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January 9, 2013

Book Review - Dog Company by Patrick K. O'Donnell

Being a military history guy, I love books that give the history of World War II (or any other war, really) in broad strokes, giving the whys and the hows, what the strategies were, that sort of thing.

But I also love looking at smaller parts of the war. What were individual soldiers thinking? What was happening in that one small village that the squad was supposed to patrol?

Patrick K. O'Donnell seems to specialize in the small, with books that talk about individual units and that come out of conversations and interviews with those who were involved. I had previously read and reviewed The Brenner Assignment (one that didn't make it on this site, so I will rectify that next week), so it was a natural that I would snap up O'Donnell's latest, Dog Company.

This is the story of the Army Rangers who stormed the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc during the Normandy landings. That's right.: they scaled sheer cliffs under withering fire to knock out a set of guns that were overlooking the beaches that could rain shells down on those heading for the beaches.

It's not just a story of Normandy, though. It's the story of courage, heroism, even desperation as they are later tasked with taking and defending a lonely hill in a German forest, one of the most needless (and thus even more costly, as the lives were given away for nothing) battles of World War II.

My review of it has gone live on Curled Up With a Good Book.

From the review:
"O'Donnell interviewed most (if not all) of the survivors of Company D (Dog Company), the Rangers who were tasked with the most difficult missions in the Western European conflict. They first became famous for being charged with destroying the massive German guns on the cliffs of Pointe Du Hoc overlooking the beaches where Allied troops would be storming ashore. To do so, they would have to scale sheer surfaces with little to no protection. The bravery of these men radiates, from the cliff-climbing training in Great Britain to the lead-up to the fateful assault.

The narrative then moves on to the Hurtgen Forest, one of the most unnecessary battles of the war and one that cost many American lives. For months, the members of Dog Company are cut down right and left in small villages or among the trees. You can almost feel the air bursts of mortars as they send shrapnel and bits of tree slicing through the soldiers. Finally, O'Donnell talks about Dog's role in the Battle of the Bulge and the crossing of the Roer River."
The fact that this is done almost totally through interviews, as part of O'Donnell's "Drop Zone" living history project (a wonderful site that you should explore to keep these heroes memories alive) makes this book even more immediate than it would be otherwise.

It's an excellent book and one I'm very glad that I read.


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