Contributor: Thomas Houlihan
Review Date: 24 Jul 2008
Recon Scout is the author's story of his time fighting in Africa and Italy in WWII. It reads much like the author was sitting with you at a campfire, recollecting his younger days.
The book actually opens on a patrol in Italy, but then goes back to Mr. Salter's first days in the Army.
Enlisting underage, without his parents' permission, he went in wanting to be a cavalryman. He had read about, and heard enough about the cavalry to want to do it. Little did he know that the days of the horse soldier were nearing their end.
He doesn't tell much about his early life. When it has bearing, though, he'll tell about something that happened to him in his younger days so that the reader can see how past events influence our lives. Still, there's enough background information to get a pretty good feel for the man inside the uniform.
It was in September of 1942 that things started to change. The horses were gone, their role taken over by scout cars and light tanks. The author was now part of the 91st Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, headed for war. The rest of the book is a good recounting of his time in combat. We find out later that he had kept a diary of sorts, though it consisted more of short notes to himself than a real diary. Salter writes well of the trials and tribulations of a cavalry scout. What's was more important to me, though, was that he wrote about himself, and the men he served with.
One issue that has arisen of late in military history is the feeling that the Allies were all good, and the Axis were all bad. Slowly but surely, we are realizing that there were good and honorable men on both sides, as well as bad. As the author shows, these men were all human, subject to human foibles. Even good men can have bad days.
Reading this book, one can almost literally feel not only the horror of receiving enemy artillery, but the joy of living through the experience. We can also feel the pain of losing a comrade that wasn't so lucky. In the age of materialism that we live in now, we can understand the simple pleasure inherent in a pair of clean socks, a warm coat, or just a sunny day.
As a prior enlisted man, I found twisted enjoyment in how Salter wrote about the officers over him. The good ones were damned good, and one can see that when Salter held an officer in high regard, it was well deserved. There is also a strong indictment of those glory seeking officers who worked together to put medals on each other's chests, making themselves look undeservedly more important and gallant than they truly were.
The author doesn't leave himself out, either. There were several instances where he made decisions that came back later to haunt him. A loner by nature, he didn't like the responsibility for other men's lives that came with being an NCO, but he found a way to deal with it. He freely admits mistakes he made, even though he was able to justify them at the time. He shows how the experience of combat made an influence on him, and helped to shape his later life after the war.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, and would recommend it to anyone interested in the “average G.I.”
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James Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy, 23 Feb 1945