In the Jungle…Camping with the Enemy by W. James Seymour
I Served by John C. Hall
Jokers: War, Love and Helicopter pilots…by Vern Hammill & Edward Kral
Killing For Peace by Garry Farrington
Lady Justice and the Vet by Robert Thornhill
Laos File by Dale A. Dye
Last Stand at Khe Sahn by Gregg Jones
Legend: The story of Roy Benavidez by Eric Blehm
Lest We Forget by John W. Cassell]
Let’s Kill the Dai Uy (Short Story) by Mark Berent
Marble Mountain: A Vietnam Memoir by Bud Willis
Melody Hill by Rick DeStefanis
Mighty Men of Valor by John G. Gould
In the Jungle…Camping with the Enemy
by W. James Seymour
A Soldier’s Vietnam War Experience
First of all, I’d like to thank the author, Mr. W. James Seymour for having served and for successfully writing about his Vietnam experience! Welcome Home Brother! Every chapter also concludes with an actual letter sent home to his parents.
I did find the story difficult to read – especially in the first half, because of the lack of action, emotion and dialogue which I think would have helped tremendously. There was also a lot of redundancy throughout the story where the author fully explains the details or acronyms that have already been shared.
The last third of “In the Jungle…Camping With the Enemy” was much more interesting as readers went out on LRRP missions with the author and his team. That was some scary stuff that kept me on the edge of my seat! However, most missions came across as more like a summary or update of an after action report rather than reliving a part of the authors life.
As a former combat infantry soldier myself, I can appreciate what the LRRP’s did and don’t know if I could have measured up…platoon sized patrols – strength in numbers – in the bush was hairy enough. This book does offer some insight as to what these special groups of men did in Vietnam – their patrol size, mission preparations, stealth requirements, leadership and trust were as unique as their missions. I especially liked reading about the night your team was hiding in a clump of bushes on the side of a trail when a procession of NVA soldiers suddenly stopped to create a night bivouac area – the bushes in its center. If discovered, there would be no prisoners taken that night.
All in all, not a bad story, especially if you are interested in learning more about life both in the secure rear area base camps and In the Jungle…Camping with the Enemy.
By John C. Hall
“I Served” is a stunning read, November 25, 2011
I found myself engulfed in this memoir of Don Hall. I was taken in right from the beginning when Don and his younger brother, Mike, were dropped off by his drunken father at a Catholic orphanage. I, too was brought up in Catholic schools, served as an altar boy, and was sometimes “terrorized” by the nuns. I found the beginning of Don’s story intriguing because I never knew anyone who lived in an orphanage. When I was young and delivered newspapers, I had a couple of “youth homes” on my route; one was for girls only and the other for boys. When coming in contact with residents, they were always cheerful and carefree. So I was shocked to learn how these young boys were treated.
There were many times that I laughed during this portion of the book, especially when Don or his brother described their feelings or surrounding events; not aware of Catholicism, they initially thought the nuns were “witches” and killing kids, shrinking them and then hanging them on pieces of wood throughout the home (crucifixes). Many of his anecdotes relating to church, religion, and his environment were comical at first. It didn’t take long for the nuns to bully the kids, at times, outright punching them in the face and drawing blood. Punishment was to be locked up in the second floor linen closet for hours at a time. Eventually, Don grows up and is able to fight back – putting the meanest nun in a headlock and flipping her over his back in retaliation for beating his younger brother.
Don eventually drops out of school and joins the Army. His tour of duty starts out with the infantry – humping endlessly through the bush and being led by incompetent leaders. He found his way out of this mess by volunteering for the LRRP unit, acceptance was not automatic and Don had to successfully complete a very regimented training course. Failure to do so would result in his returning to the infantry units – this was all the motivation he needed.
I am also a former Army Grunt and could relate to many of Don’s experience with “The Herd”. However, while reading of Don’s experiences in the LRRP units, I realized, early on in the book that I was going to gain an education about these special soldiers; and I did! I have great respect for these men and for how they operate – often outnumbered, scores of enemy soldiers standing only several feet away…this takes a special kind of person.
Don also finds that all leaders are not carved from the same tree. His first CO in the LRRP unit was like a father figure and always watched over his men…doing everything in their best interest. After he leaves, the new CO’s indifference and often drunken state causes the teams in the field to be at great risk. He was more interested in body counts and glory than he was in following protocol that ensures the safety of those men in the bush. This attitude sometimes resulted in team injuries and death – something he would not admit was his fault. I can relate to Don’s feelings about his superiors and have found officers I’ve served with to fall out of the same good and bad barrels.
“I served” is a must read novel. Don and his wife, Annette, have conceived a masterpiece – one that leaves me with a sense of awe, admiration and thankfulness for those volunteers, whose actions and bravery saved the lives of many grunts in the jungles of Vietnam. Thank you for your service and Welcome Home Brother!
