Iwo Jima: World War II Veterans Remember the Greatest Battle of the Pacific – Larry Smith

iwoIn the 1989 film ‘Born on the Fourth of July‘ by Oliver Stone, there is a scene in which the Marine Corps. recruiter (Tom Berenger) is speaking to high school student Ron Kovic (Tom Cruise) and his high school class. To boost interest, Berenger calls out the names of the battles that defined the United States Marine Corps. The list is extensive and impressive but to this day, the deadliest battle in the history of the Marines is Iwo Jima. Between February 19, 1945, and March 26, 1945, the Marines suffered thousands of casualties as they secured the island which translates into “sulfur island” in English. The battle is also famous for the image captured of Marines and Corpsman raising the American flag as they pushed forward against Japanese resistance. Despite the high casualty rate, thousands of Marines survived Iwo Jima and returned home. But they never forgot the sights, sounds and smells from the fierce battles being fought as the world was at war. Larry Smith talked to veterans of Iwo Jima and has compiled those interviews into this book that provided the retired Marines with a platform to tell readers what they remember from the battle that claimed lives and left others with dark and haunting memories.

Sadly, the Marines in the book who fought on Iwo Jima are deceased and the number of surviving World War II veterans decreases each year. Their voices are silent, but their stories are powerful and will leave readers with a sense of gratitude and shock. The battlefield and injury descriptions are graphic in nature, and discretion is advised. Further, the scenes that are relived are nothing short of hell on earth and highlight the deadly environment waiting for arriving Marines. I also found myself shocked at the age of the young Marines at Iwo Jima. More than one in the book was not old enough to buy alcohol but found himself shipped off to the Pacific where the Japanese were waiting. Military commanders knew that it would be costly to take Iwo Jima, but the number of casualties suffered is staggering and the author specifies that

“On the first day alone the Marines suffered 2,420 casualties, including more than 500 killed.” 

The number of casualties increased exponentially on both sides of the conflict as the battle raged. Eventually the Marines began to gain ground and reached the top of Mt. Suribachi. It was there that the American flag was raised more than once. The emotional scenes were captured on camera and the second image of the Marines hoisting the stars and stripes remains one of the most popular images in American history. But there is more to the story of the flag than one might suspect. In the book, Marines who were there speak on the matter, clearing up any confusion or misinformation that has persisted over time. Readers who are interested in a more thorough discussion of the event will appreciate ‘Flags of Our Fathers‘, by James Bradley and Ron Powers. Bradley’s father John “Doc” Bradley (1923-1994) was a Navy Corpsman and one of the soldiers captured in the iconic second photo taken on February 23, 1945. As we learn in the book, seeing the American flag being raised was a tremendous boost to morale. The pride felt by Marines tasked with taking the island is best captured by former soldier Chuck Lindberg who reminisced:

 “It was a great patriotic feeling, this chill that runs through you. . . . My proudest moment of my time in the Marines was raising the American flag on Iwo Jima. My feeling of being a Marine is I served with the finest, and I feel proud every day that I can tell somebody that.

That sentiment is echoed by others who survived combat on Iwo Jima. On the Japanese side of the conflict, losses were equally devastating, and it became clear that Japan could not win against the Allies. Reasons for the Japanese defeat are not discussed here but the speakers do recall how they felt when they learned that the atomic bombs had been dropped resulting in Japan’s surrender. Unbelievably, it would take four more years to remove the last Japanese soldiers from the island. Every war has its mysteries and World War II is no different. The biggest unsolved mystery in this book is the fate of Japanese Imperial Army General Tadamichi Kuribayashi (1891-1945). I previously was not aware of his demise but am inclined to believe that the Japanese troops knew what happened to their fallen commander. A surprising discovery explained in the book provides information that explains the general’s thoughts that were almost lost to history. While researching the book, Smith made the acquaintance of Colonel John W. Ripley, USMC (Ret.) who did not serve in World War II but did serve in the Vietnam War and became a military historian of Iwo Jima. The issue of the general’s last known location was a source of interest during and after the war but as Ripley explains, 

“ The thing which is the most irrefutable evidence of all is that Kuribayashi’s body , which was a hot item , was never found . Every single body involved in that last attack was not necessarily identified , but they knew it wasn’t Kuribayashi . Every single one . Because they were looking for him . And he wasn’t there . Period . So that is the premier fact that refutes his involvement in that battle .”

As I read the book, I thought of my great-grandfather who served in Europe during the war. As a black infantry soldier, I am sure he had his share of unfortunate experiences. But he served his country and never spoke negatively of America, nor did he discuss what he saw in combat. In the story at hand, black Marines do play a role as the speakers explained but at the time, segregation existed in the armed forces and on Iwo Jima that also applied. However, as we learn from the Marines in the book, blacks played pivotal roles in the American victory and the burial of deceased Marines whose remains were later retrieved from the island after Japan’s defeat. Smith even had a discussion with Thomas McPhatter, a black Marine who provides a needed perspective on the black experience in the Pacific. I personally learned for the first time from the author that regarding the African American experience, 

Between fifteen hundred and two thousand blacks served on Iwo. Each Marine division had a regimental service battalion or field depot staffed by black marines, not to be confused with the Army DUKW drivers.

I thought to myself that had more black Marines been accepted and deployed, the battle on Iwo Jima might have ended sooner and very differently. De-segregation of the military continued in the years following World War II, but its existence placed America in a difficult position of attempting to deliver freedom around the world whiles struggling to enforce it at home. Despite resistance and discrimination, blacks continued to serve in the military and do so today. This is in no way detracts from the heroic efforts of the Marines of all backgrounds who fought on the island. Their experiences and success in turning the tide of the Pacific war remains firmly entrenched in the annals of military history. 

Readers might ask themselves why Iwo Jima was important. That question is answered in the book as the speakers and the author explain its significance. to success in the Pacific. The number of casualties was undoubtedly high, but without occupation of Iwo Jima, the Allied effort to force Japan’s surrender might have taken longer and the full-scale invasion of Japan on November 1, 1945, could have become a reality. President Harry S. Truman‘s decision to drop the bomb ended the war in the Pacific and brought feelings of relief to the Marines and other military personnel who remained at their posts in the Pacific. V-J Day brought World War II to a close, but history cannot forget mankind’s deadliest conflict. These are the stories of the Marines who served on Iwo Jima in the battle that further defined the Marine Corps. and sealed Japan’s fate.



