Luttrell’s ‘Service’ is an informative, heartfelt tribute to all those who serve

Ernest Hemingway once wrote that “There is no hunting like the hunting of man and those who have hunted armed men long enough and liked it, never really care for anything else thereafter.” Let me flip that around: there is, in fact, no fear as deep as the fear of being hunted. Those who experience this fear find, later in life, that they never have reason to be afraid of anything else.

Marcus Luttrell is the Navy Seal who survived Operation Redwing and wrote about it in Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of Seal Team 10 (my review of that book is also on this blog), which many Americans probably only know about because Mark Wahlberg portrayed Luttrell in the movie. After recovering from injuries sustained during that operation, Luttrell returned to service and once again deployed to a war zone.

There’s a photo of servicemen that makes its rounds on the internet with a caption that reads, “Superheroes don’t wear servicecapes, they wear dogtags.” After reading Luttrell’s second book, I couldn’t agree more. After what he survived during and after Operation Redwing, one thing my brain simply cannot process is that he returned to service. Blows my mind every time I think about it. To live through what he did and to return to it, knowing full well what dangers he could very likely face again, to me that makes him one helluva an American hero. (And he would probably disagree with that statement, but it doesn’t make it any less true).

His second book is a great tribute to all those who serve, not just members of special operations units. Luttrell’s Service: A Navy Seal at War teaches the reader how different groups within the military support one another and work together to plan and carry out missions. He delves into the warzone of Ramadi and explains how Seals worked with the Army, the Marines, and the Air Force to drive the Taliban from the city and unite Iraqis into a population who worked towards a similar goal: taking back their city from the Al Qaeda. He explains how pilots on the ground with the troops coordinate with fighter pilots in the air to direct aerial firepower where it will hurt the enemy the most and have the greatest possible impact.

Luttrell’s knowledge of operations is extensive, making his book very informative and educational. I had no idea what the real situation was in Ramadi because, as Luttrell points out, you can’t rely on anything the media tells you when it comes to war. I was amazed at how much planning goes into rescue missions and how many planes, helicopters, and ground forces work together to locate and rescue servicemen. The amount of risk taken by Parajumpers (PJs) and other units who undertake these missions of rescue or recovery is tremendous. The dedication of these individuals saves lives. They risk themselves so that the credo of “leave no man behind” can always ring true.

The slogan of the PJ community is THESE THINGS WE DO THAT OTHERS MAY LIVE. Without exception, that selfless spirit applies to the whole lot of them. And, in a deep sense, that motto is lived out by all who serve with their lives on the line. Why do we do it? We do it for others, so that they may carry out their duties, serve their missions, serve their comrades, serve their nation, and go on to live the good lives they deserve.

I think the greatest lesson I took away from this book was the brotherhood that exists between all those who serve whether they are Navy, Army, Marine Corps, or Air Force. They have lived through situations and horrors that no civilian can imagine. Through trial and loss, they’ve become a family with ties deeper than blood. It’s something people outside the service can’t understand and will never have themselves. And it’s something that continues long after their combat days are over. Currently, Luttrell continues his commitment to his country and his brothers through his organization Lone Survivor Foundation which supports the recovery of combat warriors and their families.

I recommend this book to anyone who wants a better understanding of how our military works and how these great men and women sacrifice so much to protect their brothers, their family, and their country.


A Pictorial History of Historic Hampton House and Grounds

Hampton House in the late 1800s.

Hampton House in the late 1800s.

Ann Milkovich McKee has put together this  wonderful collection of photos, creating a pictorial history of historic Hampton House and its surrounding farm buildings. Hampton is one of the oldest surviving residential buildings in Maryland and serves as both a splendid example of 18th century architecture and a wonderful lesson in history. From the house and farm to the extensive gardens to the Ridgeleys themselves, the photos depict life on a plantation both before and after the Civil War. It shows how the family managed to keep the farm operating even after the ironworks and other sources of income were no longer operational. Sadly, time, taxes, and the encroachment of suburbia put an end to the once flourishing farm. However, those events are the same things that lead to the property being turned over to the National Park Service and opened to the public.

The photos in the book begin in the mid-1800s, continue throughout the decades of Ridgeley ownership and follow the transfer to the National Park Service up until the early 2000s. Having toured the mansion earlier this month, I really enjoyed seeing photos of the home when the family lived in it as well as pictures of buildings that have since been lost to fire or destruction.

I did think some of the photo captions became very redundant after a while. I would have enjoyed more photos of the interior of the mansion as well as the barns, but I understand that McKee and Arcadia Publishing had to work with what they had. I guess people in the late 1800s didn’t take photographs of the insides of their mule barns, dairies, and corn cribs.

Not to turn this book blog into a travel blog, but if you happen to be in the Baltimore area and want to spend a day immersed in history, Hampton is a lovely place to learn and explore. Whether you like history, agriculture, architecture, antiquities, or gardening, Hampton House has a little something for everyone.

The mule barn as it stands today.

The mule barn as it stands today.

Half-Wild isn’t wild enough. It isn’t wild at all.

Sally Green’s Half-Bad, about a half-white witch, half-black witch teenager named Nathan growing up in England where witches of different races are at war with one another, was one of my favorite books of 2014. I thought the story idea was fresh, the characters were intriguing and well-rounded, and the pace moved really well. All of this meant that the sequel, Half-Wild, was on my list of most anticipated books of 2015.

And what a crashing dihwsappointment it was. Half-Wild wasn’t wild at all. It was dull. Really dull. Like “will I miss anything if I skip a few pages” dull. The action, when there was any, moved at a glacial pace. Mostly, it was just a bunch of waiting around while Nathan got angry and swore at everyone. Very little happened to advance the plot until the very end and then that was so rushed that there wasn’t any time to absorb what was happening before it all ended.

Annalise felt as though she had been written by a completely different author in this book. She was naïve and silly. Her dialogue seemed forced, as if she was reciting lines instead of expressing what she was actually feeling. I got the impression she was no more than a placeholder until Nathan could figure out who he really loved. There was no chemistry, which made Annalise and her relationship with Nathan come off as fake.

And then came the extremely rushed ending. I am not going to spoil it (though I am really tempted to if for no other reason than to rant out my frustration with it). Let me suffice it to say that I hated the ending. HATED with all caps and fifty !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I felt that it was so pointless. And rushed. And pointless. I was outraged that a character who could have developed into total awesomeness was just fodder for a dumb, confused blonde. Yes, I get that what happened had a purpose in advancing the plot and Nathan’s destiny but it all felt contrived and unnecessary to me. I got to the last page and was left with nothing but disappointment. I didn’t feel even the tiniest spark of enthusiasm for the third book. I guess all good things must come to an end, and all the good ended with Half-Bad.

Robert W. Tebbs, Photographer to Architects: Louisiana Plantations in 1926

tebbsIn 1926, Robert W. Tebbs and his wife packed their camera gear into their car and headed to Louisiana on a mission to create a photographic catalog of the architectural diversity evident in the old plantation and farm homes that were still standing throughout the state. Despite many being destroyed during the Civil War or others being lost to neglect, Tebbs managed to capture 52 homes on film, and those photos were published in Robert W. Tebbs, Photographer to Architects: Louisiana Plantations in 1926 and finally made available to the public outside of the walls of the Louisiana State Museum, which owns the original prints.

This book is both beautiful and tragic. Beautiful because it captures the splendor of architectural grandeur that has long been abandoned in this country. Tragic because so many of these architectural achievements have been lost to neglect, fire, or the mighty Mississippi. I have often said that America waits until it is too late to preserve its history and the loss of these homes is further proof of that.

As to the quality of Tebbs’s photos, they leave much to be desired. Some are gorgeous and capture either the sad ruin or proud upkeep of these historic homes. Other images look tilted, as if he didn’t steady the camera before he took the picture. If the goal of Tebbs’s expedition was to create an architectural digest of Louisiana’s historic homes, he rather failed in that he took too few pictures at each location. Some locations feature the house, up-close photos of the support columns and their careful details, and views of inside staircases or fireplaces. These really gave the reader an idea of the artistic elements that made these homes grand. However, Tebbs seems to have lost the focus of his endeavor somewhere along the way. At several homes, he took only photos of the outbuildings and none of the homes themselves, many of which have since been demolished. Many pictures are taken from too far a distance to capture architectural details. I found myself wondering why, at homes were he clearly had indoor access, did Tebbs not take more photos of the particulars that made the homes worthy of being documented in the first place. Perhaps some of the negatives could not be developed. Maybe some photos were lost or missing when his wife left the collection to the Louisiana State Museum after his death.

I guess we’ll never know, but I do appreciate the photos that we do have as well as the histories of the homes and their inhabitants that accompany each photo. This book is a unique collection of images that won’t be found elsewhere. If it wasn’t for Tebbs, we would have nothing to show of those places that are now gone. If you love history, architecture, old homes, photography, or all of the above, this will be enjoyable read for you.