Stories of 11th Armored Cavalry Troopers at War
Casemate, Philadelphia, 2021, 304 pages
Book Review published on: February 4, 2022
Most of us have those distinct characteristics, features, or attributes we seek in a book. The majority of the time, we are fortunate if a volume possessed a few of these. If it contained most of them, we undoubtedly had a good reading experience. Occasionally, there is a volume possessing everything we search for in a book. For me, that rare occurrence came with Donald Snedeker’s superb volume, Blackhorse Tales: Stories of 11th Armored Cavalry Troopers at War.
To begin with, it is obviously a huge benefit if the volume revolves around an interesting subject. Blackhorse Tales unquestionably focused on material I found exceptionally interesting. Snedeker has crafted a book which captures the stories of the soldiers and their families who served with the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment (Blackhorse) during the Vietnam War from 1966 to 1971. During that period, over twenty-five thousand soldiers served with the unit during five and one-half years of combat operations in Vietnam and Cambodia with family support from home.
The author captures their experience in two ways. First, he weaves dozens of personal narratives throughout the volume. These provide readers with a comprehensive look into not only the soldiers’ experiences during the Vietnam War but also the families back home. Second, he inserts six combat vignettes in the volume to dissect a key battle in which the Regiment fought. He has selected one for each year the unit was deployed. This combination is extremely effective for the reader.
Snedeker is well-equipped to tackle the above. The author is a second-generation Blackhorse soldier who served briefly with the unit in 1969 in Vietnam and closed out his tour with the 1st Armored Cavalry Regiment. He later was assigned to Blackhorse from 1976 to 1978 while the unit was located in Germany. Following his retirement from the Army in 1992, Snedeker has served as the historian for the 11th Armored Cavalry Veterans of Vietnam and Cambodia. Before publishing Blackhorse Tales, Snedeker released The Blackhorse in Vietnam, which detailed the combat missions of the Regiment during the war. Clearly, the author possesses the experience, knowledge, understanding, and passion to craft this companion volume.
Snedeker's nearly thirty years as the regiment’s historian has enabled him to conduct and collect hundreds of interviews via email, phone, and in person. The interviews range from regimental commanders to privates to family members. These interviews are the backbone of Blackhorse Tales. The author has supplemented this by researching numerous books and unit reports. He utilizes this research to provide necessary background information and context for readers.
I have found many books focused on subject material I was keenly interested in. In many cases, the authors’ ability to articulate and communicate to me was extremely lacking. This was clearly not an issue with Snedeker. He has crafted a volume that is incredibly conversant and readable. In a book which focuses on war stories and is highly personal in many instances, this is a necessity. His superb writing skills are one of many strengths highlighted in Blackhorse Tales.
A book, like most things in life, can contain all the parts, but if they don’t fit properly, they just don’t work for the reader. Consequently, the organization of a volume is critical. In regard to Blackhorse Tales, Snedeker has superbly connected all the pieces together. He has organized a book that has an outstanding flow to it. The key factor in achieving this flow is his ability to merge the written word with the numerous visuals contained in the volume.
I am a huge fan of embedded visuals inserted throughout a volume via a collection of photographs placed typically in the middle of a book. I believe it adds significantly to the verbiage when the two are tied together. Snedeker has embedded dozens of photographs, maps, graphics, cartoons, and sketches in the book. These visuals perfectly complement the words of Blackhorse Tales and are a powerful combination for the reader.
For me personally, one of the most underappreciated sections of a book is its endnote section. Many readers simply do not review the section after they have completed the main portion of the volume. Even more, do not reference the section while reading the book in earnest. Over the years, I have found the incredible value of a well-done annotated notes section. Snedeker has provided readers with a superb notes section. It provides added detail on areas and in many instances, entries tell the rest of the story for readers.
Intriguing subject material, thoroughly researched, expertly written, well-organized, and possessing excellent endnotes and embedded visuals–Blackhorse Tales had it all for me. These characteristics made the volume incredibly informative and readable. I have no doubt other readers will share my sentiments. Without question, Donald Snedeker has paid a fitting tribute to this superb unit, its soldiers, and their families.
Book Review written by: Lt. Col. Rick Baillergeon, U.S. Army, Retired, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas