The book's cover. Photo by The Associated Press

"Dogface Soldier: The Life of General Lucian K. Truscott, Jr." (University of Missouri Press, 392 pages, $34.95), by Wilson A. Heefner: "Dogface Soldier" by Wilson A. Heefner recounts the rise from humble roots to high command of hard-nosed U.S. Army commander Lucian K. Truscott Jr., who played a key role defeating Nazi German forces in the Mediterranean region.

Dwight D. Eisenhower ranked Truscott second only to George Patton as a field commander, the author writes. Yet Truscott didn't gain the fame of Patton and Omar Bradley largely because he fought on secondary fronts in North Africa, Italy and southern France.

Heavy on military jargon and battlefield details, Heefner's biography delves into the mindset of an unpretentious, tactically skilled commander who later became a CIA official. Commissioned in World War I after high school in rural Oklahoma, Truscott outdid many West Pointers through ambition and sheer grit.

Personal connections also helped. A rival officer is quoted saying that Truscott rode Eisenhower's kite tail into the military hierarchy, having impressed Ike while they served at Fort Lewis, Wash., in the 1930s.

The only U.S. officer to lead a regimental combat team, an infantry division, a corps and a field army during World War II, Truscott kept his command posts near the front lines to observe combat with his own eyes, not just on situation maps which he distrusted.

After American troops were defeated at Kasserine Pass in early 1943 by Rommel's Afrika Korps, Truscott ordered long forced marches and live-fire exercises duplicating battlefield conditions to mold draftees of his 3rd Infantry Division into a fighting force.

In the Sicily campaign against determined German resistance, the 3rd used the "Truscott Trot" to cross rugged terrain under withering fire and beat the British to Messina, the island's last Nazi stronghold. The division became one of the Army's most decorated units of World War II.

Truscott's will to victory derived from his early days in the cavalry, when he excelled at polo. "You play games to win, not to lose. And you fight wars to win!" he told his son. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Army's second-highest medal, for valor at Licata, Sicily, beachhead.

Truscott led American "dogfaces" through some of war's toughest terrain — sun-baked deserts, rain-swept mountains of central Italy and exposed beachheads like Anzio — where the German defenders always held positional advantages.

Ordering young GIs into combat, Truscott had to maintain a detachment from decisions that cost many lives. Hard drinking at the front and his letters to his wife, Sarah, expressing pride in "my lads" helped him cope.

When a Life magazine correspondent pressed Truscott for details about his VI Corps objectives in southern France in 1944, Truscott pointed to a map and snapped. "You saw me move this pin, didn't you? ... Do you know what it means? ... It means that by noon today 25 of my men will be dead." Truscott then sat down and finished his breakfast.

The author says the incident showed Truscott's qualities as a commander: compassion for his men; determination to complete the mission whatever the cost; and a capacity to compartmentalize and move on to the next task.

Overall U.S. losses in the brutal slog through Italy were appalling. In 601 days of combat from the Salerno landings in September 1943 to the surrender of German forces in Italy on May 2, 1945, the Fifth Army, which was commanded by Truscrott in the final months, suffered 188,746 casualties, including 31,886 dead.

Eulogizing U.S. dead at Anzio on Memorial Day 1945, Truscott did an about face to dignitaries and instead addressed thousands of GI graves. He promised that if he "ever ran into anybody, especially old men, who thought death on the battlefield was glorious, he would straighten them out." Famed Army correspondent Bill Mauldin called it the most moving gesture he ever saw. "It came from a hard-boiled old man who was incapable of planned dramatics."


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