Review: Devotion by Adam Makos

Amy's Scrap Bag: A Blog About Libraries, Archives, and History

Devotion: An Epic Story of Heroism, Friendship, and Sacrifice by Adam Makos

Ballentine Books, 2015.  Hardcover, 464 pages.Cover: DevotionDevotion is the true story of a pair of naval aviators set during the Korean War.  This pair, despite their very different backgrounds, provide an example of friendship that should inspire all.  Ensign Jesse Brown grew up poor as the son of a sharecropper in Mississippi.  He always had a fascination with flying, something many did not think a black child would ever learn to do.  However, he proved them wrong.  Lieutenant Tom Hudner grew up a merchant’s son on the East Coast.  It was a privileged life and he turned down admission to Harvard to attend the Naval Academy.  He served in Naval Intelligence for years before he decided to try flight school.

The pair met when they are assigned to the same squadron.  In those early years, Makos shows how…

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Old Glory


Proper flag etiquette is often misstated… lost in urban legends, misinformation, and simple ignorance.  Here are some of the highlights set down by the official government handbook on flag etiquette.

  • The flag is never to be lowered in deference to another person or country- only if on a ship saluting a ship from another country.
  • The flag should never be used as clothing, bedding, curtains, or decoration-  bunting is used for these purposes
  • The flag must never be displayed in a manner that could lead to it being damaged-  like flying it in a thunderstorm
  • Flags can be cleaned and repaired when necessary
  • No additional marks, symbols, lettering, or images can be displayed on a flag- only military designations
  • Only when a flag has become damaged beyond repair should it be burned- ceremonies are held every year on June 14
  • Flags touching the ground DO NOT have to  be destroyed- this is a sign of disrespect, not a reason to destroy a flag
  • Flags must always be allowed to fall freely-  only the flag used during the alleged moon landing is exempted
  • The flag should be properly folded before it is stored
  • Proper flags should not be used for advertising or displayed on commercial products
  • Flags are only displayed upside-down in extreme distress – not like bad Tommy Lee Jones movies

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Not a Myth if You See it

June 12, 1987

Ronald Reagan challenged Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down…the Berlin Wall and seemingly cemented his Cold War legacy.  Historical debate erupted in recent years as partisan politicians look to the Reagan legacy for inspiration.  Competing interpretations of the speech, delivered at the Brandenburg Gate in 1987, show that Reagan’s foreign policy is still pertinent to this day.  Liberals decry the speech as a “stunt” with no impact on US-Soviet relations; Reagan supporters hail the speech as the event that led to the end of the Cold War.  Neither perspective is correct, both fail to acknowledge the complexity of Reagan’s Soviet policy.

 “We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace. There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!

Negotiate from strength

Critics fail to acknowledge the effects the speech… had upon Soviet leadership.  Declassified documents clearly show that Gorbachev was listening- “If he’s talking about this wall, he’s never going to let go unless we do something.”   The Soviets needed Glasnost and Reagan showed them the way.  Reagan admirers make the mistake of placing mythical proportions on the moment; Reagan spoke, the world trembled, the Cold War was over-  It just didn’t happen that way.  Reagan’s handling of the Soviet Union was a complex series of give and take- summits, speeches, deals, and treaties.  American Conservatives (Bill Buckley in particular) were frustrated with the foreign policy of Reagan’s second term.  The tough rhetoric and military build-up of the first term had given way to nuclear talks and peaceful overtures.  “Tear down this wall” was not an ending, but a prelude to more negotiations.  Reagan was responding to Glasnost, but on our terms….

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Political Opportunist in Uniform

James A. Garfield wanted to advance his political career… a brief stint commanding Ohio volunteers followed by an undistinguished term as a Congressman stalled the upstart’s career.

The Mentor

The Mentor

Concluding military service essential to future political ascension….  Garfield used favors of his mentor (and distant cousin) Salmon P. Chase to reenter military service, this time as a General.  The Lincoln administration needed an appropriate duty station for the young Ohioan’s “talents.”

Self-serving service

Self-serving service

Eccentric, brilliant, but irascible…  William S. Rosecrans was on Secretary of War Edwin Stanton’s last nerve.  Stubborn to a fault, Rosecrans refused to bow to the Administration’s unreasonable timetables.  The popular Rosecrans needed to go, but Stanton needed just cause.  The cagey Garfield seemed the perfect plant-  Rosecrans needed a new Chief-of-Staff- Stanton needed an ally close to the troublesome Commander.  The drama was set….

Unwitting victim

Unwitting victim



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Book Review- A new look at Grant

Frank P. Varney, General Grant and the Rewriting of History, California, Savas and Beatty, 2013

A critical examination of Grant’s memoirs and their effects on the historical record. 


Professor Frank Varney’s first book is a bold effort to right historical wrongs…. and the wrongs were perpetrated by none other than US Grant.   Varney proposes a three volume examination of the inconsistencies, mistakes, and outright lies found in Grant’s widely utilized memoirs.  Volume one takes Grant (and his historical defenders) to task for ruining the reputation of Major General William S. Rosecrans.  Varney carefully dissects both the historical record and the secondary sources which were deeply influenced by Grant’s account.

“The well of data about Rosecrans has been so tainted that many historians… are simply not motivated to look beyond the traditionally relied-upon sources- the writings of Grant prominent among them.”   Varney sums up how Grant’s memoirs have affected Civil War historiography.  Researchers simply assume Grant was right- they fail to verify with lesser known primary sources; what source could be more valuable than the man credited as the Union victor?  Varney’s research is extensive and provides key insights to the Grant/Rosecrans feud.  At the Battles of Iuka and Corinth, Grant was miles from the fighting- his battle reports change over time- and his memoir bears little resemblance to the Official Records.  Historians like Steven Woodworth and T. Harry Williams  have been complicit in propagating Grant’s distorted account and Varney cites key examples of his peers failing to carry-out the most basic research methodology.

Far from a redemptive piece about Rosecrans… Varney acknowledges the flaws in the man.  But, the evidence of tampering and distortion are too extensive to be ignored by the historical community.  Rosecrans had his flaws, but Grant’s accounts of the war have forever tarnished a General with widely accepted military skill.  Grant didn’t care for his subordinate and Varney skillfully shows how he took credit for victories, exaggerated his own actions, and distorted (even lied) about the performance of others.  Rosecrans was the victim of a concerted effort led by Grant- and historians have failed to give a balanced account of this chapter in Civil War history.  Hopefully, Professor Varney’s future volumes will be as detailed and insightful as this first edition.

The recent Grant renaissance should be reconsidered. 


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Facts in Five

Overland Campaign Edition


  • US Grant never commanded the Army of the Potomac- George Meade maintained tactical command until the end of the war
  • Phil Sheridan was defeated by Confederate Cavalry chief Wade Hampton in the largest mounted battle of the war-Trevillian Station
  • Best estimates for Grant’s casualties are found in the West Point Atlas of the Civil War-  between 75-90,000 troops in 8 weeks
  • Custer received his second star (brevet, US Vols.)  during the campaign- the youngest man to earn the rank. 
  • Grant promoted Emory Upton to brigadier general for his innovative assault on the Confederate works at Spotsylvania

Command Circle

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More than Remembrance

D-Day resources at your finger tips…

National Archives World War II Records

National D-Day Museum Oral History Project

National D-Day Memorial- Bedford, Virginia

Life Magazine presents D-Day in color

Carnage and Courage- France after D-Day; a collection

United States Army Resource Page


Stephen Ambrose discusses D-Day



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