Once an Eagle is one of those books that I won’t be able to forget. Going forward, any book or movie about war will be compared to this book.
Required reading for West Point and Marine Corps cadets, Once an Eagle follows Sam Damon growing up in Nebraska, as a soldier in WWI, general in WWII, and and advisor in the lead-up to Vietnam. As John McCain says on the back cover, this book shows the U.S. military “warts and all.” Sam’s main nemesis, Courtney Massengale, always outranks Sam, never took part in battle, and is mainly concerned with career advancement. Sam confronts bullies his entire life, is the soldier’s soldier, and leads men in whatever role he is given. Sam and Courtney, fictional characters, intermingle with actual generals in historical battles, giving the book the feeling of a non-fictional account of two world worlds and the lead-up to the Cold War.
Once an Eagle took me a long time to finish because I was underlining so many sections of the book. I learned a ton about each of the wars. My school education focused almost solely on the European side of WWII. Once an Eagle focused on the Pacific theater for WWII.
There was one specific chapter of this book, the Battle of Palamangao, that set this book apart. Up until that chapter, I was enjoying the book, but the Battle of Palamangao was heart-rending, nearly had me in tears, and is something I will remember the rest of my life.
It’s hard to put a nearly 1300 page book into a tidy review. There were so many themes, battles, triumphs, failures, shocks, and horrors. I put this book up there with Les Miserables. An epic tale that will forever impact my view of war, history, and power. This is required reading for cadets. It should be required reading for everyone.