By Jeffery Birkeland
364 pages, softcover, 2018
A Brilliant Operation follows the National Army’s 362nd Infantry Regiment during 20 intense months of active service during the first world war. The story tracks the farmers, cowboys, miners, and store clerks from several western states who answered their draft notice and who would eventually merge into a regiment of infantry, receiving their basic training at Camp Lewis, Washington, before deployment to France. There they ventured into the abyss of the Western Front with General Pershing’s American First Army, becoming heavily engaged in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive with the 91st Infantry Division. Then, on a late September afternoon before the village of Gesnes-en-Romagne, their lingering attachments to the romance of war, as well as their innocence, died at the hands of the Boche. Bringing to life these western soldiers’ stories is the interweaving of their diaries, letters, and official reports into an account of their day to day trails, intermixed with photos and maps to visually follow their journey. These stories propel the reader from the soldier’s training camp in the Pacific Northwest into the mud-filled trenches and onto troop trains reeking of horse manure. There are rat infested billets, and gas permeated field rations. Along the way, hope and despair push the men towards the November armistice and beyond. Eventually, they returned home where, after well-intended cheers and handshakes, the men were left to their memories with an unspoken expectation that they would fit back into a society incapable of understanding who they had become. With this promise, A Brilliant Operation honors the sacrifices this great generation made during their world war.