Wednesday, March 28, 2012

BOOK REVIEW CORNER – American Warrior

Guest blogger and Penumbra Publishing author Natasha Larry (DARWIN’S CHILDREN series) reviews Vietnam-era memoir/autobiography AMERICAN WARRIOR by John C. Bahnsen, Jr. with Wess Roberts...

John C. Bahnsen, Jr. with Wess Roberts, Citadel, 2007
Military Memoir
Reviewed by Natasha Larry, Penumbra Publishing author and blogger at
Available in paperback and ebook on Amazon and other retailers

AMERICAN WARRIOR has been called ‘one of the best books on the Vietnam War.’ After reading it, my inner history nerd has to agree. Now, I won’t lie, I’m totally biased when it comes to this title. Not only do I know, and have interviewed the author, ‘Doc’ Bahnsen, but my grandfather is in this book, which is why I used it for my graduate thesis.

Just in case you were unaware, my grandfather is retired CSM A. C. Cotton, the first African American to serve as CSM (command sergeant major) of the 1st Cavalry Division. Yes, he’s kind of bad@ss. One of my favorite quotes is about him. Doc refers to Cotton as ‘ of the line. A big, tall, imposing soldier the troops listened to and respected. He was a cavalryman and fighter first and foremost.’ So, yes, I loved the book.

My bias aside, it is a great book. The reason I think it stands out as a Vietnam combat memoir is because it follows the activity of the 11th ACR (armored cavalry regiment), better known as the ‘Blackhorse Regiment.’ For non-history geeks, this regiment was America’s best hope for winning the Vietnam War. The reason historians make this claim is because the soldiers of the 11th ARC were willing to do what most others weren’t by following one of the most important rules of warfare. They adopted the enemy’s fighting methods, especially search and destroy. In fact, their fight slogan was ‘find the bastards and pile on!’

AMERICAN WARRIOR is written with rare candor I’ve never seen in any account of the Vietnam War. The story is riveting, raw, and unforgettable. It’s so fast-paced, readers will forget they are reading a non-fiction account of a controversial war. In fact, I don’t think one has to be a military history nerd to enjoy this book. As far as bad@ss goes, these soldiers were it.


  1. Hi Pat & Tasha :) Great review, sounds like a really good book. I read "The Things They Carried" but it was a while ago, I can't remember if it was non-fiction or not, in case it was a raw look at Vietnam and quite good. Your grandfather sounded like a great guy.


  2. :) He was, indeed, a great guy. Thanks for the comment

  3. Thanks Charles, you're right, it does sound like a great book - and Natasha's grandpa does sound like he was a terrific guy too! She's lucky she was able to know him and learn about his history.


  4. Great review. Most books about Vietnam are so depressing. I wish CSM Cotton was here to see you now. Good job.

    "Guns Up" is the last good Vietnam book I've read.

  5. Thanks guys =) I don't think I've ever heard of Guns Up, but I will have to check it out. Thanks for the suggestion.

  6. For the past 27 years of my life CSM A.C. Cotton has had a remarkable impression on my life. I served him every day for almost three years as his personal assistant at 1st Cav Headquarters. I kept his daily schedule, I ran all of his errands, I left church just about every Sunday to write all of the correspondence he needed to get out. I visited his home, I drove his daughters to the Dallas airport for him. He was a soldier's soldier. Wise, compassionate, caring, inspirational, dedicated. CSM Cotton was the epitome of a southern boy having grown up in the Jim Crow era, who left home and made good. He was a father to me every day that I was on his team. I can only hope that I was a good soldier, one of the numerous soldier sons he adopted along the way of his long career. CSM Cotton recommended me for the meritorious service medal while I was just a buck sergeant. I got it. He served this nation with all of his heart, and I served him with all of mine. God bless CSM A.C. Cotton, and I forgive him for first being a sailor (ha ha).

  7. Oh yeah, one of the things people may not know about CSM A.C.Cotton is that he was actually promoted (appointed) to become a Corps Level Command Sergeant Major right after MG Michael Conrad left 1st CavDiv as CG. At the request of the new CG (MG John Yeosock - also a great man that I truly respected) to stay on for a little while longer, CSM Cotton declined the Corps CSM position and stayed on at 1st Cav (out of his admiration for MG Yeosock). This is not speculation, I was there, this is a fact. That's why he never became a Corps CSM.

  8. Wow, thank you so much for your comments! I grew up thinking that my gradfather was a superhero, and it turns out, I was right. He gained respect through silence. By showing his soldiers how to get a job done well, and that is a quality I have a lot of respect for. I knew that he got promoted from all the interviews we did for my M.A. thesis, however, he never told me why he turned down the position. Actually it was something like... "I just wanted to be retired." I should have known. Someone is getting a phone call soon=)

    Thanks again Sergeant Phipps, for sharing your story and for everything you've done for the citizens of this country.

    P.S. I can't believe he joined the Navy first either, lol. =)

  9. :) Thanks Rainy. I think he looks great in that hat, I wonder if he still has it and I can talk him out of it.

  10. OMG! This is soooo awesome! Your grandfather sounds like an AMAZING guy! Wonder if he knew my grandfather...hmmm... WOW! You, Larry, come from a super family! No wonder you're into comic books!


  11. You should give me his name, Nova. I will ask. :) Thanks for the comment, and I agree. If I could, I would turn him into a comic book character. Turning him into a YA character will have to suffice :)

  12. Natasha,

    I'd like to say that your grandfather, CSM AC Cotton is one of the finest men and soldiers that I had the pleasure to serve with. I talked with him frequently about leadership and I learned a lot from him. Amongst all his remarkable traits I most admired him for caring deeply for his "soldiers" and his great sense of integrity. He talked frequently about his soldiers and in some cases despite being one tough soldier he worried about them. On top of this he could always be counted upon to take a stand on an issue irrespective of "politics" but based instead upon his assessment of the situation. Indeed a great man....

    A 1CD Captain...

  13. :) Thank you for that comment. He is the exact same way as a father and grandfather!


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