A Book Review
of Charles W. Sasser's
Raider: The True Story Of The Legendary Solider Who Performed More POW Raids Than Any Other American In History
By Lance Zedric
In a society where true heroes are hard to come by, readers need to look no further than “Raider” by Charles W. Sasser (St. Martin’s, 2002). Based on the extraordinary military career of Special Forces legend Galen Kittleson, who holds the distinction of being the only man in U.S. military history to participate in four POW liberation attempts in two wars, the book chronicles Kittleson’s journey from a fresh-faced 19-year-old Iowa farm boy in World War II to a 45-year-old seasoned Green Beret in Vietnam.
As a young paratrooper in WW II, Kittleson earned a Silver Star on Noemfoor Island in the Southwest Pacific. After being selected as a member of the elite Alamo Scouts, Sixth Army’s Special Reconnaissance Unit, Kittleson participated in two successful prisoner liberations. The first in Dutch New Guinea, where two teams of Alamo Scouts freed 66 Dutch, Javanese, and French civilians from the Japanese at Cape Oransbari. Four months later in January 1945, Kittleson and the same scout teams, along with 121 Rangers and Filipino guerilla units, liberated 513 Allied POWs from Cabanatuan POW Camp in a brilliant night raid. The raid was the first large-scale prisoner release in the Philippines and electrified the nation.Galen Kittleson
Following a ten-year return to civilian life, Kittleson itched for action. He rejoined the military and was accepted into the Special Forces, where he spent the rest of his career, retiring in 1978. During the Vietnam War, Kittleson attempted to locate and free Special Forces captain, Nick Rowe. In 1970, the 45-year-old Kittleson beat out Green Berets half his age to get a crack at liberating U.S. servicemen held at the infamous Son Tay POW Camp outside of Hanoi. Although the daring raid deep in enemy territory resulted in no POWs being recovered (they had been moved), it was hailed as a military success and a further validation of the Special Forces concept.
Raider is factual, well-written, and would appeal to all readers. It is an even blend of biography, military history, and aw-shucks Midwestern values sprinkled with a touch of apple pie and homemade bread. But in a larger sense it is a love story. Love of country. Love of family. Love of comrades-in-arms. Kudos to Sasser for overcoming the near-insurmountable obstacle of getting Kittleson to talk about himself and for a masterful job conveying the personal sacrifices and hardships endured by Kittleson and his family through long periods of separation and war. But the book is not a sterile flag waver with a squeaky-clean superhero at its core. Rather, it is an impassioned look at an ordinary man with faults who, through design or fate, was the right man in the right place at the right time, and who, with men of similar mettle and support from loved ones back home, did extraordinary things.
The only downside to Raider is that had to end. The book flies by and the reader is left wanting more, wringing the pages for every last drop of whatever it is that Kittleson has that we need in our heroes, but we are unable to put a name to. Essentially, it is Kittleson’s quiet, unassuming character; the juxtaposition of farmer-warrior that resonates throughout the book and makes the reader wonder if people like Kittleson actually exist. For anyone who is ever a prisoner-of-war, let us hope they do. Get the book!