McGee Creates Readable History,
Review By Rebecca Rule 3/9/2008:

From the Revolution to Desert Storm, New Hampshire men have served with distinction in war time.

Veteran William E. McGee tells some of their stories in "Men of Granite: True Stories of New Hampshire's Fighting Men." He begins with Maj. Robert Rogers and his Rangers who served during the French and Indian War, and ends with CW4 Michael Durant, the helicopter pilot from Berlin whose travails in Iraq were the subject of the movie "Black Hawk Down." He includes those who fought in the War of 1812, the Indian Campaigns of 1861-1894, the Boxer Rebellion, and, of course, the world wars, Vietnam, and the Civil War. "

The book provides a clear timeline and simple explanations of what precipitated each war, how long they lasted, major battles and biographies some of the men who made names for themselves on the battlefield. For the first time (I confess), I have a clear picture of the sequence of the wars in which our country engaged, who our enemies were, and how the battles were waged and the conflicts progressed. McGee writes:

"Frankly, if someone had suggested that I write a 'history' book, I never would have started. I wanted to write this book for the average high school student who wasn't necessarily a scholar, and wasn't particularly interested in history. I wanted to make his or her state's history interesting and easy to read and understand. Then, in going from biography to biography, it seemed to make sense to include recaps of wars that would provide a context for what these soldiers did, and would contribute a bit of national and world history. And in my research, I found a lot of little-known facts that I think will make this a valuable book for adults interested in the topic, too."

He's succeeded on all counts by creating a readable history for students and including information that may surprise even those who've studied war for years. John Stark, the Revolutionary War hero coined our motto, Live free or die. But did you know the circumstances of his coining? I pictured him on the battlefield, shouting it at advancing Red Coats. But no.

In 1809, Stark was invited to attend a banquet of Bennington veterans. At age 81 he was too infirm to attend, but sent a letter reminding the men of the time they "taught the enemies of liberty that undisciplined freemen are superior to veteran slaves." Stark closed with his now famous phrase, "Live free or die. Death is not the worst of evils."

Some of McGee's biographies are just a paragraph, some cover several pages, depending on the historical record.

"Some men like Stark, Rogers or General Leonard Wood, have had volumes written about them," McGee says. "Some men are remembered only by the terse citations accompanying their Medal of Honor."

He honors many here, including Rene Gagnob who raised the flag at Iwo Jima, a moment preserved in the classic photograph. The photo made Gagnon famous, and the fame — combined with guilt over having survived when so many died — may have ruined his life. He suffered "years of alcoholism and unemployment," was buried in Manchester, but later "reinterred with full military honors, in Arlington National Cemetery." His tombstone is inscribed, "For God and his country, he raised our flag in battle and showed a measure of his pride at a place called Iwo Jima, where courage never died."

War is a somber subject, but McGee manages to find humor among the stories, too. Because Robert Rogers' Rangers were such successful warriors, Rogers was asked to list his techniques, creating the first "manual of warfare" in America. Among his Standing Orders:

Don't forget nothing.

When you're on the march, act the way you would if you was sneaking up on a deer. See the enemy first.

Tell the truth about what you see and what you do. There is an army depending on us for correct information. You can lie all you please when you tell other folks about the Rangers, but don't ever lie to a Ranger or officer.

If somebody's trailing you, make a circle, come back into your own tracks, and ambush the folks that aim to ambush you.

Let the enemy come till he's almost close enough to touch. Then let him have it and jump out and finish him up with your hatchet.

Good advice in 1780, and good advice still.