111 of 119 people found the following review helpful
on March 9, 2001
My friend, whom graduated from West Point in 1991, recommended "The Long Gray Line" to me. My object for reading this book was that I wanted to learn more about the Vietnam War, what happened and why. I also wanted to understand more about the problems and turmoil that followed when the War was over. Further, I realised the book would be a great source of information about the West Point Academy, something I wanted to learn more about since my friend had attended the Academy. (A discussion with the same mentioned friend about the Vietnam War had left no doubt that I had considerable gaps in my knowledge of both West Point and the Vietnam War).
I was completely fascinated with the story, and it soon became impossible for me to put the book down. I even wished for longer commute to work, so I could read more (I already have 1 hrs 20 min of commuting each way to work!). After I had finished the book I asked my friend "Was is really like that at West Point?" and he answered "The book gives a `pretty accurate' description of what it was like"..
The first part of this book is about the Academic life at West Point, and at times this part of the book is absolutely hilarious! It left me smiling and laughing for myself.. I love the way the author, Rick Atkinson, describes the different characters. I had no problems picturing the different events in my head and I finished the book feeling like I practically knew all these cadets. The latter part of the book is about the war and it's aftermath. This part of the book is incredibly moving. The author describes these young men's (and their families) trial and suffering so well that you almost feel it as if the pain was your own. This part of the book left me in tears more than one time.
I finished this book with a deeper comprehension of the pain and distress which Vietnam Veterans has experienced both while fighting for their country, and later returning home. Anyone interested in history, reading about the events and ideas that strongly influenced America in the latter part of the 20th century, should read this book. The words "Duty, Honour, and Country" will never mean the same to you after reading this book. It is not often that I read a book, which so deeply touches my heart as this one did!
59 of 61 people found the following review helpful
on April 7, 2002
What an exciting, engrossing book. You live the life of a plebe in the semi-pre-war, more casual era, then become wrapped in the clouds of the gathering storm clouds as the class progresses. You learn to know and love, hate, or appreciate each of the members as though you are there with them.
Through the lengthy reading process, you learn a great deal about life at West Point, rituals, bull, bonding, and training.
Finally you end up in combat and find that the enemy doesn't chose to play by many of the rules that you were taught, that you need to adapt or die. You learn that the order of allegiance becomes your foxhole buddy, your squad, your company, and way down the line becomes some distant concept of why we are fighting this war...you are fighting to protect your men, your friends.
As men who are as real to your as your own classmates die, you grieve with the author. As men begin to harden and tear, you begin to understand Post-traumatic Stress. As men race against odds you begin to understand the terms from other books like "a hail of bullets", "SNAFU", "CYA", "Duty, Honor, Country."
At the end of the book, you are fatigued, you need R&R, you want to go sit and have a beer with your friends and family and sit with the dog and watch the kids play in the neighborhood. You look a little differently when the flag goes by in the next parade.
57 of 59 people found the following review helpful
on July 5, 2000
I found out about this book when it first came out and I was stationed in Washington DC. It was of immediate interest to me, as my brother, a member of the West Point Class of 1964, had been killed in action in Vietnam, and was mentioned in the book. I called the author introduced myself and told him how much I liked the book and who I was.
Rick Atkinson is not only a superb author, he is a fine man, and this book is an accurate tribute to, not only the class he chronicles in the story, but to the American fighting man in Vietanm as a whole.
If you want an even, unbiased account of part of the war in Vietnam, this is it. It is much better than the highly touted Bright Shining Lie, of which I don't think too highly, and is one of the best books written on Vietnam. Atkinson tells the tale with aplomb, wit, empathy, and just plain good writing. Accurate and entertaining, you really can't put it down.
I have also read his book Crusade on the Gulf War, of which I was a participant, and it was the best book I read on the subject. If the book is written by Rick Atkinson, buy it and read it-you won't be disappointed.
32 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on March 8, 2001
Having served in Vietnam twice as an infantry officer I of course found this a fascinating book. Though I did not go to West Point I had a Regular Army commission which basically sent me through the same training as West Point graduates--Ranger School and Airborne School--and units--82d Airborne Division, 199th Light Infantry Brigade and the 1st Air Cavalry Division. Additionally I spent one summer training the yearlings at West Point in hand to hand combat and patrolling. My life crossed and intermingled with the class of '66 throughout my four years of service. Reading this book brought back many memories--some good and some too colorful to reveal to anyone but myself. Years after reading this book I am still haunted by the memory of Tommy Hayes. The one person who remains very much alive in my mind and I cannot forget though I never knew him.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on May 8, 2000
Atkinson did a wonderful job with this book. Atkinson wrote about the West Point Class of 1966, following the lives of the men during their years at West Point, through Vietnam, and beyond. As he told a fascinating tale of the cultural changes in our country from the 1960's to the 1980's, he attacked a few Hollywood myths about the Vietnam experience. For one example, the army was not full of unhappy druggies at the time.
Atkinson shared anecdotes about many people, but he followed most closely the story of three. One was George Crocker, an army career man; then there was Tom Carhart, whose attitude towards the Vietnam War and the army went through peaks and valleys; and finally there was Jack Wheeler, who liked the army, but did not want to fight. To further flesh out our understanding of life in the army for the West Point graduate of 1966, Atkinson went into great detail on the lives of a couple of people who never served in the army. The two were a minister who worked at the West Point Chapel even though he was a civilian and a widow of an officer who survived Vietnam only to be killed in a border incident between North and South Korea.
