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In A Time of War: The Proud and Perilous Journey of West Point's Class of 2002    by Bill Murphy order for
In A Time of War
by Bill Murphy
Order:  USA  Can
Henry Holt, 2008 (2008)

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* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

In A Time of War is an apolitical story deserving readers' attention, no matter their political stance. It's based on more than three years of travel and two hundred interviews - of cadets, their families, friends, and military academy staff. Journalist Bill Murphy, Jr. - a lawyer and former Army Reserve officer, who reported from Iraq for The Washington Post in 2007 - took the book's title from the address given by President George W. Bush to the U.S. Military Academy of West Point graduates in June 2002. Addressing them as the Golden Children of the Corps, Bush announced 'his preemption doctrine, under which the United States reserves the right to attack before threats to America fully materialize' and take the battle to the enemy. Committed in their loyalty, these men and women became the bicentennial cadets and began their senior year in the wake of the September 11, 2001 tragedy.

Murphy's book is about young individuals who proudly served and sacrificed. His years of research included emails, letters/journals, official military records, dialogue, and the cooperation of military personnel. He introduces many cadets to readers, bringing out their humanity. For example Todd J. Bryant is described as a surfer dude and 'a prankster in high school'. Drew Sloan first learned of West Point in a Tom Clancy novel. Tricia Leroux Birdsell was assigned to a heavily-mortared base in Iraq, in charge of thirty medical soldiers, treating patients including Iraqi civilians and prisoners. Husband Todd Birdsell was a member of the infantry fighting one-half hour north. In her journal, Tricia wrote: 'Nowhere is safe. Not even where you lay your head at night ... But in the end, we cannot let the fear run our lives'. A standout among the military was thirty-year old Lieutenant Holly Harris, a single mom of a ten-year old son. Harris, one of the few African-American officers in flight school, chose to pilot Apache attack copters.

Bill Murphy describes four years at the academy and beyond for The Proud and Perilous Journey of West Point's Class of 2002, following their lives, marriages, hopes and fears. He mentions other sources including David Lipsky's Absolutely American; Ed Ruggero's Duty First, and Rick Atkinson's The Long Gray Line (book-to-movie) spotlighting the West Point class of 1966. Murphy tells us ''Duty, honor, country' is the academy's motto, and campus talk was targeted at honor and commitment, loyalty and patriotism. A new lieutenant had to choose between two leadership styles. He she was obliged to follow his commander's orders, of course. But he she also had to decide whether, at the core, he she was going to be the platoon's envoy to the higher brass, or the higher brass's man woman embedded with the soldiers.'

There are no assurances of survival for those introduced to readers in In A Time of War. Some suffer shell shock, others have close calls, while one was killed in a bizarre accident on the last day of his assigned year in Iraq, and another when a shoulder-fire missile clipped the wing of his copter. There were those ending their tour of duty, only to be recalled according to rules of engagement. All serving in the military have similar stories. Murphy's book evoked feelings in me of anger and sadness, some tears, some smiles, some questions. I strongly recommend it to you.

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