Jokers: War, Love and Helicopter pilots – What Could Go Wrong?
by Vern Hammill & Edward Kral
An Entertaining Read
“Jokers: War, Love & Helicopter Pilots…What Could Go Wrong” is a story of two helicopter pilots during the Vietnam War. They become best friends and confident enough to plan a skiing trip in Austria after the war. Flying both Slicks and Gunships in support of infantry units on the ground, the authors take readers along on these harrowing flights giving them a birds eye view of what it was like. Both pilots were shot down during their eighteen month tours and survived the crashes, unlike many of their friends and fellow pilots who perished in fiery balls of burning magnesium. When not flying, pilots hang out in the officer’s club to take their mind off the war, drinking enough to hopefully pass out and be spared from “war mares” often visiting during the night. The episodes at the O-Club are sometimes hilarious especially when new pilots are welcomed into the unit. This is also the time for bantering between the Slick and Gunny pilots, each group keeping to themselves and trying to outdo the other with taunts, heckling and dares…at times, tempers are lost. However, the next day when flying, it’s all business and professionalism.
Eric and Paul are both mischievous and go out of their way to make it difficult for bad pilots and those officers with poor leadership skills; finding ways to get them transferred out of the unit; often taking risks that their fellow pilots wouldn’t dare. Their unit, “Jokers” is a befitting place for the likes of these two.
About a third of the book tells their story after surviving Vietnam and following through on their plans and go to Austria for a couple of months of skiing. They come in contact with a doctor who wants to employ them for a covert mission into Eastern Europe. It is also the time when both men meet a pair of American women and fall deeply in love. The mission will give them enough money to “play” in Europe for another few months – providing they aren’t shot down, captured and survive this dangerous task.
As a former infantry soldier, I have always held chopper pilots and crews in the highest regard. When we were in trouble, hungry, running out of supplies or needing a ride out of hell, you always came! In fact, even today when hearing those rotors, I stop and look for that sound in the sky as it has a special meaning to me. Thank you!
I do have some criticism to share with the authors. First, I find the formatting of the book quite difficult to follow as it seems that the entire Vietnam experience is written in a single chapter. Scenes and time both change without providing readers a breather and run one after another without double spacing. Secondly, there are many typos (added or missing words) within sentences that should be corrected and could only be found by reading the story again.
I did enjoy “Jokers…” and recommend it to anyone wanting to learn more about helicopter pilots in Vietnam. Great job Vern and Edward! Thank you for your service! Welcome Home!
Killing For Peace
By Garry Farrington
Killing for Peace is a memoir about Lt. Garry Farrington’s tour of duty with the First Cavalry in the highlands of Vietnam. This first person account is different from other Vietnam war stories as it views the war from the perspective of an Army Infantry Officer.
Lt. Farrington’s prior training had groomed him for a leadership position within an armor unit, but after arriving in country, the shortage of lower ranking officers in the bush resulted in his reassignment to an infantry company as platoon leader. Not ready for that kind of command, the “brown bar” officer has doubts of his ability to properly lead men into battle. Even though Garry is an officer, he is no different than any other Newbie Cherry soldiers arriving in Vietnam – frightened, naive, awe-struck and wanting to survive his tour.
The officer is initially assigned as the leader of the 4th platoon (recon and CP support) to help get his feet wet; this seems to be the launching pad for new lieutenants – a position, that the captain can easily observe. The cherry officer soon gets himself in hot water with the company commander when getting caught in mischievous pranks during the company’s stand down in the rear. It doesn’t take long for him to get reassigned to one of the three rifle platoons.
Many new officers are notorious for pushing rank and feeding their egos when first coming into a new command position, but Lt. Farrington was different. He wanted to learn from his subordinates and soon gained their trust. It doesn’t take the troops long to see that their new leader isn’t on the fast track, a glory seeker trying to make a name for himself to move quickly up the military career ladder. Instead, he demonstrates a trust and belief in his men – they are important and always came first…he was not overprotective, got the job done, but didn’t take unnecessary risks to place his men in harms way.
Garry becomes a natural leader and develops a great rapport with his men. After a few months, he is promoted to 1st LT and assigned as the new company commander because of the shortage of available captains in the war zone. When leaving the bush after several months for a rear echelon position, Lt. Farrington was proud to have the distinct honor of not having any of his troops killed. Sure, there were booby traps and battles fought, men were injured – including the L-T himself on a couple of occasions, but nobody died under his command.
Garry tells the story of visiting the battalion aid station to have shrapnel from a booby trap removed from his cheekbone. The surgeon, a major, had just returned from his daily afternoon nap and didn’t want to remove the fragment, insisting that it will come out by itself over time. After dismissing the L-T, the major returns to his office. Two Spec5 medics were not surprised after witnessing the major’s action, seems everyone despised the man. When asked if they were comfortable with performing the surgery, the L-T gave them a direct order to treat him, so they wouldn’t get in trouble. They are successful, but caught in the act. Lt. Farrington threatens the major with his life if he takes any action against the medics for following his direct order – and gets away with it!
His rear echelon job allows him to continue following his old command, although it’s from the battalion C&C helicopter flying overhead. He enjoys the new job and the ability to continue looking out for those men on the ground. With only a month left in country, Garry is assigned the task of beefing up the defenses of a remote firebase. Attack is imminent and the next few weeks become his worst in country.
