Noble Warrior: The Life and Times of Maj. Gen. James E. Livingston

I have recently read two books on the Vietnam War. The first of these, Noble Warrior: The Life and Times of Maj. Gen. James E. Livingston, USMC (Ret.), Medal of Honor by James E. Livingston, Colin D. Heaton, and Anne-Marie Lewis, is a biography of Major General James E. Livingston – a Marine who was awarded the Medal of Honor in the Vietnam War. The book is a quick read at 272 pages. It includes 23 b/w photographs and seven maps (which are very helpful in following the action in the book).

A majority of the book is spent on Livingston’s time in Vietnam, specifically the battle for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor – the Battle of Dai Do in 1968. The main battle pitted a reinforced Marine battalion (2nd Battalion/4th Marine Regiment) against a significant portion of a North Vietnamese Army division. In the battle, Livingston commanded a company.

I won’t go into the details of the battle, but the phrase “uncommon valor was a common virtue” was prevalent on the battlefield. Livingston’s leadership appears to have made a difference in saving not only many of the lives in his company, but also in his battalion. The book is a good narrative of what occurred during the battle from the American perspective.

After Livingston’s tour, he returned to Vietnam to help evacuate the last Americans and South Vietnamese in the final days of South Vietnam in 1975. In vivid detail, the book describes the tense atmosphere that the Marines had to contend with in order to get everyone out alive – including themselves.

I have become wary of biographies (especially if the subject is involved in the writing) because it is hard to discern whether the book accurately portrays the subject’s life. This book appears to be objective with Livingston not glorifying his actions or over hyping what he did. He was probably a stickler for details (many of his men probably found that annoying), but that attention to detail no doubt saved many lives.

Some people may be turned off by some of Livingston’s observations and reflections on today’s world at the back of the book. He tells it the way he sees it. For example, he feels that the men and women in today’s armed forces are committed to defending our country to the best of their abilities. However, he criticizes all of the creature comforts that are given to those serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to him, these comforts are more appropriate for civilians in the U.S., not in a combat zone. Although I served in Korea, I am not about to criticize how our men and women are treated by our military in Iraq and Afghanistan because I do not know what it is like to serve in a combat zone (In my humble opinion, Livingston has a right to have an opinion since he has lived under combat conditions).

This book is well-worth a read for the combat descriptions alone.

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