhat accurately, and painting an overly flattering picture of the protagonists. Of note are several pages wherein Jones, a lieutenant general at the time, advises Secretary of Defense William Cohen on Khobar Towers. Predictably, the author highlights the contributions of his cousin while providing a much less charitable view of the Air Force leadership with regard to this incident. Indeed, throughout the text, sister services and their leadership just don’t measure up, but the marines documented appear stellar in every way.
Although each of the officers is a fine, noble man, the book’s underlying bias detracts from their respective stories. The author highlights how General Jones served as an aide to several general officers and went on to spend five years in the Pentagon as a military liaison. Furthermore, he illustrates how working with Senator William Cohen and other members of Congress benefited his career later on as Secretary of Defense Cohen’s military advisor and eventually as commander of European Command. The story suffers greatly from this overwhelming sense of patronage.
After reading this book, Air Force officers would have the impression that if they are related to a general officer, good things can happen to them, regardless of their own bravery and dedication to service. Furthermore, if they serve multiple staff tours as a general’s aide and then go on to make friends in Congress, they will become quite successful, even though they are warriors in their own right.
However, one bright spot in Boys of ’67 will resonate with many Air Force members—author Jones includes several pages on Clebe McClary, a Marine junior officer and one of the keynote speakers at Squadron Officer School. Jones presents a very touching vignette of McClary, who, after being wounded in Vietnam, went on to become a dynamic motivational speaker and a living inspiration for everyone. If Jones had written a book on McClary, that would have been a truly inspiring text; unfortunately, Boys of ’67 is not.
Lt Col Richard J. Hughes, USAF
Maxwell AFB, Alabama
and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author
cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of
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