The Killing of Tupac Shakur: Who Did It and Why? – Cathy Scott

scottAt 4:03 p.m. on September 13, 1996, rap star Tupac Shakur (1971-1996) died from gunshot wounds he received on September 7 while riding in the passenger seat of a BWM driven by former Death Row Records CEO Marion “Suge” Knight on the Las Vegas strip. Shakur was twenty-five years old and left behind a complicated legacy that remains a top of discussion in rap music culture. I remember with vivid clarity the shock that was felt when his death was announced and have always believed that a part of the rap music genre died with him that day. Officially his murder is listed as unsolved and an open case by the Las Vegas Police Department. Off the record, it has been alleged and believed that Crips gang member Orlando “Baby Lane” Anderson (1974-1998) pulled the trigger of the gun that ended Shakur’s life. The case is filled with rumors, mysteries, and chilling facts. Journalist Cathy Scott stepped into this murky world to set the record straight on Shakur’s murder.

Anderson was never charged by Las Vegas Police for Shakur’s murder but the physical altercation between the two earlier that night at the MGM Grand Hotel did provide a highly probable motive. He had been attacked and beaten by an entourage composed of Shakur, Knight, and affiliates of Death Row Records, who were visiting Las Vegas to attend the Mike Tyson – Bruce Seldon boxing match. The incident was captured on camera and the footage is widely available on the internet for those who have yet to see it. After the shooting on the strip, Anderson was questioned but not detained by police. In interviews following the rapper’s death, he maintained his innocence, and any secrets he did have went with him to his grave when he himself died from gunshot wounds on May 29, 1998. For a more thorough examination of Orlando Anderson’s story, I recommend Lolita Files’s ‘Once Upon a Time in Compton, which provides a more detailed analysis of the raids by the Los Angeles Police Department and Compton Police Department on Anderson’s homes and the evidence that was seized. The information is based on the work of former Compton Gang Unit detectives Tim “Blondie” Brennand and Robert Ladd.

It should be noted that no “smoking gun” exists here in the book. If it had, Scott would have certainly been heralded as the person who finally revealed the truth. Instead, the book is a thorough and chronology of the events that night, the subsequent investigation, and the relevant murder of rapper Christopher “The Notorious B.I.G.” Wallace (1972-1997), whose death on March 9, 1997, seemed to indicate that it was open season on rappers. Interestingly, I found that although I have followed the Shakur case since the shooting, there were things that I learned here that I had not previously known. Further, Scott does not subscribe to any conspiracy theories, thus removing any trace of bias in the book. She is the investigative reporter relaying to the reader what she discovered.

Before discussing the murder, the author sets the stage by exploring the background of Death Row Records and its founder. Readers who have watched the documentary ‘Welcome to Death Row‘ will be familiar with the label’s history and the role of convicted drug dealer Michael “Harry O” Harris. The documentary is far more extensive in the amount of information provided but Scott includes the right amount here to provide an overall picture of how Suge Knight accumulated power in the American music industry. The life of Tupac is also discussed and anyone who has not seen the film ‘Tupac Resurrection‘, should view it either before or after reading this book. In 1995, the lives of Knight and Shakur crossed paths when the CEO offered Tupac a way out of prison. Contrary to widely held belief, Suge Knight did not bail Tupac out of jail but did facilitate the move. The truth about who bailed him out can be found in this New York Times article. Before their meeting was over, Tupac promised that he would put Death Row on the map. He did not exaggerate.

On September 7, 1996, Shakur attended the short-lived boxing match between Tyson and Seldon. While walking through the lobby, his entourage spotted Anderson standing by himself. The story that has persisted over the years is that Trayvon Lane whispered something in Tupac’s ear that caused him to take off running towards Anderson. Investigators later learned that Anderson was part of a group that had assaulted Lane and taken his Death Row chain and medallion and the Lakewood Mall in July 1996. To this day there is speculation regarding what Lane said since he has never given interviews and Shakur is deceased. What is clear is that Tupac was intent on getting to Anderson. Following the assault at the MGM, all hell broke loose as shots were heard on the strip. Police rushed to the scene to find Shakur and Knight wounded. The author goes through the events minute by minute capturing the chaos that ensued. She also reveals that multiple cars did chase the white Cadillac seen by witnesses but there is no further mention of what happened as a result. Finding witnesses willing to talk proved to be a challenge for investigators but one member of the rap group “The Outlaws” named Yafeu Fula (1977-1996), did tell detectives that he was able to see the shooter’s face. The lost opportunity to utilize his knowledge is an additional tragedy in the book and his fate will leave readers speechless.

There was one part of Scott’s discussion of Orlando that did stand out with regard to the lawsuit filed by Anderson against Shakur’s estate and Afeni’s countersuit. Both were pending at the time of Anderson’s death but there had been a surprising turn of events in the case hours before his death. Anderson was no saint, but it is hard to answer the question as to who he really was. The facts presented by Scott stand in contrast to the street reputation of “Baby Lane”. On the A & E show ‘Who Killed Tupac‘, his brother and cousin adamantly stated that Anderson did not shoot Shakur. While reading the book a sense of gloom overcame me due to the story serving as an example of the black-on-black violence that continues to plague inner-city neighborhoods. The author is mindful of this and includes statistics that are sobering. As relayed by Scott,

Statistics show that black-on-black gun violence has been the leading cause of death for black youths 15 to 19 years old since 1969. From 1987 to 1989, the gun homicide rate for black males 15 to 19 increased 71 percent. Of the roughly 20,000 murders committed each year in the U.S. between 1991 and 1995, 50 percent were cases involving black victims.

After Shakur was admitted to the hospital, the level of craziness continued to escalate. Due to Shakur’s notoriety, the hospital found itself a target of the press, prank callers and enemies of the slain rapper. In the years since this book was published, YouTube has become a powerful platform for video presentations and multiple people affiliated with Death Row Records have spoken publicly about the events in Las Vegas. Kenya Ware was a stylist for the record label and Shakur. She spoke with him shortly before the shooting and stated in interviews that as they sat on the Las Vegas strip stunned, passing cars continued to taunt the Death Row entourage. It is not clear if Scott knew this at the time, but she does recall discussions she had outside the hospital with more than one person who told her that they knew who did it and the shooters were not from Las Vegas. That explains the retaliation shootings discussed in the book that erupted across Compton, California in the wake of Shakur’s death.

Inside the hospital, the scene was somber and tense. Scott brings the past alive and discards anything that is hearsay. Her possession of the official autopsy report placed her in a position to stick to the facts of how the rapper died. Stories about Tupac’s final days at the hospital are endless and filtering truth from fiction is a challenge. However, she sticks to the facts and keeps the story streamlined and void of useless gossip. In doing her due diligence as a reporter, Scott spoke to hospital personnel who revealed the absurd phone calls they received. After Shakur died, the number of calls increased, and what the callers were in search of speaks volumes about human nature. Afeni Shakur (1947-2016) had flown to Las Vegas after learning her son was shot and endured days of agony before the end came for him. But she might not have known at the time that her work on behalf of her son was just beginning. Scott discusses Afeni’s actions after her son’s death and her contributions to his legacy. Sadly, Afeni passed on May 2, 2016.

