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Once An Eagle

4.37  ·  Rating details ·  4,600 ratings  ·  371 reviews

Once An Eagle is the story of one special man, a soldier named Sam Damon, and his adversary over a lifetime, fellow officer Courtney Massengale. Damon is a professional who puts duty, honor, and the men he commands above self interest. Massengale, however, brilliantly advances by making the right connections behind the lines and in Washington's corridors of power.


Paperback, First Perennial edition 2002, 1312 pages
Published May 7th 2002 by HarperCollins (first published June 1968)
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David Ortiz I read this before my time in the military and it was easy to understand, relate to, and fall in love with. At the heart of this book is the epic and …moreI read this before my time in the military and it was easy to understand, relate to, and fall in love with. At the heart of this book is the epic and profound nature of some of the most defining aspects of the human experience... duty, service, friendship, family, trials/obstacles and overcoming them... setbacks and sufferings.. mistakes and flaws.. Do not let a lack of military experience keep you from experiencing this book. It's on my list to re-read post my time in the military. But nothing is quite the same as the first time you read it. Hope you enjoy. (less)

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Average rating 4.37  · 
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Dec 16, 2009 rated it really liked it
This is a novel as big as a life.

Usually, when I go to airports, I am well prepared. I have my main book; my backup book; my backup to the backup; and my ultimate backup, if I meet with a series of delays or the other backups are terrible or I somehow find time to read all the others. On my way back from Florida, though, I suddenly found myself in Tampa's airport with nothing to read, so I purchased this 1,200 page doorstop with the knowledge that it'd last.

Once An Eagle traces the arc of a so
May 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I've read this several times, including as a young officer. It was the only novel on the Professional Military Education (PME) reading list for the 101st ABN Div when I was assigned to it in early '80s. It is simply the best look at military leadership I have ever read. While the differences between the two main characters is so sharply drawn as to be slightly unrealistic, it is still an excellent look at what it is to be a leader rather than just a manager.
I think we all have a little of both c
Pete Combe
Feb 16, 2015 rated it it was ok
I rated this book so low because of the expectations I had going in. So many military folks talk about what a great primer this book is on leadership, and I simply didn't find that to be the case. Overall, I am indifferent to this book for a couple of reasons:

1. The two contrasting main characters are overblown exaggerations of real human characteristics. Sam Damon is unfailingly brave, concerned only about others, and though he has moments of tactical doubt he never doubts his convictions (even
May 02, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Myrer's mammoth novel is an engaging, disciplined, and, ultimately, powerful examination of American military life—its hardships and demands, its rewards and sacrifices, its meaning and tragedies, its uses and abuses—as filtered through the evolving life story of Sam Damon: raw and naïve recruit in the First World War, seasoned veteran in the Second, despairing old schooler in the looming presence of the Vietnam folly. Damon meets his diametric archetype in Courtney Massengale, his coeval and li ...more
Aug 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: military, favorites
Someone mentioned this book recently, and it sent a shiver up my spine. I can't remember when I read it - could it really have been more than 40 years ago?

What I do know is that I read this book before the Army put me through college, before I ever jumped out of an airplane, and before any of my military training or service (active or reserve).

How memorable, inspirational, and formative was the book? After this many years, I can't say with any exactitude. But, to my young, impressionable mind,
Marcia Van Camp
Jan 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing
My old boss Jim Rutherford said this was one of his favorite books and since he had great taste in literature I was curious. My dad had an original copy and said he loved the book as well and that it had been required reading as part of his military work...War College perhaps? Well...the copy my dad had was big and heavy...about 800 pages and for any DC metro know that it is real real hard to carry a book like that. I tried to find it on kindle but no luck and then I tried to convince ...more
S.A. Bolich
Mar 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is perhaps my all-time favorite book. Like many a young second lieutenant, I often stopped for a "what would Sam do?" moment when faced with tough situations. This is the quintessential novel about leadership and honor and the American soldier. "Sad Sam" Damon, who shuns the advice of everyone as a young man to pursue a military career, doggedly sticks out the drudgery of being an enlisted man pre-World War I, believing fully in destiny and that he will find his in the army. And does he eve ...more
A very good read on military leadership, soldiering, military family life, friendships, and above all how to lead, the book follows the career of Sam Damon from WWI to Viet Nam. The chapter on the New Guinea Campaign is harrowing, humorous at times, and some parts made me misty eyed, Myrer's writing is so descriptive, I was looking for a poncho.
Myrer's hammers home two distinct leadership styles:
Damon who started off as an enlisted man (EM), cares for the troops, is empathic, trains his units h
Jan 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book has been sitting on my shelf for 5 years at home and I am very angry at myself for only reading it now. This is a truly amazing book and has so many life lessons in there. I was not in the military, but you can take so many lessons from this book into the business and the sporting world and shows what it takes to be a really great leader.

