The Greatest Medal of Honor Stories Ever Told
Edited by Thomas P. McCarthy
Lyons Press, Lanham, Maryland, 2018, 272 pages
Book Review published on: August 17, 2018
As someone who has a passion for studying and understanding the facets of individual character, resilience, and leadership, I was intrigued by this book’s title, The Greatest Medal of Honor Stories Ever Told. How can you possibly delineate the greatest in a group of heroes who all demonstrated conspicuous valor? It is certainly a difficult task, considering that to date over 3,500 individuals have been awarded the Medal of Honor, with the vast majority of recipients “earning the award” the hard way—in the crucible of combat.
Thomas P. McCarthy has compiled twelve incredible stories that demonstrate the strength of the human spirit and courage under the most arduous circumstances. He skillfully disarms any potential disdain from readers over his selection of stories by clearly describing the commonalities of these individuals. “These heroes did not simply confront certain death. They got up in its face, smelled its heat, and challenged it to take them. One common trait that everyone in this collection had was an almost casual indifference to personal suffering. They each had responsibilities that trumped their almost certain demise, but they moved ahead nonetheless.” Within this context, McCarthy recounts the stories, wartime exploits, and heroic actions of eleven men and one woman, all American heroes with varying social, cultural, religious, and educational backgrounds. His detailed description of the environment and horrific combat conditions each of the these individuals endured in conflicts ranging from the Civil War to the Global War on Terrorism takes you to the “tip of the spear.”
The book is well organized, easy to read, and extremely engaging. I highly recommend The Greatest Medal of Honor Stories Ever Told to both general readers and military professionals. Although the content of the book is excellent, a minor shortfall is the lack of pictures and maps that would have been helpful in associating the names with faces and visualizing the location of the battles. Even without maps and taken in the context that it is not a scholarly work, I still found great value in the book. Whether you agree with McCarthy’s selection of the greatest Medal of Honor stories or not, each of these stories clearly shows that ordinary individuals can do extraordinary things while executing their duties, protecting their comrades, and serving others.
Book Review written by: Lt. Col. Edward D. Jennings, U.S. Army, Retired, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas