It is easy to misjudge a book by its cover. Every Army Man Is with You; The Cadets Who Won the 1964 Army-Navy Game, Fought in Vietnam, and Came Home Forever Changed by Nicolaus Mills (Rowman and Littlefield, 258 pp., $37) is no exception.
The football action scene depicted on the cover could lead a reader to believe that this is just a sports book. The thoroughly documented narrative, however, brings the reader so much more than the excitement of West Point football.
Nicolaus Mills moves the reader from the stadium bleachers into the minds and hearts of athletes who loved football and also loved their country. Army Chief of Staff Gen. George C. Marshall, during World War II, said: “I want an officer for secret and dangerous mission. I want a West Point football player.” Every Army Man is with You provides insight into what those words meant during the Vietnam War.
The author, a Sarah Lawrence College American Studies professor, follows the careers of seven men from West Point from the mid-sixties to the present. Early on he provides a list of military academy gridiron notables beginning with Dwight Eisenhower and Douglas MacArthur. All are USMA graduates, except Roger Staubach, who went to the United States Naval Academy. Staubach was the nemesis of the 1964 West Point team.
The Army- Navy game that year was the first Army victory over Navy in six years. The book contains many quotes that make interesting reading because they provide insights into the Army players on and off the field.
Eisenhower, for example, said: “It would be difficult to overemphasize the importance I attach to participation in sports, ” and “I so loved the fierce bodily contact of football that I suppose my enthusiasm made up somewhat for my lack of size.” This from a man of 152 pounds.
The chapter on Gen. William Westmoreland contains an excellent summary of his military career. Westmoreland also noted the importance of football at West Point. “It is my conviction that West Point should strive for excellence in every endeavor, ” he said. “This applies to academics, military duties, extracurricular activities, and athletics—not to exclude football.”
While the football theme flows through the entire book, this reader was amazed by the amount of enlightening military and political history the author included. The interaction between MacArthur and Westmoreland when the latter served as superintendent of West Point provides insight into the character of both men. Mills also includes a short conversation between John F. Kennedy and MacArthur in 1961 about the approaching war in Southeast Asia.
In the sections that cover the history of the Vietnam War Mills does not spend a lot of time detailing battles. But he still provides a clear picture of the dedication and suffering many soldiers lived with on a daily basis. The follow-up of each man’s return from the war clearly depicts the life changes they experienced.
For sports fans, Mills concludes with a brief history of Army football.That includes a review of the infamous 1951 cheating scandal that severely damaged the team. Mills also relates how many West Point men became critical of the U.S. policy of body counts as a measurement of success in the Vietnam War.
This book is easy to follow, concise, heartfelt, and blends history with the great sport of football. The author is clear, however, that football is a game, and war is not.