James Webb is a retired: Marine Captain, journalist, producer, Secretary of the Navy, and most recently, United States Senator from Virginia. He is also a prospective United States Presidential Canidate for the Democratic Party. From this brief list of his accolades, James Webb has a lot to say about his interesting life. From the many moves of his early childhood as a military brat to the rice paddies of Vietnam, this was certainly an entertaining reflection of a life well spent.
For my readers who follow this blog, you all know that I am pretty into military history and, more importantly, Marines. Webb had a lifelong passion to join the military in the footsteps of his father who retired as an Air Force Colonel and who also served in the last days of WWII. Webb details his life with unrelenting detail, illustrating his childhood and the conditions that led up to his decision to join the Naval Academy. He was a semi-professional boxer, excellent student, an avid reader, and really an intellectual from an early age. During his time at the academy, he details the harsh realities of “Pleb” year and how that benefitted him during his combat tours in Vietnam.
Webb joined the Marine Corps as a 2nd Lieutenant and shortly after “the Basic School” in Quantico, Virginia, the Marine Corps training school for fresh Lieutenants to become a platoon commander, he was shipped out to Vietnam. He received two purple hearts during his time there and wrote a famous book entitled, “Fields of Fire,” which I plan to read soon.
After his time in Vietnam, he ceases to be as detailed about his life. Perhaps he thought his book was running too long to carefully notate everything as he did earlier. I would have loved to hear about his experience as Secretary of the Navy and about his time in the Senate. Instead, he leaves us with a moving passage about being true to the people he represented instead of following money on Capitol Hill.
This is a very well-written account by James Webb and his life. What I find a little annoying is all the political jargon amidst the careful anecdotes of his life. Early on he dictates the conditions his mother lived through during the Great Depression, but sidesteps the facts to detail a long diatribe on how the South has always been more poor and more taken advantage of then the North. While this may be true, it really is irrelevant to the story. All the detail in this several-page rant could be boiled down to something that would have been more significant than a politically driven agenda. But I suppose what can we expect from someone who just retired from the Senate? He has another sort of rant that speaks about the change in our military (which I found more interesting). Back in the day, he explains, the military was a single man’s game. After the Korean War, money was diverted to programs that are geared more towards families such as base housing and food chains on base. He mentions Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan, where I just came from, and says that one could live their entire deployment on the base without having to leave. This is largely true and a by-product of these innovations in the 1950’s and 60’s.
Overall, James Webb is an incredibly interesting man, and although I may disagree with some of his politics, he chose to lay his life on the line for his country as a servant, from the many moves that comes with being in a military family, to being a platoon commander in Vietnam, to eventually becoming a United States Senator. I believe that this, not politics, is the heart of the book.