I Heard My Country Calling (2014)
James Webb, author of Fields of Fire, the classic novel of the Vietnam War former U.S. Senator; Secretary of the Navy; recipient of the Navy Cross, Silver Star and Purple Heart as a combat Marine; and a self-described “military brat”—has written an extraordinary memoir of his early years, “a love story love of family, love of country, love of service,” in his words.
It is rare in America that one individual is recognized for the highest levels of combat valor, as a respected member of the literary and journalistic world, and as a blunt-spoken leader in national politics. In this extraordinary memoir, James Webb writes vividly about the early years that shaped such a remarkable personal journey.
Webb’s mother grew up in the poverty-stricken cotton fields of East Arkansas. His father and lifetime hero was the first in many generations of Webbs, whose roots are in Appalachia, to finish high school. He flew bombers in World War II and cargo planes in the Berlin Airlift, graduated from college in middle age, and became an expert in the nation’s most advanced weaponry.
Webb’s account of his childhood is a tremendous American saga as the family endures the constant moves and challenges of the rarely examined post–World War II military, with a stern but emotionally invested father, a loving mother who had borne four children by the age of twenty-four, a granite-like grandmother who held the family together during his father’s frequent deployments, and a rich assortment of aunts, siblings, and cousins. Webb tells of his four years at Annapolis in a voice that is painfully honest but in the end triumphant.
His description of Vietnam’s most brutal battlefields breaks new literary ground. One of the most highly decorated combat Marines of that war, he is a respected expert on the history and conduct of the war. Webb’s novelist’s eyes and ears invest this work with remarkable power, whether he is describing the resiliency that grew from constant relocations during his childhood, the longing for his absent father, his poignant good-bye to his parents as he leaves for Vietnam, his role as a twenty-three year-old lieutenant through months of constant combat, or his election to the Senate, where he was a respected leader on issues of national defense, foreign policy, and economic fairness. This is a life that could happen only in America.
JAMES WEBB, former senator from Virginia, has been a combat Marine, a committee counsel in the Congress, an assistant secretary of defense and Secretary of the Navy, an Emmy Award–winning journalist, a filmmaker, and the author of ten books. Mr. Webb has six children and lives in Northern Virginia with his wife Hong Le, who was born in Vietnam and is a graduate of Cornell Law School.
The Wall Street Journal: “A brilliant personal recollection that also brings alive a forgotten period of American history…more than personal reminiscence. Mr. Webb’s narrative captures the experience of a generation of children raised during the Cold War and embedded in the new culture of America’s expanded armed forces…The sweep of this wonderful book makes it the alpha and omega of the Cold War’s truest children.”
Shelf Awareness for Readers: “A riveting memoir of a military brat, boxer, Marine, Secretary of the Navy, senator and novelist… his narrative makes for a deeply sobering, poetic read. It reflects the author’s sharp cultural acumen and an unwavering sense of responsibility laced with stoicism.”
The Washington Independent Review of Books: “[H]is narrative offers an inside, no-punches-held look at the life of a man to whom independence was more important than money or power….
The writing from beginning to end is excellent. Webb has honed his craftsmanship to the point that glorious sentences roll out, one after another, though one might ask for more economy here and there. My guess is that here, as in other endeavors, no one has worked harder than Webb to master the art. I found the first two-thirds of the book totally enjoyable, less because of the content — Webb’s early life — than because of the writerly skill. The last third, starting with Webb’s experience in Vietnam, I found riveting. Everything, from his childhood to the U.S. Senate, is put in context by extraordinary historical background. If you know Webb’s writing, you know that history is one of his fascinations, and the backdrop of history informs each episode….”