The character of the protagonist, Sam Damon, is also the best character I have ever had in a book. He is a great leader and a real hero, but he also
Bob Mayer
May 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I was thinking about what military fiction would be appropriate on Memorial Day and this title came to mind. It's a classic, with fictional characters arcing through history, from World War I up until our entry into Vietnam. Sam Damon, the protagonist, enlists, wins the Medal of Honor in World War I, then spends his time in the lean years up until he has to go fight in World War II.

As a veteran I find the way his career track and that of his nemesis, Courtney Massengele, cross paths over the yea
Mike Kershaw
Nov 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing
One of the five books that I thought every officer should read. This ia a classic that became popular in the late 80s and early 90s. This epic novel is follows the lives of two army officers from WWI to the Vietnam era. It was made into a mini-series in the 70’s and has been reprinted by the Army War College. Myrer has taken some of the most outstanding combat leadership of WWII (Darby, York, Truscott, Eichelberger, etc..) and crafted it into a historical novel of epic proportions, centering on ...more
Barnabas Piper
Nov 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Wow - what a work. One of the most enlightening, honest, complex looks into soldiering I’ve ever read. No wonder General McCrystal gave it such high praise. It is as dense as it is long, but it doesn’t bog down. Over and over it reveals layers to the lives and struggles and mindsets of the American military family. And it is literary craftsmanship at its finest too. Magnificent book.
Nov 12, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone in a leadership position
Shelves: ww2
Two ways to lead, you figure which one you are. Classic tale of military life rings true to a military man. Also a great story.
May 12, 2007 rated it it was amazing
(IMHO, few books deserve five stars. I'd give this book six stars if I could. Go out to Amazon, and look at the distribution of reviews. Virtually EVERYONE who reads this massive book rates it five stars. You should read it. Period.)

I love this book. I read it for the first time probably 10-20 years ago, and find that I can easily open it at any point and get engrossed again in Sam Damon's journey. It's just this incredibly broad and rich tapestry.

What I think I love most about this book is Sam'
Aug 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

I give this book 5 stars because it is extremely well written and engaging. However, I hated almost every minute of it. I read it in the first years of my husband's Army career and found it extremely depressing. The hero of the story is never fully appreciated by his military leadership, constantly being overlooked and overshadowed by a more charismatic officer, who probably could have coined the acronym 'CYA'. I see that many reviewers admired the character of Sam and wanted to be an Officer
Kate Quinn
May 12, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Anything you want to know about war and leadership, here it is. Sam Damon is an idealistic boy who joins the army in 1916, wins the Medal of Honor and an officer's commission in France during World War I, stays in the army through World War II as a general, and ends finally as an observer and an old man in Vietnam. Sam is a terrific character: brave, strong, and true without being a cardboard white-hat hero. Contrasted against him is his lifelong enemy Massengale, a smooth operator who loathes S ...more
K.M. Weiland
Oct 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is a spectacular book. I purchased it because I was interested in the overview of the timeline of 20th-century wars, connected by the story of a career soldier. Due to its size and subject matter, I was more than halfway expecting something dry and tedious, with cardboard characters to illustrate the history. I couldn’t have been more wrong. This is a stellar and tragic epic, peopled with passionately real characters, ultimately singing a profound song of peace.
Sep 03, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1960s, ww2, war, hf-usa
Read "Once An Eagle" in late '70s. Impressed then but unsure if would award 5-stars with re-read. My family had career military men, WWII and beyond. My USAF service memories mostly good ... but, I can't remember contents. The local library still has copy. Alas, seeing it while browsing, I'm intimidated ... demote a star
Jan 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Man, if there ever was a book that made me reconsider my decisions and reflect on life, morals, and the important things in life it is Once An Eagle. Sam Damon is easily my favorite fictional character, and Once An Eagle has propelled its way towards the top of my all time favorite books.

