on 2 February 1997
Anton Myrer, a former U.S. Marine, has written the all-time greatest novel of a soldier's life of service. The protagonist, Sam Damon, was commissioned on the battlefield but never forgot his simple and honorable roots as a citizen and enlisted man. He lived a life of dedicated service, loyal to his subordinates, leaders, the Army, and the nation, and rose to two-star General officer rank. His nemesis was a West Point graduate, Courtney Massengale, who was never a soldier at heart, but merely a careerist... out for himself. On one level, these two characters provide contrasting types of military officers, one noble and self-sacrificing, and and the other obsessed with personal aggrandizement. On a more intimate level, these two characters represent the struggle within every soldier's heart between the allure of promotion and prestige, and the call to duty and humble loyalty to his men and profession. Myrer died of cancer on Robert E. Lee's birthday in January 1996. I read the book before I was commissioned at West Point in 1976 and the story stuck with me throughout my own humble 20+ year career as a constant conscience and counselor against self-promotion. This is a character-building tale!
on 4 May 2001
Most of those who review this book are military or retired military. As a teenager, I saw the mini-series (if only they would show it again) and it truly inspired me. It inspired me to respect all those who aspire to the military calling. This novel embodies the best ideals of the military, and speaking as a civilian, this novel best communicates why soldiers serve. If you read one book in your life, let this be it -whether you are a soldier or a civilian. This book has had a greater impact on my life than any other.
on 19 March 2006
Many reviewers, especially in the US, say this book tells more about the US military than any other, is even based on real people, though no-one's really saying who. It is even being taken on as compulsory reading for the country's main military training establishments. It was reprinted mainly because of its popularity with military personnel. It's even been called America's 'War and Peace'. Try typing the title into a search engine and you'll see what I mean.
Me? What I know about the military can be written on a pin-head, but I read this book avidly in my teens (70s)and was so taken with it I've read it every year since, but don't take it on a mini-break because it's a 'big' book. It is definitely my favourite book of all time. The mini-series didn't do it any harm and I think the lead character was particularly well-cast, but I digress...
It's a people saga, knitted in with WWI, WW2 and Vietnam, with a couple of other campaigns in between and before. It tells the story of families and individuals in the military, never letting go of the military, about how politics and machination run and ruin good people's lives, even in peacetime. It does well what 'We Were Soldiers' tried to do, but failed to do in the time given over to a film. The characters are particularly well-wrought, I'd go to the ends of the earth with Sam Damon!
My copy is now so dog-eared, I thought I'd try Amazon to see if I could get a used copy, thinking it was out of print. I was surprised at its resurgence - not because I don't think the book's worth it, it means I can have a new copy of my very own and read it every year for the next 25 years.
on 10 May 1999
Literally the only non text book I read in four years of college...I've probably read it 5 times since. I've since worn out that first copy and I continue on another. Myrer has written, quite simply, the finest modern American war novel.
Damon's (Myrer's) prayer for strength in leadership ("...let me not fail them...") was on my desk or wall or wallet in every leadership or staff position I had for all my years of military service, as was his statement that a man must be prepared for the awful shrieking moment when he knows he may die on a lonely hilltop 10,000 miles from home.
I made my lieutenants read and discuss the book, named my tank 'Sad Sam' after Damon (my XO's tank was 'The Wolverine' after Ben Krisler)and had it been in print in the late '80s would have had my students buy it as their leadership primer. When he is old enough, I will ask my son to read it.
Composed of the traits of fine American officers and sergeants, Sam Damon's life is a rich tapestry filled with great success and great failure. That is the magic of Anton Myrer, he created a character who was truly believable.
His protagonist, Massengale, is just as real - and he exists today in one or more arm chair senior officers. I've met him, as have others.
A must read for all leaders, military or civilian...truly one of the finest examples of modern tragedy that anyone could write.
I salute the memory of Anton Myrer...it was an honor to have read his work and known him through Sam Damon!
on 4 December 1997
You've had Total Quality Management. You've read Sun Tzu and Musashi on business as war. You've been to Outward Bound and you've undergone Team Building exercises until you're blue in the face. Now read the novel that has more to say about the qualities a real leader should have than any text written by a management guru--Anton Myrer's classic "Once an Eagle."
The book is a youth-to-death story of "Sad" Sam Damon, a midwestern boy who steeps himself in military history and a code of honor that requires him to step forward and take the lead in almost every situation. Myrer has tapped into a simple truth. That's what real leaders do; they lead.
While Sam Damon is a military hero, he's no marble monument. Myrer shows us that real world leaders are assailed with doubts, real fears, and insecurities that can lead them to cave in to expediency under extreme pressure. But in Sam Damon, Myrer shows us that true leadership can consist of recognizing your mistakes, swallowing hard, and stepping up to the plate again to do the right thing.
Such a strong protagonist clearly needs a strong opponent. Myrer delivers with Courtney Massengale, a supremely brilliant and ruthless adversary whose weakness, as Sam Damon realizes, is that he does not love any man. It is the byplay between these two characters that Myrer uses to telling effect in illustrating how love is a key element in leadership.<b> I know of half a dozen executives who have patterned their management styles on Sam Damon's lessons. They are the best bosses I ever had. This is a book that should be required reading in our service academies, and as part of every MBA program and civil service exam in the country. Fortunately, it's also a wonderful read.
As another English civilian I can only add my own admiration for this powerhouse of a military novel.Myrer has captured the spirit of men at war probably more than any other and this novel ranks among the best war novels ever written and obviously has an impact with those from a military background.