The elephant in the room is the feud between Shakur and Wallace but the author refutes any claims that Bad Boy Records CEO Sean “Puffy” Combs played a role in Shakur’s death. In fact, the entire book is filled with clarifications of long-running rumors with no basis in fact. One rumor is the belief that Suge Knight orchestrated the hit. I never believed the theory nor did the author. Knight, who is serving a twenty-eight-year prison sentence on unrelated charges, has always denied being behind the shooting. She also puts to rest conspiracy theories that claim Shakur is alive after having faked his own death. This book was published in 2002, nine years before the publication of former Los Angeles police officer Greg Kading’s ‘Murder Rap‘ in which Orlando Anderson’s uncle Duane “Keefe D” Davis reveals how Shakur was allegedly killed. Scott was not aware of these claims at the time she wrote this but further complicating matters is that Davis’s claims are unable to be verified as the three other people whom he said were in the car are deceased. Personally, one part of Davis’s story that always bothered me was if he participated in the murder, then why were there no attempts on his life that we know of? And why haven’t Las Vegas police arrested him if he is confessing to being part of the murder? I do not know if Scott will publish a follow-up to his book or a revision addressing Davis’s claims, but if she does, it will be an enjoyable read. Kading has made a name for himself on the matter, but I strongly recommend readers listen to a podcast called ‘The Dossier’ which focuses on the murder of Christopher Wallace and its connection to Shakur’s death.

In recent years, interest in the murders of both rappers has increased and it is remarkable that more than twenty years later, we are still talking about their lives. Both are tragedies in which two young men died far too young. I will never forget the sense of loss felt when their deaths were announced and the realization that rap feuds had moved from the records to the streets. On one of the busiest nights of the year on one of the busiest streets in the country, Shakur was shot and killed in front of hundreds of witnesses, yet his murder remains unsolved as the television show of the same name shows. We may never know the full truth about the shooting that took his life, but this is the story of his murder as it happened in September 1996. Highly recommended.

“I’m not saying I’m gonna change world. But I guarantee that I will spark the brain that will change the world. So keep your head up. Do what you gotta do. And then inside of you, I’ll be reborn“.                    – Tupac Amaru Shakur


We Could Not Fail: The First African Americans in the Space Program – Richard Paul and Steven Moss

nasaOn January 28, 1986, Americans watched in horror as the Space Shuttle Challenger suffered a catastrophic rupture in its rocket booster shortly after liftoff. Among the seven crew members who perished was Ronald McNair (1950-1986) and African American astronaut who had joined a diverse crew of individuals who were making history. As a student, I remember being in awe of McNair and the mission he was on. Naturally, my fellow students and I also had an affinity for Christa McAuliffe (1948-1986) a schoolteacher whose hometown was watching that day as well. To millions of young black children, McNair was a remarkable sight, but he was not the first to break NASA’s color barrier. In fact, NASA had begun to integrate the space program decades before, during the administration of President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963), whose initiative to travel to the moon led to NASA changing itself and playing a significant role in the Civil Rights Movement.

When I first started to read the book, I was not sure what to expect but admittedly, I did not associate the cover with the movement for civil rights. However, I knew that what I was about to learn would provide me with knowledge of the men and women who have not been given credit for their journeys in life that undoubtedly had obstacles along the way. Readers may ask why the story of NASA’s role in the movement is unknown. Until I read this book, I was not aware of the agency’s importance. The authors are also cognizant of this and pull no punches in stating that:

“NASA’s role in southern desegregation remains an unwritten and almost forgotten chapter in the history of the space program.”

I believe this to be an understatement and cannot recall any of my history books mentioning this. But such is the beauty of reading; there are always new things to learn. The story focuses on the American South where Jim Crow was at the height of its power. The Kennedy Administration could not ignore the growing social unrest in America but faced challenges in Southern States and their representatives in Congress who were openly hostile to the thought of minorities having equal rights under the law. However, former Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy (1925-1968) did not shy away from difficult tasks and when “ruthless Bobby” was needed, he delivered. Space exploration was not on the administration’s primary agenda but once it became clear that the program could be a vehicle to drive forward integration, all hands were on deck. And soon NASA found places to operate its growing program in Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, and Texas. The goal was admirable but even NASA learned that the South was unlike any place in America.

On March 6, 1961, President Kennedy signed Executive Order 10925, which was a multi-part order that set into motion important procedures. The most crucial was the creation of the President’s Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity, known by its acronym PCEEO. Upon the creation of this committee, civil rights activist and government agencies committed to dismantling segregation kicked into high gear and the space program itself became a prime target. As the story shifts its focus to the South, the complicated position of NASA and its black employees takes shape. The recruitment of blacks did commence but the South was not ready to change, which created a strange paradox across the region. NASA struggled to attract qualified candidates due to the South’s infamous reputation. Added to this unusual operation was the role of Werner Von Braun (1912-1977), the former Nazi party official and director of the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. The irony that a former member of Adolf Hitler’s (1889-1945) Third Reich became a key figure in the movement for civil rights and integration will not be lost on readers. The authors are even more frank in their assessment when they remark,

“The word “ironic” does not begin to capture what it meant that a man tasked with implementing a program of racial equality had once worked for Hitler. Von Braun had used the slave labor of concentration camp inmates to build the V2 rockets that fell on London and elsewhere. Yet this was the man tasked with correcting the legacy of slavery in Alabama.”

Mark Twain (1835-1910) had it right when he remarked that “truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; truth isn’t“. But in a time when society was changing rapidly and alliances were needed, the unlikely became reality. However, that is not to say that the introduction of Black Americans into the space program was without its setbacks. The new recruits arrived to find that NASA as an agency was responsive to federal law but changing the culture within NASA required more time and determination. That did not deter the men in this book whose names are part of history such as Julius Montgomery (1929-2020), Clyde Foster (1931-2017) and Theodis Ray (1942-2021). In Washington, the White House was watching the progress at NASA and remained committed to seeing it succeed. But as the authors show, not everyone within the administration was on the same page. The bitter rivalry between Robert Kennedy and future President Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-1973) again rears its ugly head. Following John F. Kennedy’s assassination, Johnson continued the movement towards integration, and he was able to succeed in the senate in comparison to Kennedy, whose civil rights bill had not gained any significant traction. Johnson’s reputation as a master politician is on full display.

Outside of NASA facilities, the movement continued, and the authors also discuss what was happening on the ground as marches, sit-ins and strikes took place in the hotbed of segregation. The scenes are disheartening and readers sensitive to the subject matter may want to use discretion. The events are well-documented but revisiting them here is as unsettling today as they were then. However, the emphasize the seriousness of the change NASA was attempting to bring to the South, the authors had to show the threat of death that existed for blacks who dared to challenge the system and the deplorable living conditions of blacks trapped under Jim Crow. There were successes but also tragedies as we see in the book. And like places in which conflict has occurred, there was a talent and brain drain out of the South, which is another part of the movement that is not discussed.

