October 2016

Books Reviewed

Volume 99, Issue 10
Category: 

NEVER LEAVE YOUR DEAD: A True Story of War Trauma, Murder, and Madness. By Diane Cameron. Published by CRP. 182 pages. $15.26 MCA Members. $16.95 Regular Price.

A true tale of trauma, murder, and madness: what could possibly be more interesting? Diane Cameron, an award-winning columnist, recalls the captivating and tragic story of her stepfather and his uniquely personal fight for his sanity and honor.

In the late 1930s, Donald Watkins was a China Marine. The Marine mission in prewar China was to provide a visual presence of the American military but they were also assigned to monitor and report on Japanese troop movements. The Marines became witnesses to many atrocities committed by the Japanese, who killed and brutalized the civilian population. Prohibited from interfering, the Marines had to perform the duty of assisting in the collection of bodies and body parts of murdered civilians. It’s not surprising that such a horrific event would psychologically impact some Marines.

One day after playing handball, Watkins went “off his rocker.” He was restrained by his fellow Marines in the barracks, and after being shipped home, Watkins was sent to St. Elizabeths Hospital, a psychiatric hospital in Washington, D.C. Watkins managed to survive and even improve in such a tragic place and he was discharged from St. Elizabeths at the end of the war.

By 1953, Watkins was married, but his psychological problems returned, and in an insane moment, he murdered his wife and mother-in-law. He was committed to Fairview State Hospital near Scranton, Pa. A scathing internal investigation later revealed that between 1940 and 1970 patient abuse and mismanagement were common at Fairview. Sexual abuse of patients for the guards’ entertainment was widespread. According to the author, constant criminal activity was prevalent at every level of the staff. Watkins remained there for 22 years before being released.

Fast-forward to the 1970s. After six months of dating, the author’s mother, then in her 70s, married Watkins. As one might expect, Cameron and her siblings were disturbed after they learned of Watkins’ troubled past which was in conflict with the man they knew. He seemed mild-mannered enough and importantly, he made their mother happy.

Years later, after both Watkins and the author’s mother passed away, and seeking to understand more of the Marine’s experience and background, the author attended a China Marine reunion in 2003. She met and spoke with men who served in China before the war, and some remembered their time with Watkins.

According to the Marines she met, Watkins served in Company G, 2d Battalion, 6th Marines; he likely went with the 4th Marines to Tientsin after December 1937. She learned that Watkins had received a serious concussion from a rifle butt during a marching drill during his China service. Cameron also sought to understand the psychology involved in her stepfather’s case and what happened during his treatment. Acquiring Watkins’ medical and military records, she found that Watkins had carried on extensive correspondences with Dr. Thomas Szasz, a doctor from the antipsychiatry movement of his discipline. He had written the celebrated volume, “The Myth of Mental Illness” and was instrumental in Watkins’ release from Fairview.

Cameron learned much about post-traumatic stress disorder during her research, including something known as the plight of the body handlers. A field of trauma research has been dedicated to the effects on those who handle dead or mutilated bodies as related to natural disasters, accidents, mass murders, terrorism and war. She recalled the stories the China Marines told her about their daily task of picking up and disposing of bodies, arms and legs—including those of mutilated small children.

The light went on: it appeared that Donald was likely misdiagnosed as having schizophrenia, but was more likely a victim of PTSD.

Cameron’s book is both a swan song to her misunderstood Marine stepfather and a vivid testimonial on the varying and erratic symptoms of PTSD. She includes a short listing of the symptoms of PTSD and a suggested list of resources for veterans and their families in the hope of helping others.

This enthralling little book reads like a well-conceived detective novel. Diane Cameron has produced an interesting and thought-provoking tale of war trauma, murder and madness but the unimaginable and tragic tale of Donald Watkins is told with the greatest care and heartfelt compassion.

Robert B. Loring

WHEN TIGERS RULED THE SKY: The Flying Tigers: American Outlaw Pilots Over China in World War II. By Bill Yenne. Published by Berkley. 368 pages. $24.30 MCA Members. $27 Regular Price.

During the darkest days of World War II in the Pacific, when Americans yearned for good news and stoic, courageous commanders to lead them against an implacable enemy, action-oriented Hollywood studios such as Republic Pictures responded with hastily produced feature-length movies like “Flying Tigers.”

Such influential motion pictures had their place even in our previously isolationist nation. They promoted national spirit, inspired emotional patriotism, revealed the cruelties of the enemy, while also nurturing quiet bravery and unflinching resolve.

Unfortunately, they also bred ridiculous fiction, exaggerated myths, and fabricated legends.

In the splendidly researched and smoothly written, “When Tigers Ruled the Sky—The Flying Tigers and Their American Outlaw Pilots Over China in World War II” internationally respected historian Bill Yenne, has explained, and dispelled, the hyperbole, high-flying puffery, and downright false popularly believed romantically heroic exploits and stories.

Yenne is acknowledged as one of this nation’s foremost military aviation writers, exemplified by his recent books, “Hit the Target” and “Aces High.” In his latest, “When Tigers Ruled the Sky,” he truthfully answers the question, “Who really were those Flying Tigers?”

Local laborers manicuring the airfields of southwest China may have been the first to dub both pilots and planes “flying tigers,” due to the Curtiss P-40 Warhawks’ colorful paint jobs. The name stuck.

Colonel Claire Lee Chennault and his small band of veteran U.S. Army, Navy and Marine pilots had been hired by the Chinese and paid $600 a month (plus $500 for every Japanese aircraft shot down), to fly with Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek’s virtually non-existent air force. From mid-December 1941 through mid-July, 1942, 299 Japanese aircraft were destroyed with an additional 153 “probables” by Flying Tigers during an “undefeated season” of 50 major aerial battles against hugely lopsided odds–Japan had more than 3,000 assorted airplanes in the vicinity.

From the beginning, aviation experts predicted the Flying Tigers would be wiped out within days of facing the vaunted Japanese air force. Less than 36 of the AVG’s 99 Warhawks were in flyable condition most of the time, and fewer than a dozen were in the air at any given moment.

The American Volunteer Group (AVG) boasted 19 aces.

The author refers to the AVG pilots as outlaws because: “To call them outlaws would come close to the truth, as their very existence teetered on the edge of noncompliance with existing neutrality laws. They came into being because President Franklin Delano Roosevelt anxiously wanted to help save China from the Japanese war machine that had ravaged China’s capital in the infamous ‘Rape of Nanking,’ had captured most of China’s major cities, and had killed millions of innocent people.”

With his usual scholarly thoroughness, Bill Yenne not only records the entire AVG history, adding where appropriate fascinating facts and minutiae, lively anecdotes and vignettes, but also captures, and relates in his acclaimed narrative style, the temper, mood and sense of adventure of a motley group of unique aviators in the skies over China—some of the bravest men in all the Second World War. If one listens closely while reading the 34 chapters, sounds of exploding Japanese bombs, as well as the roar of Warhawk engines can be heard in the distance—the writing is that good.

Don DeNevi

Author’s bio: Don DeNevi has written more than 30 books, among them “The West Coast Goes to War, 1941-1942”; “The Military Railway Service: America’s Soldier-Railroaders in WW II”; and “They Came to Destroy America: The FBI Goes to War Against Nazi Spies & Saboteurs Before and During World War II.” Don lives in Pebble Beach, Calif., where he writes book reviews for Leatherneck.

THE MARINE CORPS WAY TO WIN ON WALL STREET: 11 Key Principles From Battlefield to Boardroom. By Ken Marlin. Published by St. Martin’s Press. 256 pages. $24.30 MCA Members. $26.99 Regular Price.

Wall Street, a place of complicated economics and business ethics, is an institution viewed as greedy, corrupt, and untrustworthy by many. In contrast, the Marine Corps has a reputation as an organization with exemplary discipline, toughness, grit, and, of course, integrity. The contrasts are striking and would lead one to believe that there is little commonality or relation between the two entities. Author Ken Marlin has experience in both worlds, however, and in his book, “The Marine Corps Way to Win on Wall Street,” is able to break down the complex industry of Wall Street into 11 basic points that he learned through his own experiences in the Corps as well as in Marine Corps history.

Marlin enlisted in the Marines during the war in Vietnam and later was selected to attend the Marine Corps’ Officer Candidates School. His service of more than 10 years provided him with experiences that would influence him for the rest of his life. While still in the Corps, he was able to obtain a Master of Business Administration from UCLA, and after he left the Corps, he moved to Manhattan, N.Y., to start a career in finance. He has worked on Wall Street for 20 years including 14 years as a corporate executive.

The Battle of Khe Sanh is used to illustrate Marlin’s first principle called, “Take the Long View.” The battle raged for more than 77 days in 1968 and was a long, deadly and controversial battle during the Vietnam War. Marlin’s instructor from The Basic School had told him, “We had ‘won’ the battle and yet we achieved nothing.” Marlin explains that the lack of more vigorous debate over “long-term” goals in Vietnam as well as strategy and tactics to achieve those goals led to the controversy and criticism. He compares this historical event to his experience while at the Dun and Bradstreet firm. While at the firm, he noted that the top management had at one time no basis of the direction they were going or what purchases or deals to make. After a lot of discussion on the long-term goal, the direction they were heading, and how they would get there, the firm decided to become sector focused. This allowed them to make better informed business decisions.

In a later chapter, Marlin focuses on the point, “Knowing What the Objective is Worth.” He explains that in battle, there was always the question of “was it worth it?” Was the war in Vietnam worth the price paid in the casualty counts of Marines and other servicemembers? He breaks this thought down into four ideas using the battle of Guadalcanal as an example. First was finding the strategic objective. For Guadalcanal, the objective was to advance the American goal of ultimately defeating Japan. Second, is the timing right? He describes how the Americans “waited to assault Guadalcanal until they had sufficient resources in place and had decided where and when to attack.” Third, is the cost of (equipment, money and lives) “affordable” and “reasonable”? Fourth, is the risk reward trade-off in case of failure considered acceptable for both sides? These points were taken into consideration during the planning phase of for operations on Guadalcanal. In contrast, Marlin uses the merger of AOL with Time Warner Cable in 2000 as an example of how not taking the time to figure out what the objective is worth led to failure as the value of stocks in both companies dropped.

Several similar concepts and ideas fill this book as Marlin breaks down a complicated industry into key elements taught in the Marine Corps. The principles taught in this book along with Marine Corps ethos of honor, courage and commitment can lead to success not only on Wall Street or the military but in achieving any goal or objective.

Matthew R. Vance