Myrer also wrote another war book......'The Big War'about the American Marines in the Pacific War.....This is also classic with the most surreal battle scenes I think I have ever read.
I can only recommend both as wonderful novels of human endeavour.
on 16 February 1997
This may well be the best book I have ever read-and I have read it at least five times. It is certainly the best book of its type with which I am acquainted-better even than War and Peace. It is about everything: war, and the awful waste of combat; the price of idealism; the choices and compromises we make in our lives; love and truth; the search for the meaning of life; and mostly about the costs that living and choosing entail. The hero, Sam Damon, is one of those very rare characters in fiction who touches-and changes-the lives of readers. Caught in turbulent times, he only rarely gets to glimpse the "glory" and glamor of them. But he takes part in more than his share of the awful, bloody, dark side of historic events. Myrer's gift is that he is able, despite sparing the reader nothing of the truth, to transport this into an uplifting, optimistic experience. Reading Once An Eagle is an unforgettable experience, providing more insight about life and soldiering, and being a person of honor and integrity, than dozens of good biographies or histories ever could. I envy the reader who has yet to experience this book for the first time.
on 15 May 1998
"As a teen this book shaped my life, but saddened me as behaving like "Sam Damon" brings you scorn and confrontations with the "Courtney Massengales" of the world. I looked for real life characters who marine Myrer used as a basis for Sam Damon. My conclusion is that Sam Damon is actually marine General Evans F. Carlson who founded the marine Raider Battalions in WWII---he marched with the Chinese route Army, was a tactical genius with fluidity of thought and egalitarean (not snobby) like Myrer's GEN Sam Damon and made an impassioned speech against war after WWII. "Massengale" is the embodiment of the careerist types at the WWII hqmc who opposed a human mc based on small unit excellence in favor of mass battalions using robotics and frontal assaults to create a seperate service bureaucracy now bloated to 174,000. Myrer is really writing against the mindless carnage of the mc butchers who ran the frontal assaults in the north Pacific in WWII who were eager with other men's blood to create the mc seperate service bureaucracy for them to command over like a "Courtney Massengale".
This book is timeless for we are in the same quandry today with the military profession run by "lifer-careerists" who as another reviewer wrote, do not love "Soldiering or Soldiers". They simply want to be in charge like Courtney Massengale. These men do not want to put a big gun on a light M113A3 armored vehicle for our Airborne, thus we will have to throw something together like Gen Damon does in the book when he straps a 37mm gun to a jeep to knock out Japanese tanks, in a WWII island fight--- otherwise our men will die. The reasons are selfish--they want a role for heavy armor types that will not make it to the fight in time (too heavy to airdrop in) just like Massengale wants his liberation troops to take the town while Damon and Chrysler have to take the enemy's suicidal banzai attack by themselves. I like the TV mini-series better than the book in that ! Damon calls Massengale "on the carpet" then and there as the real Damon (Carlson) would have done. We could use a General Damon today who would resign in protest and get us the light tanks/AFVs and the Iowa Class Battleships we need for our U.S. Airborne/light divisions. As the book shows, men die from a lack of fire support every time we go to war.
The book is awesome in that Damon and Massengale meet one last time for thinly veiled early-Vietnam type meeting with a charismatic enemy leader like "Ho Chi Minh", and Damon is able to stop the war from widening at great personal cost. This is profound since if we had maintained better relations with the Vietnamese leaders its possible we could have tolerated a peaceful socialism with French control diminishing over time than the 2 wars that were fought. I concur with all the superb reviewers that this book is a MUST READ for every American and military Soldier. How do we get this? The armed services should create a set of questions and those that read the book and others from a required reading list would answer them for correspondance course credit. We need to build young "Sam Damons" in our armed forces and I hope we can utilize this finest of books to make it a reality.
The book's ending to me says it all--and I have to say it--if you have to choose between being a good Soldier and being a good human being--BE A GOOD HUMAN BEING. This is the message that "Once an Eagle" builds to. This is our moral compass, our call to action today!
It is up to each.... generation..... to fight the evil of its day....our time has come!...it is NOW."
1st TSG (A)
on 25 February 1997
My father, an Army General, read this book three times before I finally picked it up. It was a tattered paperback, and I searched years for a hardcover copy with which to repay him for the finest reading experience I've had in my life. This book could stand alone as a novel that successfully unravels the mystery of man's endless cycle of construction and destruction. But it is at the same time a lifetime inspiration, telling the story of a small-town Nebraska son who's got the stuff to change the world around him, and does. Myrer's gifted description brings into mind's view the gas-lit town of Sam Damon's beginnings, the battlefields on which he fights, recognition of his life's love, and other life-shaping experiences with such impact that Once An Eagle constantly causes the reader to close this book and let what he has read sink to the bone, praying that the essence of this brilliant commentary will never be forgotten.
on 20 April 1997
I first was introduced to "Once An Eagle" in 1977 when it was made into a movie. As a Viet Nam veterine and National Guard officer, this story brought home the true life stuggles of those who serve our country and the battles, agains all manner of
enemy, that those who have choosen the profession of arms must deal with.
This is a story about leadership, integrity and pasison.
Now, as a senior officer in the US Air Force, I have read this book over a dozen time and it is a suggested reading for all my officers and NCO's. The characters of Sam Damon, Courtney Massingal are examples of what true leadership is and is not.
My only regret is I don't have a copy of the movie.