With Roscoe Mayo Holdeman, superlatives became a habit. At 21, he was the youngest, most talkative, most engaging U.S. Army major that the good people of northeast Mississippi had ever seen. Above his officer's pinks and forest-green shirt he wore the most dazzling decorations (the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Purple Heart). He had lived through the most spine-tingling experiences imaginable, on all possible battlefronts (strafing Nazi tanks in North Africa, being rescued by the French underground after a crash landing in occupied Europe, shooting it out with Jap Zeros over the South Pacific). When red-haired young Holdeman spoke at...

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