Through location, NASA found itself co-existing with a growing movement that was not going to slow down. The agency did act on occasion but as we see in the book, there were also missed opportunities. The NASA effort was not perfect, but the agency did have success and it did help change the social climate in America. The story is not as popular, but it is equally as important as any in history. Moving forward I hope to see more young men and women from all backgrounds take interest in the space program. Tools of untapped talent exist everywhere, and NASA learned this surely but slowly during the 1960s. Today America is a different place, but in the future, younger generations will be required to carry the torch. As we look for those future engineers, astronauts, and important personnel, this book will remind us that they can be found in the most unexpected of places. Highly recommended.


The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 – Garrett M. Graff

graffThis past Sunday marked the twenty-first anniversary of the September 11th attacks which claimed the lives of 2,996 people. The mood in New York City was somber, with rain and dark clouds all day. However, that did not stop anyone from remembering the tragedies on September 11, 2001, a day that changed America. Friends are always surprised to learn that I have never visited the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. As a New Yorker who was in Manhattan on the day of the attacks, and watched the events unfold from an office window, I will always have my memories of that sad day. But my reluctance to visit the museum has never prevented me from reading and hearing stories from people who were at the World Trade Center and survived. Undoubtedly, there are survivors who have never told their stories, choosing not to re-live the events of that day. Thousands of others did go on the record and their words have been preserved so that the history of 9/11 can continue to be told to future generations. Author Garrett M. Graff has compiled hundreds of statements from survivors, Bush Administration officials, NYC officials, military personnel and first responders, and has turned them into this oral history of the attacks.

Because the book is an oral history, there is no standard narration. The author does provide relevant information when needed but otherwise, the speakers tell us what happened as the day progressed. They range from former President George W. Bush to office workers at the World Trade Center complex. To be clear, Bush does not give an interview but what is included are snippets from the speeches he gave to the country on the evening of the attacks. Readers may feel that the approach is disjointed at first because the statements provided by the speakers are short but also long enough to give you relevant information. And the format works beautifully because it allows them to add small pieces to the bigger picture. And what emerges are unbelievable stories of luck, courage, heartbreak, and fate. You will experience a range of emotions and in the epilogue, the author discloses that even he became emotional while authoring the book. But he pressed forward, and the result is a masterpiece that belongs in the vast archive of materials about the 9/11 attacks.

Readers will notice that there are four stories in the book, one for each phase of the attacks that morning. They began in New York when the North Tower was struck at 8:46 a.m. At first, it was thought that a horrible accident had taken place but when a plane struck the South Tower, it was clear that America was under attack. Surprisingly, the response to the threats did not move at the speed at which one would hope. In fact, the confusion and chaos within America’s air defense network is clear in the book. Fighter pilots were forced to take flight in time spans they would never see under normal conditions. And what the pilots reveal about how prepared they were, and the reality of confronting Flight 93 will give you chills.

There are no smoking guns in the stories and the alleged hijackers are rarely mentioned but there is a wealth of information in the book about what took place behind the scenes within the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, the hijacked airliners and Air Force One which found itself the only plane in the sky as officials shut down America’s air space. As I read the book, I noted that the sobering reality of that day is that no one imagined that type of scenario. Former New York Fire Department Commissioner Thomas Van Essen, who watched the deaths of hundreds of firefighters, first responders and civilians has stated that “nothing could have ever really prepared us for what happened—or how fast the events would unfold“.  All hell broke loose in Manhattan and the horrors of the battle to survive at the World Trade Center as told by the survivors is haunting. I felt chills reading of the last moments from trapped workers on floor about the crash location and the breakdown in communication that could have saved lives. At the helm was Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and his statements also show how chaotic the day had become. 9/11 was a day that no one thought could ever happen but there were warnings that something was brewing and that an Islamic fundamentalist had America in his crosshairs.

Prior to the attacks of 9/11, the name Osama Bin Laden (1957-2011) was unknown to the public. But there were officials in Washington who knew of him and his plan to destroy America. The author does not explore whether Bin Laden was guilty and how planning was executed or any connections between the alleged suspects. He leaves that to the speakers who do state that they believed Bin Laden was behind the attacks. Aboard Air Force One, President Bush was briefed throughout the day and the former administration officials who appear in the book clarify any theories about his alleged “strange behavior” that day. The main concern was always Bush’s safety due to the belief that the president himself was a target. Action was swift and the Secret Service was taking any chances. The cabinet’s departure from Florida and decision to land at Barksdale Air Force Base are revisited in vivid detail and the suspense unfolds like Hollywood but this is what happened, and there was no script that day. People had jobs to be done and they went into action to the best of their abilities. The number of heroes in the book is staggering and chance encounters proved to be a matter of life or death.

The day after 9/11 I remember the feeling in New York City that what had transpired the day before could not have been real. It felt as if we were trapped in a horrible nightmare that would not end. We wanted to go back to Monday September 10 and keep that day going instead. But as weeks turned into months and crews continued with the cleanup of debris and identification of remains, the dark and unsettling truth that America was not immune to attack became clear. The country had changed, and the threat of terror became the number one priority. Children coming of age today will only know the attacks through multimedia but for older generations, 9/11 remains vividly clear. And we have authors such as Garrett M. Graff to thank for the books that preserve the history of the attacks that impacted the United States and the world. This oral history of that day is a treasure and a literary work that is a gift that keeps on giving.

ASIN:‎ B07P5H18W6

A Great Sacrifice: Northern Black Soldiers, Their Families, and the Experience of Civil War – James G. Mendez

MendezThe more I learn about history, the more I realize how much of it is not taught in schools. I recall learning about the Civil War but in limited discussions. And I fondly remember the 1989 film Glory featuring Matthew Broderick, Morgan Freeman, and Denzel Washington. The story of black soldiers in the Civil War needed to be shown but of course, there is far more to the story. Here, author James G. Mendez discusses the experiences of the Civil War’s black soldiers and their families during a time when America was being pulled apart at the seams. And what he shows is that there is far more to the story of the Civil War than one might expect.

When I saw this book in my list of recommendations, it immediately caught my attention. I knew beforehand that it would not be an easy read and my suspicion was correct. And though the story is not all tragedy and heartbreak, it is rife with examples of the grueling hardships black troops faced in the Union Army during the war as they fought for their freedom and the lives of millions of Black Americans.  But before the author arrives at the point of the induction of black troops, he first provides a discussion of the social climate in America which constantly denied African Americans basic rights. Frankly, life was brutally hard for blacks and as the author shows, basic rights were a dream for them. Readers might be shocked to see that states considered to be “liberal” or “blue” today have their own dark history including New York, my home state. Mendez pulls no punches and shows that even in the North, blacks still faced enormous hurdles, and support for the war effort varied and was not unified behind the idea of eradicating slavery. In fact, the author’s work shows that attitudes towards slavery were varied and unpredictable. However, the abolitionists were determined to see its demise.

