Angels in Combat Boots
A Review by Wilfred Schnier
As with all good books, Angels in Combat Boots unravels its story in layers; not the three plotlines characteristic of all television sitcoms crammed into 30 minutes but rather a multitude of vignettes chronologically told, interdependent upon one another. The central figure of this true-life story, Coach Chuck Hunsaker, encounters many others along his journey, much like Homer during his Odyssey, making each episode interesting enough to keep the reader captivated until the next stage. If one reads a book because it reveals his own story, then Angels in Combat Boots is certainly attractive to anyone who was once young and looking for his way. If the reader has ever been frustrated, or battled the system, or been thwarted as often as being rewarded, then this book will keep your interest as well. If one reads to enhance his knowledge, Angels also provides that benefit since few have been privy to the inner workings of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, a mysterious and even misunderstood institution to most Americans. The time period of the book was 1967-81, allowing the story to follow many of the national topics of that era: feminism, civil rights, military, and athletics. The backdrop is sports, specifically running, but unlike most sports stories, this one has layers which draw in those who love physical competition as well as others who are athletically neutral.
Although this book is not great classical literature, don’t allow that to dissuade you from picking up and reading this fascinating book. The story flowed beautifully and increased in interest as the pages whizzed by.
Angels in Combat Boots is primarily about the meteoric coaching career of Chuck Hunsaker in Lima, Ohio, the University of Cincinnati, Southwest Missouri State University, and eventually at West Point. Although his coaching time frame was only 14 years in duration with only three at the USMA, Coach Hunsaker accomplished wonders which allowed him to be recognized in six athletic halls of fame. His organization, passion, and love of the sports of cross country and track and field should lead anyone interested in those topics to be attracted to this book. Confronting the obstacle of integrating women into a school with a mammoth, 174-year, all-male history presents a side of education and athletics seldom seen. As with the frequent lack of support at Cincinnati and SMS, different yet serious obstacles continued at West Point with an anti-female bias shown among many older students as well as “old guard” instructors and administrators. There was an “us against the world” element in this story which made it more intriguing, yet Coach Hunsaker’s witty “Thoughts of the Day” as well as brief training logs grounded the book for those coaches looking for an edge. Had the book been written about any old team at any old school, then it would still be worth reading, but it was written about two-time NCAA Division II cross country team champions at Southwest Missouri State and Eastern Champions and AIAW national runners-up at the United States Military Academy in 1979. A real highlight is the Appendix of Army runners who comment on their time at West Point and list their significant accomplishments throughout their lives. Its wide appeal will attract readers from all walks of life making it a story well worth reading.
Should you wish to purchase Angels in Combat Boots visit the Xlibris website. It sells for $16.99 soft cover and $28.99 hard cover. It will soon be available in e-Book format at Barnes and Noble and Amazon.