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Paratrooper [Hardcover]

T. Michael Booth & Duncan Spencer

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Book Description

19 Sep 2012
World War II, which occurred precisely at the juncture between air transport capability and the invention of the helicopter, saw historys first and only mass use of paratroopers dropped into battle from the sky, perhaps the most courageous combat task seen in modern warfare. And ""Jumpin' Jim"" Gavin was by all accounts Americas best paratrooper leader. His first combat jump was in Sicily, where as a battalion commander he found his men scattered all over the landscape in one of airbornes greatest fiascos. Yet his stand with a few stalwarts at Biazza Ridge is credited with saving the U.S. invasion front. In Normandy, as assistant division commander of the 82nd Airborne, he won the eternal affection of his men for continuing to lead in combat, M-1 slung over his shoulder, even as his paratroopers were similarly scattered and faced German fire on all sides. His cool leadership served to coalesce the paratrooper bridgehead behind enemy lines until infantry from the beaches could finally reach them. During Operation Market Garden, now as commander of the 82nd, Gavin wrote a new chapter in paratrooper heroism, seizing all his objectives despite a serious spinal injury on landing. With hardly a respite after the grueling campaign in Holland, Gavin and his men were called upon for perhaps their most dangerous task - stemming the German onslaught during the Battle of the Bulge. After the war Gavin continued to earn as much respect from policymakers as he had from his men, providing commentary on our Cold War stance, the war in Vietnam, and as Kennedys ambassador to France. He was not an unflawed individual, as this comprehensive biography reveals, but an exceptional one in every sense, especially during his days of combat leadership during historys greatest war.

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Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Biography of a Great Leader 4 Aug 2013
By W. Wood - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
"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.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding biography of Gen. Gavin and excellent historical commentaries 24 Aug 2013
By robert j. conklin - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This was a very well written, candid, and thought provoking biography of a notable American military leader. Additionally, the commentaries and discussions about contemporaneous military and political figures was very interesting and dealt with issues not readily found elsewhere. Well worth reading, and very thought provoking about American history: pre, during, and post WWII.
2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Flawed but ultimately readable Biography 19 Oct 2013
By W. Frayne - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Paratrooper is a flawed biography of probably America's finest combat leader of WW2. It is flawed due to the lack of objectivity by the authors toward their subject, General James M. Gavin. Both authors are Gavin men to the point that they denigrate Gavin's superiors, Generals Dwight Eisenhower, "Boy" Browning and Matthew Ridgeway. and Gavin's peer, General Maxwell Taylor, rather than give a balanced portrayal of all concerned. The authors' noncritical approach to Gavin is reminiscent of Paula Broadwell's treatment of General David Petraeus in "All In."

What works well is the depiction of Gavin early years, struggling as an orphan raised in a hardscrabble Pennsylvania mining town, then joining the Army and winning a competitive appointment to West Point. I found this insightful into Gavin's drive to standout, to succeed at all cost. I can understand Gen Gavin's concern about his image, his courting of reporters during the WW2 for publicity and his serial philandering. The reader can easily understand Gavin's determination to take appalling risks on European battlefields to motivate his men in order to gain recognition as America's preeminent combat leader.

What does not work well is the lifeless narrative of Gavin's battlefield exploits. I realize the American battlefield in Europe has been
extensively covered before by better writers than the authors but I just found the biography's accounts of battle repetitious and dull.
The postwar years are pretty much a "who shot john" retelling of a man who could not or would not fit into the Army's peacetime bureaucracy.

Despite its' flaws, this is a highly readable biography. I recommend it.
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars 30 Sep 2014
By James Nolan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Very good.
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