Sunday, June 12, 2011

Real Men: Ten Courageous Americans to Know and Admire

By R. Cort Kirkwood
Reviewed by Nicholas Stix

I’ve been on the lookout for good, pro-American books for my boy, ever since he was in first grade, and started bringing home books from school that depicted white Americans as murderous savages and desecraters of nature. In that vein I bought R. Cort Kirkwood’s book, Real Men, for him a year or so ago, about the time he turned 10. It’s clearly, vividly written, and I learned more than I care to admit from it, which exposes my own historical blind spots (e.g., regarding Francis Marion and Rocky Versace).

The chapters that made the most powerful impression on us were those on Davy Crockett, Andrew Jackson, and Robert E. Lee. Crockett triumphed over a terrible childhood, Jackson was the sort of larger-than-life figure—he once beat a would-be assassin to a pulp with his walking stick, which would likely result in his today being prosecuted for attempted murder—and the author makes an implicit case for Lee having been the greatest American ever.

Kirkwood profiles Eddie Rickenbacker, America’s greatest World War I flying ace. I vaguely recall reading an article in my nana’s Reader’s Digest on the glories of Rickenbacker when I was a wee lad of, say, nine or 10 (i.e., circa 1967 or ‘68). I’ll bet fewer than 10 percent of American kids my son’s age today have ever heard of Rickenbacker.

Kirkwood also devotes a chapter to Audie Murphy, the pint-sized Texan who, after being rejected by the Marines and Navy for being undersized and underweight, in the Army became America’s greatest World War II combat hero. When my son mentioned Murphy to one of his brightest classmates this year, the boy had never heard the name. Although my son attends one of the academically strongest and most patriotic public elementary schools in New York City, full of the children of cops and firemen, in a neighborhood that probably lost more men on 9/11 than any other, I’ll bet that he was the only kid in his class who had ever heard of Murphy.

(Kirkwood also devotes chapters to Lou Gehrig, Vince Lombardi, and Wild Bill Hickok.)

My son read about half of the book to me aloud. When he was a tyke, I read aloud to him all the time, and a few years ago, he decided to return the favor.

My son’s favorite actor is John Wayne. While not seeking to denigrate Wayne, I have emphasized to my son that while Wayne was an excellent actor, and one of the nicest stars in Hollywood, he was just an actor, and did not serve his country. I tell my son stories of real heroes I’ve known, including relatives who fought (and in one case, died) in World War II and Korea, and he knows a good friend of mine who is a retired lawman and old Marine who saw combat in Korea, but I don’t personally know anyone on a par with the men in this book. Real Men fills his need—and mine—to read about towering American heroes whose exploits were real, rather than fictional.


Anonymous said...


Has your son seen any Audie Murphy movies? Many of his Westerns are on DVD, some more released this month.

Murphy played himself in To Hell and Back. His feats were actually more heroic in real life than what was shown in the film.

David In TN

Nicholas said...


About a year ago we saw The Red Badge of Courage, which we both enjoyed hugely.

I had heard that Badge, which runs only 69 minutes, was a masterpiece that the studio had butchered, a la The Magnificent Ambersons, but having seen both pictures, have concluded Ambersons’ masterpiece status is a myth, while Badge really was a masterpiece.

My reasoning is thus: Unless the studio destroyed every single scene in Ambersons, even in the truncated it released, you would still see great individual scenes. I consider Citizen Kane one of the three greatest pictures ever made (along with The Godfather I & II), but I saw no such scenes in Ambersons. (It wasn’t bad, it was just blah.) By contrast, The Red Badge of Courage contains one great scene after another.

I have always considered Audie Murphy a godawful actor, but he gave the performance of a lifetime in Badge. The WWII cartoonist, Bill Mauldin, a complete amateur who plays Murphy’s buddy, was also wonderful. Mauldin never acted again.

Unlike almost all other war pictures, in which the hero is played by someone who was never a war hero, I had the pleasure of explaining to my boy that in Badge the protagonist, who runs away from battle early in the story, was in real life possibly the greatest hero in American military history.

I have yet to see To Hell and Back, but I will certainly have to rectify that.

And I have made a point of not telling my son about Murphy’s psychological problems after the war. There’s plenty of time for him to learn about that, when he’s older.

Anonymous said...

To David in TN: Sergeant Alvin York of TN was a great American hero of WWI. I won't explain what he did. You can look it up if you don't know.

Anonymous said...


Yes, Murphy had severe problems after the war. For one thing, acting was a business he had little respect for.

"No Name on The Bullett," is thought by some to be Murphy's best western. The character is said by many to be much like his real life persona as well as the title of a 1989 biography.

David In TN

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous 9:35,

I know very well who Alvin C. York was. I have visited his home (which is a State Park) and met Sgt. York's sons.

David In TN