I once told a friend that black history is American history. I say this because you cannot separate the two. And as can be seen in the book, the efforts of Black Americans have been crucial in the history of this nation. In regard to combat, Mendez explains:

“Blacks fought, both as slaves and free men, in every American war, including the Revolution, the War of 1812, and the Mexican-American War. They fought bravely and received accolades from prominent American leaders such as Andrew Jackson, who acknowledged after the Battle of New Orleans (December 1814 to January 1815) that black soldiers played a major role in his victory.” 

Despite the contributions of blacks, resistance to black troops during the Civil War was strong and commonplace. Readers will be disheartened and surprised to learn of the attitude towards using black troops held by those in power in across states in the Union and in the army itself. Delaware in particular will stand out to readers in the book. As the war progressed, it became apparent that the Union Army needed manpower and eventually, the idea of using black troops became a reality due to the actions of Governor John A. Andrew (1818-1867) of Massachusetts. His vision and the developments that ensued will provide readers with a firm foundation as the story of the Northern Black troops kicks into high gear.

As one would expect, the arrival of black troops did not always go smoothly and the harsh reality the new soldiers faced is discussed. And their opponents were not solely those wearing a uniform. In fact, I learned for the first time about the deadly race riots in Detroit and New York City that were horrifying. The shocking events and impact on the troops’ morale is a crucial point in the book for it shows the difficult place black troops found themselves in. How did they have the courage and will to fight for a country that denied them basic rights? In the face of severe hostility and violence, blacks continued to enlist in the Union Army. And to put the importance of their service into perspective, Mendez provides key statistics:

“Nearly 200,000 black soldiers served in the Civil War—178,975 in the army and the remainder in the navy. Out of the total number in the army, 32,723 were from the North.” 

On the battlefield, black troops fought and died alongside white soldiers but even in death they and their families continued to suffer indignations. Not only was the pay between whites and blacks unequal but for black families, obtaining benefits for a loved one’s death could be impossible. The sad and complicated story of the unequal pay matter is one of the darkest parts of the book, yet it makes the story of the troops even more remarkable. The military and Congress did eventually address the matter, but the timing will leave readers mystified.

In the film Glory, the battle scenes are graphic, and it is known that the savagery in which battles were fought was not for the faint at heart. However, I learned here that soldiers often died due to conditions that would not be fatal today and the leading causes of their deaths may surprise you. Of course, what the author reveals does make sense in hindsight but is still shocking. Further, those who survived returned with their scars and trauma. Survivors of the war include Charles R. Douglass (1844-1920), the son of abolitionist and social reformer Frederick Douglass (1818-1895). His story is a prime example of the extensive damage the war inflicted upon its participants.

Eventually, the war reaches its bloody climax, and the Confederacy is forced to concede defeat. But the Union mission was far from over. Black troops were needed more than ever and how they were used after the South’s defeat is, yet another example of the difficulties faced by them before, during, and after the war. But what stands out here is that the reality of black troops being gatekeepers of the South was a recipe for a disaster and doomed from the start. The intricacies of the Union’s post-war actions and failures by Washington are additional tragedies that afflicted black troops and the country, inadvertently paving the way for the rise of Jim Crow. This book is not about the Reconstruction Acts, but Mendez does mention the actions of President Andrew Johnson (1808-1875) who clashed with Radical Republicans as the latter sought to rebuild the South completely.

I wish this book had been available and required reading when I was a student years ago. There is a wealth of information contained here often neglected or possibly unknown. America has come a long way since the Civil War, but the conflict continues to haunt the nation as the issues of race and equality remain at the forefront. In comparison to the 1800s, life for Americans is vastly different. But let us not forget that between 1861 and 1865, America was at war with itself, and joining the effort were its black residents fighting for their lives and the freedom of future generations.


Goodbye Vietnam – William Broyles


BroylesSeveral weeks ago, during a phone call with an uncle on my father’s side, he opened up about his service in Vietnam, in particular, his return to the United States after his tour was over. He painfully recalled being confronted by mothers wanting to know why he returned, and their sons did not. He continued by describing the hostile environment soldiers returning from Vietnam faced due to the unpopularity of the war. Years would pass before Vietnam veterans finally received the attention and understanding they deserved regarding their experiences in Southeast Asia. The war is far in the past, but I know my uncle carries with him dark memories of what he saw and had to do in order to survive his tour. In 1988, the television show China Beach (1988-1991) premiered and became a hit with viewers. One of the producers, William Broyles, had served in Vietnam and served as a technical consultant. Viewers might not have been aware that before the show made its debut, Broyles had made a return trip to Vietnam to understand how and why the American mission failed and the effects of the war upon the Vietnamese people. This book is the story of his return trip and what he learned from the people he was once required to kill as a soldier. 

Readers may wonder why any soldier would return to the place where they once faced death. But as Broyles explains in the book, there were things he needed to understand that could explain his experiences. The war is considered a failure from a mission objective point of view. But the question still remains, what exactly was the mission in Vietnam? On April 30, 1975, after American troops were withdrawn, Saigon quickly fell to the North Vietnamese Army (“NVA”). Without the support of the United States, South Vietnam faced the reality that unification would take place but not exactly in the way that anti-communists had hoped. Broyles is under no illusions and bluntly states: 

“We had our own myths, of course, chief among them that we were helping the people of Vietnam as we bombed their villages, their crops, and their country into a bloody, soggy mess. And in our own history we have customarily gone to war as the protectors of virtue and morality, battling the evil empires of the Huns, the Nazis, the Communists. Our cause was just, therefore we were just. But in Vietnam we came to terms with history.” 

Early in the book, Broyles points out that he was not a supporter of the war but did honor his draft notice, reporting to duty for eventual service in Vietnam. He proved to be an adaptive commander and during the book, he shows how his men helped him become a better squad leader. However, it is also clear from his words, that Vietnam would be a loss if America continued the war with a disjointed approach. Upon his return to Vietnam, he finally had the chance to speak with former enemies who embraced him openly and without hostility. The Vietnamese had the uncanny ability to accept that the war was a different time and that life goes on. I cannot say the same would apply universally to other nations once at war with the United States. Broyles learns critical information about the North Vietnamese effort and the weaknesses they found and exploited on the American side. What they reveal will shock readers and cause them to wonder why American commanders did not understand these concepts. Broyles provides a clue: 

“The men who got us into these wars are my generation, but they didn’t serve in Vietnam. They avoided it, dodged it, found reasons not to serve, just as their children don’t serve in their wars today. Anyone who fought in Vietnam could have told them how this story turns out, but they never asked.”

