"Jumping Jim" or "Slim Jim" Gavin is a legend to students of the World War History. For paratroopers and former members of the 82nd Airborne Division he is more than that. He is an example (and I use "is" because though he has passed away his legacy in the "Division" lives on) to every trooper - be he be officer or enlisted - as to what is expected of an Airborne leader.
If Matthew Ridgway, the first commander of the 82nd AIRBORNE Division (the 82nd was previously a regular or "leg" infantry division) created and formed the structure of the Airborne Division concept, Jim Gavin more than anyone else imprinted his character on the 82nd making the 82nd Airborne Division as we know it today HIS division, more than anyone else.
He was the first truly paratrooper commander of the Division. Ridgway barely earned his wings in a crash course and one jump at Ft. Benning shortly after the it was announced the 82nd would be the US' first Airborne Division. During his entire career, he made five jumps - including the combat jump at Normandy - the minimum number normally required to earn your wings. This was due to a back injury and the concern jumping might not only end his career, but possibly paralyze him for life.
Gavin, on the other hand, in keeping with his (and Ridgway's) rule of "leading from the front" made numerous jumps from every conceivable aircraft in his drive to perfect airborne tactics and set the example for his men. Thus one of his nicknames. Gavin literally wrote the book on US Airborne tactics. As a captain he wrote the first US Army manual on airborne tactics and methods. He rose through the ranks of the paratroops, first as a member of the staff at the US Army Airborne Board assuming command of a company, and then his own regiment, the 505th PIR - upon which he stamped his own personality and way of soldiering. The "Oh-Five" as the 505th is known was and remains "Gavin's Own."
It was Gavin who did away with the idea of "rank has its privileges" in first his regiment and then the entire Division. To this day the motto of leadership in the 82nd is leaders (officers and NCOs (Sergeants)) are first out the door and last in the chow line. He followed this in every aspect of leadership; in combat jumps he was first out the door. In reading personal stories of paratroopers and glidermen in the 82nd one hears again and again how Gavin was everywhere on the front line. More than one cold, wet, tired, and scared trooper was encouraged by the sight of his commanding general on the front line, firing his ever-present M-1 rifle (a private's weapon) at the enemy or sharing a cup of C-ration coffee in a lonely foxhole on point. Gavin is the kind of leader a soldier will go to hell and back for.
In this book, which T. Michael Booth wrote with the cooperation of the Gavin family, Gavin's life is covered in great detail with a story teller's art for detail and color. Though it is obvious Booth has great admiration for his subject (it is difficult not to admire the man) this is no glossed over exercise in hero worship. Gavin is given a detailed portrait - warts and all.
Gavin's life is detailed from his tragic childhood, through his controversial career after the war, when his own very success in combat acted against him. He was the youngest Major General in the US Army since the American Civil War. Unfortunately, with the end of the war, his meteoric rise in rank was stalled by the fact he was so junior to older, less gifted officers. Tragically, his straight-forward, bluntly honest manner of getting the job done ran afoul of the Eisenhower Administration's drastic defense budget cuts and led to an early retirement.
To cut it short (and not give it all away) - an excellent read of a truly American success story. If you are an Airborne history or just World War II or general history buff you need this in your library. If you are not particularly interested in history it is worth a read. As a former paratrooper I find myself humbled to have walked in this man's (and the men he led) footsteps. As an American I am thankful that men like Gavin lived, served, and sacrificed for our nation.