BOOK REVIEW by William L. Yarborough LTC, USA (Ret.)
Smokey Joe and the General
The new book Smokey Joe and the General, by former Ambassador and retired Lt. General, Ed Rowny, is a classic, with bomb shell nuggets from WWII, Korea, Vietnam and the cold war. It is the type of book many hoped George Marshall would write but did not. Ed Rowny has known so many great political and military figures, the book is virtually a who’s who of the last 60 years.
Rowny attended West Point, after gaining an engineering degree from Johns Hopkins University, an extraordinary extra step, representative of his always going the extra mile in his life and career to be outstanding. Rowny also was mentored by many of the greats of the age. For example, one of Rowny’s upper classmen at West Point was Andrew Goodpaster, later a distinguished general, also of Polish descent, who identified Rowny early as brilliant, and later helped Rowny be assigned to the War Department, Operations Plans Division (OPD), serving on General George Marshal’s inner circle with others like Generals Abe Lincoln, Norstad, and Goodpaster. In OPD Rowny worked on and participated in the development of key WWII plans.
Rowny’s WWII service with MG Edward M. Almond and the 92nd Buffalo Division fighting in the mountains and snows of WWII Italy was an early exposure for Rowny of the demands of combat. Ned Almond later served as General MacArthur’s Chief of Staff and also X Corps Commander in Korea, and asked for Ed Rowny to be assigned to MacArthur’s Far East Command in Japan.
On 25 June, 1950, while serving as duty officer in MacArthur’s headquarters, Rowny received the call reporting the North Korean invasion of South Korea and Rowny recounts MacArthur’s actions and orders. Facing looming possible defeat and destruction, MacArthur snatches survival even victory, from the jaws of destruction. Rowny helped plan the Inchon invasion, and later as X Corps Engineer, built the bridge, under North Korean fire, used to reenter Seoul.
Later, after UN forces withdrew to the south, Rowny had the bridge built for US Forces to escape from the Chosen Reservoir to the Port of Hungnam and evacuation by sea. Rowny also made possible the escape of 100,000 Korean civilians from Hungnam by the troop ships already loaded with vehicles and barely escaped capture himself, staying to the last minute to destroy supplies just ahead of the advancing enemy.
The description of General Ridgeway’s assumption of command of a hard pressed Eighth Army after the loss of LTG Walton Walker is historic, and is just one more unique Rowny observation. Rowny later saw heavy combat as a regimental commander in Korea.
A Rowny assignment to NATO as a staff officer for General Gruenther, the Supreme Allied Commander, is both revealing of the demanding life at the High Command, and filled with priceless humor, of which there is much in the book. Rowny later commanded the 24th Infantry Division with great distinction in Europe.
Rowny also discusses the early high level plans for Vietnam, his fight for new Army aviation assets, and development of the helicopter for combat mobility and the interservice resistance he overcame.
Assigned to the Joint Staff, Rowny headed vital political military negotiations with the Soviet Union fully described in his book It Takes One to Tango.
Rowny served as a negotiator for SALT and Ambassador for the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks. Rowny served as a negotiator under five Presidents.
Recently, at the request of and guest of the Korean Government, former Ambassador and retired Lieutenant General Rowny returned for a visit to Korea. He was of course received with great warmth by the Korean people. Those who traveled with him said he was received as a cross between a head of state and a rock star. Rowny is 96, with a brilliant mind and memory plus great humor, and not to forget his harmonica which he plays at any and all opportunities.
Normally, it would be impossible to have packed so many adventures and revelations into one book. Ed Rowny is however an astonishing figure, a Polish American renaissance type whose life follows his idols, the Polish national hero, Ignacy Paderewski, and the Polish American revolutionary war hero and engineer, Thaddeus Kosciuszko, and Rowny’s lifetime military mentor, BG Woods, US Army Engineer. Rowny has, as it were, stepped out of history to tell us about great events which he lived through, shaped and now interprets. Overarching is his inspired conviction, daring, brilliant mind and great leadership which wrestled with near impossible circumstances and somehow prevailed in spite of all odds. It makes you proud to be an American.
William L. Yarborough LTC, USA (Ret.)