The wealth of information provided by the former NVA commanders is unreal. While America had superior weapons, we lacked key fundamental principles that the Vietnamese understood and exploited. And after reading what they tell Broyles, the American failures throughout the war are easier to understand. The author also discusses the role of Ho Chih Minh (1890-1969) and how the United States lost an opportunity to develop a critical ally. And the drafting of the Vietnamese constitution might result in readers recoiling in disbelief. Readers familiar with the name Archimedes Patti (1913-1998) will quickly understand the missed opportunity with the North Vietnamese government in the wake of World War II. 

No story about Vietnam is complete without an understanding of the devastation caused to the Vietnamese people and their land. Broyles does not shy away from the topic and is fully aware of how much they suffered during the conflict. Further, he highlights the tragic results of the misunderstanding by American forces of the Vietnamese way of life. Frankly, it seemed as if no one had taken the time to understand how the Vietnamese viewed themselves. Due to either arrogance or reluctance, young men like Broyles and my uncle were sent to war in a conflict that claimed 58,000 American lives and resulted in over 1 million Vietnamese deaths. But if we are to prevent another Vietnam, Broyles’ account of his return to the country will be invaluable. Soldiers go when they are called sometimes without knowing why they are sent. But they understand they have a job to do even if it is not popular. For the veterans of the Vietnam War, acknowledgment and acceptance have taken a long time to come to fruition. There was once a time when veterans of the war would not tell people they had served. The reason is best explained by Broyles as he brings his story to a close: 

“We had been willing to give our lives for our country, no less than our fathers had been at Normandy and Iwo Jima. This war, however, was different. We lost. And the country that sent us did not take us back into its arms. It either hated the war or simply wanted to forget it.”

ISBN-13: 9781480404335

The Gotti Wars: Taking Down America’s Most Notorious Mobster – John Gleeson

GleesonAmerica has always loved gangster stories. Tales from the lives of larger-than-life characters both feared and respected have captivated film audiences and true crime readers. In my hometown of New York City, the Italian American mafia holds a firm place in the annals of the city’s crime history. Of all the mafia bosses, none was as flamboyant and media savvy as the late Gambino Family boss John J. Gotti (1940-2002). The media nicknamed him the “Teflon Don” due to the acquittals his lawyers obtained of a multitude of charges that could have put the mafia boss in prison for life. On March 13, 1987, Gotti and his co-defendants were acquitted of federal racketeering charges and the verdict left prosecutors in the Eastern District of New York licking their wounds. Gotti and his fellow mobsters were elated the Federal Government was far from finished. However, prosecutors knew that to convict Gotti, they needed irrefutable evidence of his crimes and witnesses willing to testify. As fate would have it, in time prosecutors would obtain all that they needed through a chain of events that began with wiretaps in the home of mobster Angelo Ruggiero, Sr. (1940-1989) known as “Quack Quack”. And leading the mission for the Government was lead prosecutor John Gleeson, also a former judge in the Eastern District. This is the story of how the United States Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn secured a conviction against America’s most notorious mobster.

Gleeson provides an early recap regarding the murders of Gambino Family boss Paul Castellano (1915-1985) and his driver/underboss Thomas Bilotti (1940-1985) in front of Sparks Steak House on December 16, 1985. Castellano’s death, less than a year after former underboss Aniello Dellacroce (1914-1985) paved the way for Gotti to assume the throne and removed the threat of death to mobsters whose crimes were discussed on the wiretaps from Ruggiero’s home. However, the murder was far from the end and only part of the downward spiral that culminated with Gotti’s conviction. After a brief discussion regarding his early life and how he arrived in Brooklyn, Gleeson moves on to the 1987 trial and defense verdict. Following Gotti’s acquittal, morale in the prosecutor’s office plummeted and its relationship with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) was strained to say the least. Further, prosecutors soon learned that the mafia had its influence everywhere and dismantling that vice grip would not be a simple effort. Gleeson had his work cut out for him but that did not deter the young prosecutor and soon enough, he would prove himself as an able litigator.

Readers do not need prior knowledge of Gotti’s life to enjoy the book, however, a minimal understanding of the Gambino Crime Family will make the book more intriguing. Gleeson does include a short biography of Gotti’s life before moving on to his criminal empire. The crux of the book is undoubtedly the investigation, arrest, and conviction in the wake of the 1987 not-guilty verdict. But the most interesting part is how the case came together. As stated before, wiretaps had already been placed in Ruggiero’s home, but a second bug placed in the apartment of widow Nettie Cirelli located above the Ravenite Social Club helped doom the mafia boss. The story of how that wiretap came into existence is broken down by Gleeson who expertly narrates the developing case. As a sub-story, the current investigation also provides clues as to how the 1987 case was lost. It may feel at times as if the information being uncovered is overwhelming. The story is a roller coaster ride full of dark criminals, shady lawyers, and collateral damage. The Cirelli wiretap had captured Gotti himself on tape, but prosecutors still wanted an air-tight case. They eventually received the biggest surprise of their life when a high-ranking mobster wanted to talk.

As the story progresses, the case against Gotti begins to take shape and eventually he and several co-defendants are arrested. After early shenanigans at the hands of defense counsel, several of whom were dismissed and/or convicted of other crimes, the government begins to lay out its damning case against the mobsters with prosecutors becoming increasingly confident of a conviction. The mountain of evidence had cast a dark cloud over Gotti, but when Salvatore “Sammy the Bull” Gravano reached out to prosecutors through his wife Debbie, the case took an earth-shattering turn. Gotti had no idea the avalanche was coming towards him. Gleeson explains in detail the step-by-step secretive movements to debrief Gravano and protect his cooperation which required Gleeson to conceal his actions from his superiors as well. Gravano was a wildcard and at the time, no one knew for certain how he would affect the pending case against Gotti. But as he divulged information on the organization’s structure and crimes, prosecutors knew they had Gotti right where they wanted him. The events were dramatized for the silver screen in the 1996 HBO production ‘Gottistarring Armand Assante as the mafia boss and the 2018 film of the same name starring John Travolta as the Teflon Don.

I appreciated how Gleeson explained the legal hurdles they faced during each trial. Each obstacle is explained in layman’s terms giving the book a reader-friendly narrative that does not require knowledge of civil or criminal litigation. Interestingly, the firm I work for had Gleeson as a presiding judge in the past and he was always seen as fair but stern. That code of conduct which became his trademark is on display here as he manages Gravano as a government witness and presents his case in front the jury who held Gotti’s fate in their hands. However, Gravano soon steals the show as he peels back the layers on crimes that mystified law enforcement. And what he reveals is nothing short of riveting and highlighted the cutthroat nature of life in the mafia. Honor, loyalty, and success are nothing more than smoke and mirrors in the mob with death lurking around every corner. The way in which people were murdered for reasons that were pure insanity discard any nothing of “family”. Life in the mob was far darker and less glamorous than Hollywood productions. The proof is contained here in this book that sets the record straight. Frankly, the mafia life is not one to be admired.