This book has taken me through a roller coaster of thoughts and reflections. I admire Sam so much, as anyone should, and wish his life had been easier. Sam is a man of legend from the beginning of the book. He a
Jan 30, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
I bought this book because I discovered it was on the required reading list at the US Military Academy at Westpoint. This intrigued me because the book is a work of fiction and I couldn't fathom why a work of fiction would be a required read at Westpoint. I know many grads of Westpoint and know a former instructor and a current instructor and two of my Eagle Scouts are cadets at Westpoint so I also read it for that reason.
What I discovered was probably one of the most succinct theses on leade
Feb 15, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone
Recommended to G by: BG Jefforey Smith
My favorite novel. It is thick but every bit as timeless and brilliant as a couple of other sweeping epics, the Illiad and the Odyssey.

A quick look and it is obvious it is about war and soldiering, however, it is so well crafted that it would leave any reader uplifted and touched. Yes, war is ugly, yet the virtues that the hero, Sam Damon, possesses are what we should hope that all of our soldiers ascribe to model their own values upon. Although the story is a work of fiction, throughout the boo
Ben Lowsen
Myrer in some ways wrote the ur-military "adventure" book, as its ubiquity on military reading lists suggests. It is the story of a youthful US volunteer - Sam Damon - who earns the Medal of Honor and an officership in WWI, stays on with the US Army in the interwar period, fights skilfully and bravely in WWII, and ascends to high command. Myrer emphasizes traditional military virtues in describing Damon's wars, but devotes at least as much space to describing life in a peacetime military. Myrer ...more
If you want to know who I wanted to be when I was 18, read this. I hadn't read it then, but the hero of this book is pretty much the upright, shining knight in (khaki) that I wanted to be.

I didn't read it until much later (1993), but Sam Damon is the Army officer I dreamed of becoming: decisive, clear-sighted, morally upright, compassionate about his soldiers, and even well-read. He is clearly contrasted with Courtney Massengale, the shiny careerist staff officer that is so easy to despise (and
Abby Jones
Apr 24, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I've had a hard time trying to figure out what to say about this book. It is like the pinnacle of all slice of life stories as it follows Sam Damon from boyhood through WWI, WW2, and Vietnam. When you finish reading it there is a hollow in your heart from living a whole other life for a time. The writing style of this book is superb. I could recommend it on that alone. His battle scenes are beautiful in their terror, horror, and glory. His descriptions, both short and long, paint the picture of ...more
May 24, 2009 rated it liked it
Not sure about the category for this one either. Maybe Historical fiction since it's about the World War. To tell you the truth, I read it long ago and don't remember a lot about it. It's very long and that's generally not a good thing in my mind. But I've hung on to it and as I remember I enjoyed it fairly well.
Kevin Keating
Jun 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book when I read it in my early teens. Read it again later. One of my favorite books ever. Great historical fiction.
David Anderson
May 08, 2017 rated it liked it
I first read this book when I was in high school, then read it again several years later, and a for a third time about ten years ago. I thought it was a great book when I was 16/17, pretty good when I was 25, and marginal when I was in my 40s. It's not bad when you're more idealistic than experienced, but it is hardly the 'great novel' of American soldiering. Anton Myrer gave his characters some personal flaws but made them black/white or good/evil on the battlefield. In my 32 years of soldierin ...more
Ian Constable
May 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
Institutional goals and norms can frequently be attributed to the governing individuals and don’t necessarily capture the true spirit or essence behind the original purpose of the institution. This book assists junior military officers in the realization that popularity or success as an officer or leader, as determined by others’ definitions, does not necessarily result from good character. However, good character is sure to breed good officership and leadership when held to the standard of the ...more
Jurgen Rose
Feb 04, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An American Epic. Thought provoking and timeless.

Got through this book with a combo of standard reading and listening during commutes and plane rides, which helped me smoke through the 1200 plus page tome. Had to go back and reread some parts because I might have half dozed on some of the audio portions.

What did Ayn Rand say about Epic Tales and the value of learning morality and value through them...or was it morality plays? This book reminds me of that, the characters are designed towards ext
Nick Frazier
Aug 15, 2020 rated it liked it
An anti-war book describing the cost of a military career between two Forrest Gump-like US Army officers that spans the Mexican Punitive Expedition to the early days of Vietnam War.

It's fiction. It's constantly recommended by senior military leaders on their reading list. It's incredibly long. I had never read it, so it was important to finish this so I could see why so many people argued about the book on the interweb.

Here are my two takeaways.

1) For the old heads, I don't understand why this i
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Anton Myrer, who died of leukemia in 1996, was a best-selling author whose themes were America's loss of innocence and the use and abuse of power. He is particularly remembered for The Last Convertible (1978), a summation of the American experience during and after World War II, and for Once an Eagle (1968), which traces the life of a regular Army officer and his family from before World War I to ...more

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