The book was very well done, but it was not without flaw. Of course this problem might not have been possible to solve, given the scope of the work. As the lives of the graduates unfolded over the years, and Atkinson switched from one person's story to update another, it was sometimes hard to keep all the names straight. It was occasionally difficult to remember all the back story of someone and fit the new developments within the appropriate context. Again, this probably could not have been helped, since Atkinson wanted to cast his net as wide as possible to show us what life was really like for these people. He obviously could not narrow his focus without losing a part of the big picture.
This book was great for pleasure reading, but it was informative enough to serve as a wonderful resource for students of military history, Vietnam, and/or life in AMerica in the 1960's and 1970's.
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on April 15, 2009
Well, I never had a good relationship with my father. We were people from two different generations. This book was in our library and one day I decided to read it. I couldn't put the book down. Suddenly, everything I thought I knew about my father changed. I understood why he responded differently to situations and why he was closest to his classmates. I was also filled with respect for him.
This book is one of a kind. After reading it you will have more respect for the people who serve our country. I definitely recommend this book to everyone.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
This book is a great complement to Sheehan's "A Bright Shining Lie." Both tell the story of Vietnam through the prism of a few individuals, though Atkinson has a somewhat larger class of protagonists to work with by virtue of following the exploits of an entire class of West Point graduates. Atkinson comes from a military family, and his perspective is more right of center than Sheehan's. He provides a much-needed reminder of the idealism, patriotism, and heroism of the young men who served. One can best appreciate the Vietnam experience by reading both books, as well as Karnow's masterly narrative history, "Vietnam: A History."
Given the more conservative perspective of Atkinson and his protagonists, their criticisms of the military are compelling. The American military in Vietnam failed at the strategic level, as Sheehan and others have made clear. We could not win a war of attrition against a numerous enemy fighting on his home turf who was far more committed than we to the battle. And on a tactical level, Westmoreland's search-and-destroy methods, which involved abandoning territory after horrific bloodletting, were insane. Abrams' clear-and-hold methods made a lot more sense and the great irony is that the war was going better, at least tactically, when we pulled out than when we were escalating. But given the strategic reality, Abrams was hardly in a position to "win" the war. The enemy would regroup and would continue to bleed Americans for decades until we left. This was not a winnable war, at least so long as we were not prepared to use massive infusions of millions of troops and billions more dollars of resources.
Atkinson is critical of the careerism of the officer corps. Officers punched their tickets on tours as opposed to staying at a job for the long haul and making a difference. In addition, the West Point system and attitude of the officer corps was more conducive to sliding by as opposed to encouraging a corps of creative, risk-taking, and accountable junior officers.
By following the class after Vietnman into the 1980s, Atkinson is able to show the ways in which the military has changed for the better in reaction to Vietnam. The gender integration of West Point and move away from some of sadistic dysfunction of the old West Point seems a positive step in the direction of attracting the best and the brightest and encouraging them to be creative leaders.
The tragedy of the young officers who died is heartbreaking, as is the callous treatment of returning veterans. Atkinson's approach allows him to tell the story not just of a changing military, but the story of the evolution in attitudes toward the military by Americans in general. The combat scenes in this book are mesmerizing, and Atkinson seems to have been able to capture the true horror and exhiliration of combat.
Atkinson did an extraordinary amount of interviewing and hard work in preparing this narrative, and he tells the story in an engrossing manner.
This is a magnificent book.
29 of 33 people found the following review helpful
on September 24, 2000
I graduated from West Point in 1991, some twenty five years after the class chronicled in the book. Atkinson's description of life at the Academy is dead accurate (amazing how few changes twenty five years have delivered) and one assumes that his perceptive reporter's eye extends to the combat scenes in Vietnam. Therefore, for me this book is one of the definitive accounts of the Vietnam era. In that my generation has to rely on second-hand accounts to understand this era, The Long Gray Line is an authoritative guide.
Strongly recommended for anyone interested in West Point, the Vietnam War, or the societal upheaval which followed the war's conclusion.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
This account of the West Point class of 1966 from its beginnings in 1962 up to 1988 is very well done, and one suffers and glories with the members of it in this triumph of the personal historian's art. I would have liked a list of the graduating members of the class of 1966--maybe with their rank from 1st to last, and with Gold Stars by those who died for their country. But this is not designed as that kind of a book, and I found it unfailingly readable. A triumph for the a book of this type.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on December 10, 1999
So go the experiences of the honorable men of the USMA class of 1966. As someone who recently began the process of becoming an Army Officer, I approached this book with perhaps a heightened sense of curiosity . . . and I was overwhelmed. Mr. Atkinson has skillfully captured both the demons and angels of these brave men's lives. One moment you're struck by the horror of war (and, naturally, its aftermath) and the often difficult life of the young officer, the next you are inspired by acts of heroism and tremendous courage, or just the wonderful spirit humans can summon in extraordinary situations. With every page, "The Long Gray Line" proves engrossing and revelatory. Valuable for miltary personnel and enthusiasts, history fans -- and just about anyone who can appreciate an inspirational yet often tragic story exceptionally well told. Truly, an achievement worthy of the men of '66, their brothers in arms and all of their their sacrifices.