When Gotti was convicted, I remember the media frenzy and the shock that the “Teflon Don” was headed to jail. The mob boss had become a folk hero and a modern-day Robin Hood to those who loved him. For years, it seemed as if the mafia was untouchable. But that all changed on April 2, 1992, when the jury announced its verdict. It was clear to anyone paying attention that the once invincible mafia would soon be reduced to a lightweight crime faction far removed from the heights of its power. The government had proved without question that no one was above the law. If you like true crime, New York City history and have an interest in how the mafia met its demise, this is must-read.


James Garfield & the Civil War: For Ohio and the Union -Daniel Vermilya

GarfiledOn September 19, 1881, United States President James A. Garfield (1831-1881) died in Elberon, New Jersey seventy-nine days after he was shot and mortally wounded by Charles J. Guiteau (1841-1882) on July 2, 1881. The assassin, motivated by a desire to see Chester A. Arthur (1829-1886) become president. Arthur did become the next president, but Guiteau was on borrowed time and was executed on July 30, 1882. Garfield was shot after two months in the White House and died in less than one year as president. His remarkably short tenure as president is often overlooked by history but there was far more to his story that has been taught in history classes. The story of his life is equally as intriguing as its ending and in this short but concise examination of the late president, Daniel Vermilya focuses on Garfield’s early life and his time as a Union officer in the American Civil War (1861-1865).

Admittedly, my knowledge of Garfield’s life was restricted to his assassination which placed him in the group of presidents cut down before their time. I was not aware of his service in the Union Army. It became clear as I started the book that I was in for a history lesson. Although the story is not a definitive biography of Garfield, there is enough information regarding his life to provide readers with an image of who he was behind the photographs. Of course, Garfield’s early life in Ohio is discussed and the tragic demise of his father Abram, whose death affected the family in profound ways. The story picks up in pace as Garfield matures, becoming a lawyer in 1861 and turning his focus to politics. But that all changed on April 12, 1861, when Confederate troops opened fired at Fort Sumter. To anyone paying attention, it was clear that the war was on. And Garfield could not have known that his life would change permanently.

The section about his Civil War experiences is the crux of the book and the author brings the past alive with a writing style that keeps the story moving at the right pace. Not once did I feel my attention waning and was in awe of the material becoming known to myself regarding Garfield’s service. I knew none of this as a student in school. Interesting, Garfield was one of several former Union officers who later became president. In fact, the author is far blunter in his assessment when he states:

“Without his service during the war, James Garfield never would have enjoyed the postwar political career that he did. His status as a leading Republican in the later 1860s and 1870s was based on his military record above all else.”

His posting, however, was in Ohio with the 42nd Infantry Regiment and the battles in which they engaged were among the war’s most important. All are discussed here showing the savagery of the war. Further, Garfield was a dedicated abolitionist and his commitment to slavery’s destruction is on full display. And fittingly, the late John Brown (1800-1859) enters the story in years preceding the war.

Regarding the war, the elephant in the room is undeniably the assassination of Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) shortly before the war’s bloody conclusion. Garfield had admired Lincoln, but as Vermilya shows, the relationship was not without its issues. Garfield had a strong moral compass and anyone who did not measure up was subject to his judgment. Expectedly, Garfield is crushed by Lincoln’s death but satisfied at the South’s defeat. His time in the Union ended and the book moves on to his next destination in politics. I found myself surprised at Garfield’s accomplishments which occurred in a remarkably brief period. His belief in the destruction of slavery and change in America was not just rhetoric. The author summarizes this in explaining that:

“In the time he had, Garfield appointed African Americans to positions within the federal government, including making Frederick Douglass the recorder of deeds in Washington, D.C. Garfield believed strongly that a federally backed education system in the South would be the key to helping to lift Arican Americans from poverty and degradation.”

We can only wonder about the other things he would have done had he lived. He was far from the only Republican focused on civil rights and rebuilding the South but sadly, opportunities were lost through the failure of the Reconstruction Acts failed and rise of Jim Crow. Garfield would have been disappointed had he survived yet we can only guess as to what he would have been able to do following his time as president. However, his service record and time in the White House provide strong clues. If you are in search of an enjoyable book about the Civil War and the life of James A. Garfield, this is a good place to start.

ASIN:‎ B01A6061A

The Strike That Changed New York: Blacks, Whites, and the Ocean Hill-Brownsville Crisis – Jerald E. Podair

NYNew York City is famously known as the “Melting Pot” due to the diversity among the residents that call it home. As a lifelong New Yorker, I can attest that the city attracts people from every part of the world. However, what is often neglected is that diversity and assimilation are two very different concepts. That is not to say that the entire city is divided. In fact, my neighbors hail from places both domestic and abroad. My father has told me stories of his childhood in Brooklyn and his neighbors who had emigrated from Eastern Europe. He has fond memories of the Italian woman who cooked breakfast for him and my uncles and the Jewish neighbor who made fresh breads and other dishes they loved. But that all changed when my grandmother moved the family to a different part of Brooklyn and the Government began to de-segregate public schools. The pushback from the middle class was swift and in May 1968, tensions came to a head at P.S. 271 in Ocean Hill-Brownsville, Brooklyn, when teachers engaged in the first of several strikes that changed New York. This is the story of those strikes and the people whose actions changed New York City politics.  

Readers should be aware that any pre-conceived notions about New York City being a liberal mecca will be challenged by this book. 1968 has long passed and may seem like ancient history to the youth of today but older readers will recall the turbulent atmosphere of the 1960s. Social unrest, war, revolution and assassinations marked the decade as one of the deadliest in history. New York City’s public school system had long attracted Jewish professionals and college graduates from white middle class backgrounds. In Ocean Hill-Brownsville, the local community had come to see this as an issue and on May 9, 1968, Community Board administrator Rhody McCoy (1923-2020) sent a letter to 19 white teachers informing them that they would no longer be allowed to teach at the school and would be reassigned. The impact was enormous and the fallout is on full display at Podair takes us through the events. 

The response by the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) was predictable and swift. Union President Albert Shanker (1928-1997) saw the move by McCoy as nothing short of absurd and before long, the UFT and the local community became locked in stand-off that showed the dark side of New York City and questioned the meaning of liberalism. It is hard to put into words the scale of the tragedies contained within the book. The strikes are only one aspect of the story. Other regrettable components are the changed in racial dynamics, political affiliation and the ultimate failures by those who believed in their cause. Sure, there are winners and losers in story but the price paid by the local community was higher than anticipated. Podair simplifies the events even further by stating: 

“The Ocean Hill–Brownsville school controversy, which began in earnest with Rhody McCoy’s letter to Fred Nauman on May 9, 1968, was at its core the story of black and white New Yorkers who spoke different languages to each other, like strangers.

