Rating: 4 Stars
I do not typically read anything involving military history, tactical planning, etc.; it really is not that interesting to me. But I found this one while wandering the library a month or so ago and thought it would be a great addition for my 2017 President Challenge, where I am attempting to read at least one book about each of our former presidents. Needless to say, once I started writing my own book, this goal kind of got buried.
But FINALLY I have finished this one and it was worth diving into. The day I picked it up from the library, it occurred to me that while I knew who the Rough Riders were, I really had NO IDEA what battle they took part in besides knowing the phrase 'San Juan Hill'. As far as wars go, this one kind of got ignored in history class, what with all the murder and mayhem caused by the Nazis during WWII.
As I recently wrote on the Challenge page, due to time constraints, the books I read for this challenge may not have the typical review I would give, were I not involved in my own work at this time. Basically, I won't be spending nearly the time I usually do on writing reviews.
Despite my aversion to books about military history, I was not bored by this one. So many puzzle pieces fell into place for me as I was reading and finally figuring out what this war was all about and why 'charge up San Juan Hill' was so important. Especially in our time with all the weapons and technology now available, even war seemed so much simpler then, if war can ever be simple. I also greatly appreciated the use of contemporary sources. There are tons of photographs of the men, as well as references to telegrams, letters home, orders, etc.
Here are a few lines I enjoyed, or struck a chord, or amused me:
The first quote comes from the very first page, from a Medal of Honor ceremony in 1906 during Roosevelt's presidency. He was the first to insist on a ceremony, where the medal was given by the president to the recipient. It is crazy to me to think that the medals were ever sent by mail.
"This is the first time a Medal of Honor ceremony has taken place in the White House, the first time since the nation's highest military honor was created during the Civil War that a president of the United States has personally presented. In all previous years, Medals of Honor simply came in the mail" (page 1).
Not-So-Fun Fact: Roosevelt felt he deserved this very medal for his part in the battle. While he would not receive it in his own lifetime, it would be posthumously awarded to him by President Clinton in 2001 and received by his great-grandson, Tweed Roosevelt.
On Roosevelt's character:
"Roosevelt made no effort to hide his inexperience as a cavalry officer. He was often seen in camp holding the thick cavalry drill manual and loudly practicing various commands, completely oblivious to the troopers just steps away. His boyish enthusiasm for any task was contagious, and he talked down to no man - unless he deserved it" (page 39).
After San Juan:
"Some Rough Riders apparently thought the law didn't stand a chance, either, and when they got on the wrong side of it, they seldom failed to call on the influential colonel. An exasperated Edith Roosevelt felt "as if we were the parents of a thousand very large and very bad children" (page 257).
The very last lines of the book:
"But Roosevelt did much more than leave a legacy to his children. He and his men authored one of the iconic moments in American history. The Rough Riders forever charge up San Juan Hill, and Roosevelt forever leads them. In that way, they are immortal. And it is all because Theodore Roosevelt craved something "worth doing" " (page 278).