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John Stephenson
Blood In Your Boots
This book consists of a series of true stories about Captain John M. "Maxie" Stephenson, Jr., USNR. Maxie served as an officer and operator in Navy SEAL Team One and Underwater Demolition Team 12 from 1957 to 1967. The stories chronicle his completion the the famous Navy SEAL training in Coronado, California, and some of the challenges he faced as an officer in the early days of Naval Special Warfare.
Stephenson collected this wild assortment of stories of Navy SEAL life from tapes his father, John M. "Maxie" Stephenson Jr., recorded before his untimely death in a diving accident. This oral history covers, in direct language, Stephenson’s mid century training and early years in the storied special operations force established in 1962, from how a ranch boy from Wyoming learned how to swim well enough to pass the SEAL test to a wild escape from a Tijuana jail after extracurricular escapades in a bull fighting rink. While the memoires set down here never delve into combat experience, they offer a detailed look at the culture and ethos of the early SEALs.

The stories have been taken directly from the tapes with apparently minimal editing. This ensures Stephenson’s personality clearly comes through, plus much spirited vernacular, in vivid anecdotes about “the crew into whose hands I was ready to throw my life.” SEALs and officers are painted in memorable detail, and the psychological challenges of SEAL training—“The jobs were tough, they were obtainable, but they were always beyond your comprehension and mentality”—are captured in fascinating detail. Still, while this is a vital contribution to the historical record, a stronger editorial hand would make the book more inviting, as the logic and syntax of some sentences can prove challenging to track, and a clear timeline or history of Stephenson’s life and the broader history of the SEALs would be clarifying. Extensive photos help humanize these stories.

For the most part, though, Blood in Your Boots creates the feeling of sitting down with Stephenson as he shares highlights of his bold—sometimes even foolhardy—youth and his and the SEALS’s dedication to excellence, complete with occasional confusing asides and some phrasing that, as the compiler notes, will cause some offense today. Lovers of clear-eyed, compelling stories of actual military life—and mid-twentieth century special warfare in particular—will relish these amusing, illuminating, and sometimes frightening tales … and wish Stephenson had recorded more.

Takeaway: One man’s compelling oral history of the early Navy SEALs.

Comparable Titles: Chet Cunningham’s The Frogmen of World War II, Kevin Dockery and Bill Fawcett’s The Teams.

Production grades
Cover: A-
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: A
Editing: B-
Marketing copy: A-