Next to the Korean War, World War I is the twentieth century’s other forgotten war in the United States. Many do not know of the large number of American casualties suffered in relation to the short duration of American involvement. If Americans remember anything of the war, it is of the exploits of Sergeant Alvin York. However, Edward G. Lengel highlights the heroic stand of the “Lost Battalion,” an American unit surrounded and almost annihilated, in his book Never in Finer Company.
Lengel tells the compelling stories of Major Charles Whittlesey, Captain George McMurtry, Sergeant York, and Damon Runyon during the battalion’s encirclement. After describing their lives before the war, Lengel describes each man’s path into the military (or, in Runyon’s case, his path to covering the war) and their lives leading into battle.
Unlike many books on explaining the exploits of fighting men, Lengel goes beyond the battlefield when looking at the men. He compassionately describes the struggles and trials of the men as they deal with the horrors they experienced in war. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was not a term used, but Whittlesey, McMurtry, and York all exhibited classic symptoms of the Disorder. As Lengel explains, Whittlesey may have suffered the most as he agonized over the deaths of his men.
The writing is phenomenal and engaging. Lengel is balanced in his criticism and praise of each of the men. He also rightly criticizes the American generals’ incompetence (especially General Pershing and General Alexander – the Lost Battalion’s Division commander) in planning and executing the battles. Alexander was a bully and should not have been retained in command due to his demeanor and lack of touch with the front lines.
Lengel’s book is a great tribute to those who fought in the Lost Battalion.