Friday, March 5, 2010

Finished: American Patriot: the life and wars of Colonel Bud Day" by Robert Coram"

Finished: American Patriot: The Life and Wars of Colonel Bud Day by Robert Coram, 2007, 9780316758475.

I saw an interview with Day on the Pritzker Military Library's website.

Some reviewer wrote this is a hagiography. He's right. Day grew up poor in western Iowa, joined the Marines in WWII, the Army Reserve, the Air Force, graduated college on the GI bill and then law school in SD, married, adopted four kids, served around the country and world, got shot down in Vietnam, escaped while badly injured, was recaptured and then spent six years in North Vietnam prisons where he was beaten, beaten, beaten, and strung up, and beaten some more.

A very impressive guy who is thanked daily by complete strangers for his service.

1. Issue of biography - especially when the subject is alive - about is it the author or the subject who is talking? Is the author distilling the subjects thoughts and ideas or is the author commenting on issues?

2. POWs and the different caste level within. Outside groups see a unified unit but there are fractures in most any group, even an elite one. I've heard before that inside the special operations community that the hard-core super-capable guys are (or at least were) called snake eaters. Everyone else would look at SEALs and Special Forces as one homogenous group. Same with the POWs. There were several POWs who collaborated with guards and/or accepted early release. They are the untouchable caste. Some other POWs would not follow orders.

Day followed up his time in Hanoi by writing lengthy - several years worth of reporting after all - evaluation reviews. If someone was refusing orders or working with guards Day recorded that and turned it in. Day is easily one of the strongest and toughest and dedicated resisters. I'd like to hear the views by other POWs on Day's standards. As such a hard-case I wonder if Day's standards for his men were achievable or realistic? I don't know but Day always seems like a fair guy.

3. I've liked several things about McCain as a person. Coram's stories of McCain's prison time highlight his faults and strengths. I never got around to reading McCain's autobio.

4. A lot of politics. Politics are important to Day, they are one of his passions. There are several questions that come up during Coram's tale of Day's fight to re-establish full medical benefits to military retirees. One issue that was not made clear: were all benefits cut or was policy changed to require retirees to visit the VA hospitals rather than base hospitals? There is a lot of vitriol aimed at Clinton, his personal affairs, and his policies. But, the benefits fight continued into Bush II's tenure and no criticism of Bush's administration about continuing the policy fight begun by Clinton.

5. Day is a staunch supporter of the GOP. But, Coram makes it clear that Day is no political hack. He opposes candidates he does not believe in and will criticize them where he sees fault. Day's hatred of Kerry is personal not political. Kerry's testimony in front of Congress over Viet and Day's captors repeating that testimony during POW torture sessions is seen as traitorous. Coram puts a lot, I mean a lot, of weight behind his theory that Day was the instigator and prevailing force in Kerry's loss.

6. Day loved Nixon. Nixon was a scoundrel with numerous faults but his Christmas bombing campaign (Linebacker II) forced the NV back to the table and freed the POWs.

7. I still think Ross Perot is a weirdo. I have great respect for his work on behalf of POWs and other people in the service.

8. Early release POWs and full-term POWs should not be put in the same room unless you want to watch one old guy try to beat or kill the other old guy.

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