Friday, December 7, 2018

Never in Finer Company - Edward G. Lengel

This book, Never in Finer company by Edward G. Lengel, tells the story of the famous 'lost battalion' of World War I.  Focusing on four men who, one way or another, were connected with the lost battalion, either by being a part of it, or by being involved in relief efforts or reporting on it. Charles Whittlesey, commander of the battalion, , George McMurtry, executive officer, Alvin York a sergeant who was Involved in the attempt to rescue the lost battalion and Damon Runyon a newspaper man reporting from as near the front as he could.

Edward Lengel takes you through the days before the war and introduces you to each man  They each have their own unique background, personal struggles and their own perspective on life. They all end up around the same geographic area during the war. 

Ironically, the lost battalion was lost twice.  They were commanded to keep pushing forward even if the groups on their flanks fell away.  They did so both times they were sent out.  The first time they were only lost for a short while, the second, they were surrounded by the enemy for days.  The days that Whittlesey and his men went through were particularly horrific.  Lacking food and water and even being fired on by their own side, their circumstances became more and more desperate.  But Whittlesey was determined to stand by their orders and hold out, not surrendering to the Germans.

Finally, a plan was put in motion to save the lost battalion, and that's where York came in, he was a part of the initial relief effort to press through the Argonne, and ended up performing his famed exploits not long after the lost battalion was rescued.  

Lengel writes quite well, more in a narrative style without a lot of quoted dialogue.  He seems to have somewhat of a liberal mindset, at least, that's how some of his perspectives of the happenings of this time came across to myself. But even though I have a more politically conservative perspective, I was able to see past his commentary and still learn about and find interest in this particular event in history. But there were several times when the author would make statements about what people were thinking, what their perspective was of certain things, and I kept wondering if some of this was just added for dramatic effect? For instance, after York has killed many people in the Argonne, at one point it is stated that, "York didn't realize what brought him to this point in his life, or why he behaved as he did despite his renunciation of violence years before." That statement confused me, because the author, at another point in the book quotes York saying that his conscience was clear, and York seems to take some pride in his exploits of killing and of how good of a shot he was.  Didn't sound like a guy struggling with emotional turmoil.  But perhaps Lengel pulled that information from a diary or letter that York wrote? (Or perhaps parts like this were changed in the published book)*

I have to admit, this book doesn't make one feel patriotic or happy when you finish it. This is a very sobering account. Only one of the four main characters of this account appeared to have a hope beyond the grave and so could see past some of the horrors of this present reality.  A lot of the men in the lost battalion were terrified of dying, or even struggled to find a purpose for living.   It really brings out the realization that these guys really were human beings, not just characters in a heroic feat.  Speaking of York trudging over a battlefield, the author notes that "Many of these had  died close enough for him to see the expressions on their faces as they went, all unprepared to meet their maker." That's just plain scary.

 Whittlesey and Damon Runyan especially seemed to find no real purpose in life.  Whittlesey was haunted by the events in the Argonne, and ultimately committed suicide.  Runyan died unhappy, despite living quite a hedonistic life.  York is really the only bright spot in the book, as he actually had purpose, though he didn't necessarily understand everything that happened.  I'm glad that it ended with him and his more God focused perspective.  All in all, if you want to get more of a sense of the individual in the military this book does a pretty good job of bringing the reality of that individuality alive to ones thinking.

*Many thanks to the folks at De Capo Press for sending me a free review advance copy of this book (My review did not have to be favorable).  

My rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

This book may be purchased at

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