- A Century of Valor: The First One Hundred Years of the Twenty-Eighth United States Infantry Regiment—Black Lions
This volume is a fine contribution to the regimental history genre, a field that is often overlooked by military history scholars. Frequently, officers of a particular regiment have written the history of their organization, more as a collective pat on the back than for any reasons of scholarship. These histories are sometimes long on the minutiae of a unit's comings or goings and short on the kind of critical analysis that would make them truly valuable to historians. This is unfortunate because the history of a regiment can tell us much about the evolution of the military experience.
Colonel Stephen Bowman is a Duke-trained historian and combat infantryman whose credentials for this kind of project are quite impressive. He was the director of the United States Army Military History Institute in the mid-1990s. He brings the historian's trained eye to telling the story of the 28th. In researching the history of the regiment, he made use of USAMHI's archive, in addition to a range of sources from the National Archives, the United States Army Center of Military History, and, most prominently, the growing archive of the First Infantry Division Museum in Wheaton, Illinois, an organization that helped fund his efforts.
In 1901, Congress authorized the creation of the 28th Infantry in response to the war in the Philippines. In World War I, the "Black Lions" [End Page 258] were part of the 1st Infantry Division and fought well at Cantigny. In World War II they were affiliated with the 8th Infantry Division, but later they rejoined the 1st Division in Vietnam. Colonel Bowman covers all of the distinguished combat service of this fine unit and many of its peacetime experiences as well. His chapters are well organized and informative and his assertions are well supported with numerous citations. One senses that he is most comfortable narrating the Vietnam experiences of the 28th because he was in that war himself (with a different unit). Hence, the chapters on Vietnam are the most detailed and the best written. Each chapter of the book is well illustrated with useful maps. At the end of the book, Colonel Bowman has included a wide range of fascinating photographs that provide a nice visual sense of the regiment's journeys. A Century of Valor is clearly a significant contribution to the story of the United States Army in the twentieth century. Very few historians have taken the time and trouble to illuminate the experiences of one regiment, and Colonel Bowman's book is a good start in that regard.
Having said that, I believe the book could have been substantially better. There are no overarching themes stressed, nothing that ties the story together, or places the experiences of one group of Black Lions in perspective with others. The volume reads like an official history. While there is nothing inherently wrong with that, the human element gets lost. Bowman writes from the viewpoint of a colonel. There are flanking maneuvers, battalions going here and there, and officers are usually in charge of each situation. It makes for a fairly bloodless narrative. There are a few first hand accounts and they are the highlight of the book, but mostly Colonel Bowman narrates from the top down. In his note on sources he expresses regret that he did not have more first hand accounts available to him, but he must have had the opportunity to interview many living veterans of the 28th Infantry. I wish he would have made better use of that crucial human component because it would have made his book even stronger.
As it is, A Century of Valor is still a fine work of history. It...