The question that readers will ask is how did New York City reach that point? The Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act had both been signed into law but the reality is that the problems of Black Americans were far from gone. Economic and social advancement remained out of reach for millions of blacks. And an ugly truth is that Congress cannot legislate acceptance. Consider this fact by the author that sheds light on what black students faced in the 1960s: 

“Residential segregation led in turn to educational segregation. By 1964, the average black student in New York attended a school that was over 90 percent nonwhite. While the central Board of Education did not shortchange black-majority schools in terms of funding, spending as much on them as on white schools, two crucial characteristics distinguished the two: the number of experienced teachers and class size.”

It should be pointed out that there were teachers who did want to make a difference. Fred Nauman, one of the central figures in the story believed in the ideas of Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) and found McCoy’s actions unbelievable. The sentiment was shared by others. But what they didn’t expect was the reaction from the local community which wanted their children to be taught by teachers who come from the same places that they do. And this idea serves as the issue that stoke the fires raging in the book. As the tensions mounted, sharp divisions began emerge and the racial incidents in the book are disheartening. As I read I could feel the charged atmosphere and see the long-term effects of what was being said and done. Readers should know that the story gets ugly at times with no punches being pulled. The rise of anti-Semitism made me cringe and I am sure you will have the same response. On the teacher’s side, we also see ugly displays of racism from teachers thought to be “liberal”. Quite frankly, the strike revealed more than meets the eye. Podair is even more direct: 

“The third Ocean Hill–Brownsville strike was the most bitter of all. It drew in the rest of the city. The strike divided the city in two important respects. First, by pulling blacks and Jews apart, and bringing Jews and white Catholics together, it reconfigured New York’s social landscape in sharp, defining shades of black and white. Second, it brought long-simmering class resentments to the surface, arraying poor blacks and corporate, government, media, and intellectual elites against the teachers and their allies in the city’s white middle-class population.” 

City Hall was not oblivious to the matter and several mayors had to confront the strike issue, social unrest and financial peril to varying degrees of success. Former Mayor Robert F. Wagner (1910-1991) found himself directly in the line of fire personally attempting to diffuse the situation. His actions and role are discussed thoroughly as are the roles of mayors Abraham Beame (1906-2001) and Edward Koch (1924-2013). I took note of the sub-story of New York City’s near bankruptcy and its relevance to the UFT and issues plaguing the city. Childhood memories of graffiti-riddled trains, vacant lots and burned out cars came flooding back to me as I read through the account of how close the city came to disaster. 

By the time I finished the book, I could not help to feel that those who lost the most were the students. Shanker and the UFT survived the strike but also paid a price.  A short term success was achieved in exchange for unintended long-term results. As for the local community in Brownsville, it found itself politically isolated, devoid of teachers and necessary social programs. Further, the relationship between the Jewish and Black communities deteriorated and those tensions later culminated in the Crown Heights Riots after Galvin Cato and his cousin Angela Cato were struck on the sidewalk by a car being driven by Yosef Lifsh on August 19, 1991. The next morning, Yankel Rosenbaum, a University of Melbourne Student conducting research for his doctorate was attacked and later died of his injuries. For several days after the accident, rioting occurred in what would become one of New York City’s darkest periods. 

Throughout the story, I found that I could related to the local community and their goals but questioned whether the end justified the means. In what could be described as political suicide, the strike helped formerly distant groups solidify political unity leaving black communities isolated. And not even the most liberal of mayors could rectify that. I also thought of the teachers I had as a child, all of whom I remember fondly. And most importantly, I thought of the late Sister Margaret “Peggie” Merritt (1937-2016) who served as the principal of St. John Neumann Roman Catholic School in one of New York City’s worst neighborhoods. I cannot recall the number of times she walked my brother and I home when it was late. Her actions and those of other teachers showed the devotion they had to the young kids growing up in a warzone plagued by crime, drugs and poverty.  When they left at night, they drove home to their neighborhoods far removed from East New York but I have no doubt that they took with them the realization that the streets outside the school were waiting to devour those who fall victim to their seduction. If they were biased, they sure picked an interesting place to use it. 

New York City has come a long way since 1968 but still has some distance to travel. This story can serve as an example of the divisions that can be found in cities across America even today. And if we are to prevent or rectify what is wrong, the first step is learning from mistakes of the past. If you have an interest in New York City politics and its history, this is must-read. Highly recommended. 

ASIN:‎ B0014CL72S

The Authentic Life of Billy the Kid – Pat F. Garrett

KidBilly the Kid remains one of the most mythical figures of the American Old West. There are parts of his life that remain a mystery, but “the Kid” did shoot and killed several men before his own death at the hands of Deputy U.S. Marshall Pat F. Garrett (1850-1908), on July 14, 1881. Following the Kid’s death, Garrett authored this book regarding his former acquaintance. For decades it stood as the best account of the Kid’s life but has been surpassed and challenged. Further, the book is Garrett’s account and not subject to cross-reference within. While it is true that Garrett did know the Kid, questions remain about the outlaw’s life.

Information about the Kid’s early life is scarce but the sources I found agree that he was born Henry McCarty and that the name William H. Bonney was a pseudonym he often used. It has been alleged that he was born in New York City but to the best of my knowledge there is no official birth certificate in existence nor is there a marriage certificate for his biological parents. However, there is evidence that the Kid himself once stated that he was born in New York. To date, I have not seen any evidence that clarifies who his biological father was. What is known is that after his mother Catherine’s (1829-1874) death in Silver City, New Mexico on September 16, 1874, he embarked on the path that led him to becoming a notorious icon of the American Old West. And that life is what forms the bulk of Garrett’s book.

The first thing I noticed is that the book is short in length which caused me to wonder why there is so little information about the Kid. And as reviewers online have pointed out, there are inaccuracies as well. One example is the Kid’s date of birth which is “probably” November 23, 1859, according to historians. However, without a birth certificate the exact date is unknown. Garrett does not address even this important detail which would have addressed the confusion about the Kid’s age at the time of his death. The details Garrett does provide are nothing remarkable and readers will easily find articles online that have statements from others who knew the Kid personally. In his defense, Garrett may not have intended to author a full biography of the Kid’s life. Further, as the man who killed the Kid, I doubt that he would have been received warmly by those who knew him. As a result, the book covers a brief period due in part to the Kid’s limited time on earth. But that is not to say there is nothing of value in the book.

One area where the book does excel is that Garrett shows that the Kid was not the larger-than-life figure he is often portrayed to be. Further, there were hundreds of other outlaws during the era who were just as deadly. The American West was a wild place, and the Kid pulled off daring escapades but, in the book, he emerges as another drifter who was a product of his time and his environment. But America has always had affection for rebels and the Kid fits that mold perfectly. Even Hollywood jumped into the mix with the 1988 film Young Guns starring Emilio Estevez as the Kid enhanced his legend exponentially. The truth about the Kid which can be partially seen here despite the book’s flaws, shows a young man who had lived a rough life and died violently in an era that was lawless at times. For a full biography of the Kid there are other options, but Garrett’s account should not be dismissed.