Once An Eagle

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Once an Eagle
Once an Eagle cover.jpg
1st HarperTorch Paperback Edition
Author Anton Myrer
Country United States
Language English
Genre War novel
Publisher HarperTorch
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 1312
ISBN 0-06-103086-4

Once an Eagle (1968) is a war novel by American author Anton Myrer. A #1 New York Times Bestseller, Once an Eagle has been a favorite of American military men and women since its writing.[1] The novel tells the story of Sam Damon, career Army officer, from his initial enlistment to his rise to general officer rank. Myrer wrote his novel to warn against ambition without principle and the military-industrial complex. Sam Damon and Courtney Massengale are the vehicles for this warning. Damon is an honorable soldier who rises in rank by success in field command. He is a soldier of character with his men's welfare in mind. Massengale has no honor and rises in rank through staff positions by cunning and political connections. He is driven by lust for power and cares nothing for the welfare of soldiers. A television mini-series based on the book was aired on NBC in 1976, with actor Sam Elliott portraying Sam Damon. The book appears on the Commandant's required reading list for all First Lieutenants in the United States Marine Corps, and frequently serves as a text for cadets in leadership classes at West Point.[2][3]

Plot Summary[edit]

Book 1: Orchard[edit]

Covers the young Sam Damon's years in Nebraska, including his decision to enlist in the Army after being put on a wait list for West Point. Damon joins the Army, and soon enough is south of the border during the Mexican expedition, though he sees no combat.

Book 2: Wheat[edit]

Covers Damon's service in World War I, including his battlefield commission and actions that led to his being awarded the Medal of Honor. Sam rises to the rank of Major before the war ends, and falls in love with General Caldwell's daughter. They start their Army career together at Fort Hardee, a desolate fort that leaves Sam less than thrilled and that Tommy despises.

Book 3: Chaparral[edit]

This section covers the time between the wars, including Sam's interactions with Massengale, Ben Krisler, and the birth of Donny Damon.

Book 4: Liana[edit]

This section covers World War II and Damon's promotion to division commander, culminating in the disastrous Operation Palladium commanded by Corps Commander General Massengale.

Book 5: Delta[edit]

The final book finds Sam Damon once again in Southeast Asia, this time as an adviser to a potential conflict in Khotiane, a fictionalized name for Vietnam. He is battling General Massengale's desire to increase American participation, which Damon views as calamitous.


  • Sam Damon (Protagonist. Honorable, forthright officer dedicated to the Army and his soldiers)
  • Courtney Massengale (Antagonist. Conniver and malefactor, using family political connections to move up the ranks)
  • Tommy Caldwell Damon (Sam Damon's Wife, Daughter of General George Caldwell)
  • General George Caldwell (Sam Damon's Commanding Officer during World War I, Father of Tommy Caldwell Damon)
  • Jack Devlin (Sam's best friend during World War I)
  • Ben Krisler (Sam's best friend during the interwar years and World War II)
  • Donny Damon (Sam and Tommy's son)
  • Emily Massengale (Courtney's wife)

Literary significance and criticism[edit]

General H. Norman Schwarzkopf described Once an Eagle as "[a] classic novel of war and warriors. Sam Damon doesn't preach, he lives his values and they are universal, not only military."

In 1997 the United States Army War College Foundation published an edition with a foreword by General John William Vessey, Jr. which read "It has been over thirty years since Anton Myrer, a former Marine enlisted man, began the exhaustive and painstaking research that produced this classic novel of soldiers and soldiering. Once an Eagle ranks with Red Badge of Courage and All Quiet on the Western Front as time tested epics of war and warriors. The spirit, the heart and, yes, the soul of the officer corps is captured, as are the intangible ambiance and nuances that make up the life of the American soldier and his family. It is for these reasons and more that the Army War College Foundation has undertaken to republish Anton Myrer’s masterpiece."[4]

General Charles C. Krulak, the commandant of the US Marine Corps, wrote "Once an Eagle has more to teach about leadership — whether it is in the boardroom or on the battlefield — than a score of modern-day management texts. It is a primer that lays out, through the lives of its two main characters, lessons on how and how not to lead."[4]

Maj. Gen. Robert H. Scales, the commandant of the US Army War College in 1997 wrote on the book's fly-leaf "Once an Eagle has been the literary moral compass for me and my family of soldiers for more than two generations. Its ethical message is as fresh and relevant today as it was when Anton Myrer wrote it during the war in Vietnam.[4]

The book has also been on the Army Chief of Staff's recommended reading list for professional development, and is currently on the Marine Corps Commandant's recommended reading list as well.


In 1976 NBC created a nine hour American television mini-series, likewise titled Once an Eagle, based on the book and directed by Richard Michaels and E.W. Swackhamer. The picture was written by Peter S. Fischer and starred Sam Elliot as Damon, with Cliff Potts portraying Courtney Massengale. The first and last installments of the seven-part series broadcast two hours each, while the interim episodes each broadcast for 60 minutes.[5] The mini-series concerns the thirty year careers of two military men, from the outbreak of World War I to the aftermath of World War II.


Further Reading[edit]

  • Hebert, Thomas W. Once An Eagle: A Reader's Companion. O-A-E Enterprises, 2006. ISBN 0-61-518709-9.
  • Hebert, Thomas W. Once An Eagle: Notes on Once An Eagle. O-A-E Enterprises, 2008.