Keeping the Peace Cover

Keeping the Peace

Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 251 during the Cold War 1946–1991

Steven K. Dixon

Casemate, Philadelphia, 2023, 288 pages

Book Review published on: April 26, 2024

If you are looking for a rousing story of derring-do, this is not the book for you. If you like to read unit histories, activity reports, and summations of unit training then you will find this engaging. Steven K. Dixon’s Keeping the Peace: Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 251 during the Cold War 1946–1991 is a dry retelling of a number of official records of an unremarkable Marine Fighter Squadron. In the fewer than two hundred pages of the book, the timeline spans decades of service and addresses the 251st Marine Fighter Attack Squadron. For many famous aviation squadrons, one could write a book about the pilots and organizational exploits during a few years of wartime service. Because so little material was either available or explored by the author, the reader struggles to connect with either the story or any of the service members described in the book. The work may interest historians or other service members that have served in the unit. It would be useful for nostalgia purposes.

The structure of the book is chronological in nature. The author begins the tale when the unit is formed, which is prior to the cold war in World War II, by describing the unit’s wartime service. The information that the author chooses to share is sparse, and the writing is disconnected from any member’s personal perspective. Information about the service members in the book is patently one dimensional. The book varies in its depth and breadth of coverage apparently based on the information available. There seems to be more information presented during the latter half of the book, where presumedly more sources were available for research. The reader will certainly note that there was very little information on the actual service members. This dynamic promoted a sense of detachment from the story of the unit. Unlike many books, which often focus on the people in the unit and their heroic or consequential actions, this book chronicles aircraft accidents, aviation mishaps, attendance at training missions, and slots for schools over a number of decades.

Possibly due to the lack of substantive historical records and the conscious decision by the author to not interview former members of the unit, the scope of the book covers forty-five years. This lack of sources makes the work very superficial in nature and hard to follow. The book is divided up into sections; there is the birth of the unit, reactivation as a reserve unit, actions during the Korean War, and peacekeeping operations during the Cold War. In addition to the listed topics, the author dedicates a number of chapters to the unit fielding various jets such as the F-8 Crusader, the F-4 Phantom II, and the F-18 Hornet. The chapters in question deal with the training and fielding of the new military equipment, discussing the new capabilities, and the training of the pilots against the backdrop of world events during the Cold War.

In conclusion, I cannot recommend purchase of the book to the casual reader. It should interest those that served in the unit or have some relative that served in the unit. I found the book to be a ponderous and meandering work that leaves the reader exhausted. I think this leaves the reader unsatisfied due to the topical nature and overly large breadth of time covered.

Book Review written by: Eric McGraw, DDE, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas