Once An Eagle - seeking clarity/insight

Discussion in 'Off Topic' started by Kyguardmom, Nov 2, 2015.

  1. Kyguardmom

    Kyguardmom Member

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    I'm two-thirds of the way through reading "Once An Eagle". I would love opinions from those who have read it/love it as to its most significant lesson and/or message. (Without spoilers, hopefully, since I'm not done yet!)

    I think I'm not getting it - aside from Sad Sam Damon versus Courtney Massengale. I'll never recover from what Massengale did to his pet squirrel! Textbook sociopath written in 1968, before the topic of sociopathic behavior was covered like it is these days.

    That aside, obviously Damon is a more admirable person than Massengale. Even so, he sacrificed a great deal of his personal life - his wife, children and career - to pursue his sense of justice? Which wasn't necessarily patriotism, because he became quite jaded regarding the 'powers that be'. He felt his purpose was to protect his troops?

    So, my question. Why is this recommended reading for Service Academies?
     
  2. NavyHoops

    NavyHoops Super Moderator 5-Year Member

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    I have read it several times. As I have aged I view it differently, but that's another discussion. I think the book does a great job of showing different types of leadership, the thought process of decision making, balancing following orders and taking care of your troops as an officer, consequences of making good and bad leadership decisions, sacrifices families make while deployed and many other things. It also shows how these things change as one moves up the ranks. A LtCol views decision making differently because of their experience and they see a bigger picture. A Lt doesn't (and doesn't necessarily need to). Since the book covers their entire lives essentially it shows how this changes over time. A few other take always... the book shows the challenges of a career military officer, even at the highest levels. Balance and expectations of the family role and the things they face. The horribleness of war and the challenges mentally and physically it presents... And also the challenge of reintegration. The book isn't pretty in many parts, but it's a great leadership and ethics book to opens up discussions about what is right and wrong, the decision making process and making decisions under pressure.
     
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  3. flieger83

    flieger83 Super Moderator 10-Year Member

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    NavyHoops...HUGE thumb up!!

    Your description and explanation mirror my own; and I've read it more times than I should admit...I always find a tiny wrinkle or nuance that I missed before. It's like "Twelve O'Clock High" with Gregory Peck...wonderful examples of leadership/followership there...and it was released in 1949!

    Steve
    USAFA ALO
    USAFA '83
     
  4. kinnem

    kinnem Moderator 5-Year Member

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    Based on everyone's comments here I finally got the Kindle edition last night. Only through Chapter 3 but it's already one heck of a read that I find difficult to put down.
     
  5. USMCGrunt

    USMCGrunt 5-Year Member

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    "Twelve O'clock High" was part of the program of instruction at TBS in my day. I remember watching it multiple times followed by group discussion of the various leadership styles and challenges. I wonder if the current TBS students still watch it?
     
  6. kinnem

    kinnem Moderator 5-Year Member

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    Ha! Ask your sources :D
    I went to a management class back in my IBM days that did the same thing with that movie.
     
  7. USMCGrunt

    USMCGrunt 5-Year Member

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    Ha ha! Heck, my DS doesn't seem to know what he is doing more than a week ahead of time at TBS. But yes, I will ask him.
     
  8. NavyHoops

    NavyHoops Super Moderator 5-Year Member

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    It's wasn't in our curriculum but it's been awhile since I was there.

    And we seemed to know what was ahead the entire time. One of my best buds was a company ahead by 3-4 weeks, so we were just behind them. The entire 6 months was published when I was there, not sure about now. We sort of focused on field event to field event and 4 day weekend to 4 day weekend!
     
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  9. USMCGrunt

    USMCGrunt 5-Year Member

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    Thanks Navy. My recollection was that the entire POI was laid out back in my day. My DS gets a heads up from friends in the company ahead of him but don't think he has a view of the entire program yet. He rightfully focuses on the field events and training evolutions.
     
  10. Kyguardmom

    Kyguardmom Member

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    NavyHoops - thank you for weighing in. I was hoping you would since you mentioned you've read it several times. I don't have any military background, so I figured I was missing some of the nuances. But I can definitely see what you're getting at.

    It's an interesting read, but very, very hard to get through from the perspective of a mom of an enlisted son. For example, when Damon's son Donny enlisted in WWII, I could totally understand Tommy asking/begging Massengale to pull strings to keep him stateside, despite Massengale being such a dislikeable character. And even despite how that undermined her marriage. Shockingly disloyal and potentially disastrous given his character, but yes, I got that.

    But again, that is what jumps out from my perspective. So I appreciate the input about the other lessons of this book. I'm not sure I could read it more than once.

    ps... I have absolutely no idea what you guys are talking about above... re: TBS/POI at IBM in regards to Twelve O'clock High! I used to think I was reasonably smart until I joined this forum - lol!
     
  11. USMCGrunt

    USMCGrunt 5-Year Member

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    Ha Ha. Sorry about that!

    TBS = The Basic School for Marine Officers in Quantico, VA
    POI = Program of Instruction/ syllabus
    IBM = non-military reference. Kinnem retired from this once robust business machine company that now is primarily a services company.
     
  12. Kyguardmom

    Kyguardmom Member

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    Thanks USMCGrunt! TBS and POI I didn't know. But I do know IBM! My father was an exec at Burroughs/Unisys back in the day.

    Yes, the once almighty IBM. Who'd of thought it would a service company someday. I feel so old!
     
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  13. VelveteenR

    VelveteenR Just gathering dust in the nursery...

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    DH is an exec at IBM today and is still trying to figure out what kind of company it is today.
     
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  14. Day-Tripper

    Day-Tripper Member

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    Been years since I read this classic, but as I recall Sam Damon had several lucrative private sector job offers after WW1, only to turn them down and spend 20+ years in the under-funded, poorly-paid, miserable-morale IS Army of the 1920s-1930s. It was guys like the fictional Damon (and the non-fictional Eisenhower, Bradley, Patton, MacArthur, etc.) who kept the Army alive in those barren years and formed the framework for the tremendous 8 million man force the US Army became by 1944.

    Of course, the action scenes of the book in WW1 & WW2 were pretty good, too.

    Wasn't Damon assigned as a military adviser to Mao's Chinese communists fighting the Japanese in North China? Can't remember.
     
  15. Kyguardmom

    Kyguardmom Member

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    Yes! That is correct. And it was a fascinating section, and I think even more so when considering the time frame the book was written - when all things communist were evil. Damon had been sent to China to study their successful guerrilla warfare tactics against the much better armed Japanese (much to Massengale's disgust. He thought it a waste of time.)

    The part that resonated with me was how dumbfounded Damon was that these ragtag men absolutely blew past him during a desperate retreat. And his conclusion, I believe, was that they were personally vested in saving their people, and therefore innately more determined than American soldiers in a similar forced march in Europe during WWI. In that march, the soldiers were falling apart, and Damon was responsible for driving them forward. In the Chinese retreat, despite their even worse circumstances, none needed to be helped or encouraged. And it was Damon who couldn't keep up and had to be helped along by men he was sent to observe.
     
  16. Kyguardmom

    Kyguardmom Member

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    For the record, I finished reading Once An Eagle over the weekend. (A lot of chores did not get done in order to accomplish this...)

    For me, it was a very upsetting/uncomfortable book to read, but it was also very consuming and quite unforgettable. I would not recommend it to moms of enlisted soldiers. And in fact, dissuaded my 82 year old mother (an avid reader) from getting it.

    But it was definitely memorable. Very memorable. I feel like a better person for reading it, and you can't say that about many books. So thanks to folks on this forum who recommended it.
     
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  17. jreneski_edd

    jreneski_edd New Member

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    I was asked to take over a graduate leadership course on leadership and communication in a business intelligence (BI) degree program at Full Sail University (in an accelerated program). The course was built using 12 O’clock High as the base for discussions on ethics, and leadership styles. When I took over the course I added the mission component to the analysis and the need for leadership to extol extreme effort from the followers. I started reading OAE after teaching the course for a couple of months (in addition to my regular marketing course load). I started reading OAE at leisure in between higher priority topics and ongoing research. In the middle of my reading task, the BI program was reorganized and I assigned to a new dean. The new dean was able to staff the program fully making the need for my adjunctive assignment obsolete. So after handing off the course to the newly hired instructor, I finished the book.

    In the middle of my reading I found an OPED by Major General Scaled where he blames the adoption of the book at the service academies for creating a weakness in the quantity and quality staff officers as well as for creating a culture that valued line officers over staff. I am suspicious of his motivation for writing the article (2013) since the timing was at the peak of the Obama era military purges. Further his analysis takes the pedantic assessment of the book as a simple allegory between staff and line and officers with no mention to the other issues addressed in the book including the sociopathic behavior of the antagonist Courtney Massingale.

    I also found the book highly interesting from a couple of other points. Temporally the analysis of the Chinese guerillas was remarkable as well as the DELTA section as Myers maybe hinting at the formation of the modern deep state.

    More thoughts to come as I continue to reflect on the book as I just finished the book last night. Thank you.
     
  18. bruno

    bruno 10-Year Member Retired Staff Member

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    MG Scales article was full of hooey finding an issue where none exists in the book itself. Anton Myrer ( the author) doesn’t denigrate the staff - he denigrates self serving Officers who do not lead by example or put themselves at risk in pursuit of the mission or for their soldiers.
    He has some pretty good background for those observations - he was a Marine Infantryman in the Pacific in WW2, so I suspect he understood what effective leadership under fire requires.

    Once an Eagle is a novel after all, so the character of San Damon is idealized - but the reason that the book has been on so many Army Chiefs of Staff and Marine Commandant’s recommended reading lists is that Damon is the leader every professional wants to think of himself as - (and so often is not). He espouses the fundamentals of Soldiering and leadership which are true regardless of the branch: personal bravery, professional competence, continuous intellectual and professional growth, leadership by example, and most of all: personal integrity even when at a cost to himself, and finally - loyalty to his Soldiers . So if you read the book - even though it is fiction- as a primer on leadership, you can’t go wrong. It is IMHO a great and timeless book.
     
  19. jreneski_edd

    jreneski_edd New Member

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