Lt. Farrington was no hero, yet he earned a Silver Star, Bronze Star with V device and Purple Heart among others. His story is easy to read – sometimes funny, written by a witty, humble and down to earth kind of guy.
I highly recommend “Killing for Peace” for anyone wanting to learn more about the Vietnam War and the people who fought in it. Great job Garry! Welcome Home Brother and God Bless!
Lady Justice and the Vet
By Robert Thornhill
Pleasantly surprised!, November 25, 2013
I enjoyed reading Lady Justice and the Vet; my first book by this author, Robert Thornhill. The first few chapters tell the story of an Afghanistan War Vet and the changes he experiences upon his return home. Nightmares, tremors and changes in his personality are the result of PTSD, a debilitating mental disorder that follows many vets home after the war. Some warriors are able to keep it at bay and go on with life, others aren’t as fortunate and suffer greatly, often turning to alcohol and drugs for solace. Ben’s wife is very supportive and helps him through his nightly episodes, eventually, getting him into some of the treatment programs at the VA. There is no cure for PTSD, but the programs help vets to cope and interact with other vets, who share their stories within the group sessions. Ben was entitled to join an accounting firm in a high rise office complex. Instead, he found that he didn’t want to be boxed up and feels more comfortable working outdoors with a landscaping company. “Triggers” like thunder, gunfire and even seeing certain ethnic people can cause momentary blackouts – taking veterans back to the war. Fortunately for our hero, Walt, Ben’s actions saves him and his partner’s lives on a couple of occasions.
Another vet from Afghanistan makes an error in judgment during the war which results him receiving a dishonorable discharge from the service. In his case, revenge drives him to become the leader of a terrorist cell within Kansas. His wish is to kill as many politicians and U.S. civilians as possible as pay back for what they did to him. I found myself laughing out loud when Walt and his gang is on the loose…what a bad-ass group of seniors! Walt and Ox’s undercover stint within a nursing home to identify Medicare fraud was hilarious. I especially like the older fellow who tutors him on the ways within…coaching him on how to not take pills, eat the food or drink the juice to avoid turning into a zoned out, unresponsive patient who doesn’t bother anyone. The “underground” supply chain and scrounger within the nursing facility gets the patients pizza, soda and all the good stuff that is “medicine free”.
There are tense moments within the story, but the gang of seniors get it done, even if their methods are wacky at times. A lot of fun, easy to read and recommended to all!
By Dale A. Dye
Laos File – A Great Story, January 18, 2012
Retired Marine Sergeant Major Quick died at his cabin in a remote part of the Ozark Mountains – never knowing what had happened to his son, a confirmed POW in Laos during the Vietnam war. When the American POW’s were released in Hanoi after the war, his son and many other confirmed prisoners from Laos were not a part of that contingent of freed soldiers. It was reported that 213 POW’s were collected from various prison camps in Laos and were en route to Hanoi. The prisoners and guards, over three-hundred men in total, were following the Ho Chi Minh trail northward. However, just prior to reaching the gateway into North Vietnam, the entire group vanished. There were no survivors, evidence on the trails or documentation regarding the march and its outcome – 213 American families would never know what happened. So it was said…
After the Vietnam War ended, Sergeant Major Quick spent four years with the “Spooks” in South East Asia trying to solve the mystery of his missing son. He had heard rumors of existing evidence, and followed up on every lead. He created a log of his own during this time and recorded every tidbit of information – keeping it hidden and secret from the Spooks and others. After his death, this package and other pertinent information ended up in the hands of Marine Gunner Shake Davis. Warrant Officer Davis and Sergeant Major Quick served together in Vietnam and other hot spots during their careers. They were close friends, and it was Shake who held the Sergeant Major’s head in his arms – comforting the older man until his heart finally stopped and he took a last breath. The Warrant Officer was contemplating retirement and was ready to sign the papers when these secret documents arrived. In order for him to carry on, Shake had to find a way back to Vietnam with a good enough cover – one that would enable him to conduct his clandestine investigation behind the scenes. The perfect opportunity came up when the Marine Corps asked Shake to postpone his retirement and join up with a MIA delegation in Vietnam. This was also a front for the real reason the government was sending him there. Shake Davis was tasked with spying on Vietnamese military strength, tactics and weapons in addition to those discussions about MIA’s. Could he do this and conduct his private investigation about the Laos disappearances at the same time?
Shake Davis found Vietnam much different from how he remembered it during the war. Most of the people encountered were not even born when the war was fought and did not show any resentment for the Americans. It was a different story with the older generation. There were many secrets, ex-soldiers harbored guilt and wanted retribution, there were indeed survivors of the Laos March and evidence of what had happened was also available and hidden in a secret place. However, people are now dying and Shake Davis is in the cross-hairs of assassins; somebody was going to great lengths in wanting to keep the Laos file a secret.
This book is a cloak and dagger thriller with many twists and turns. Shake eventually finds himself at the outer walls of Hue and the Imperial Palace. The familiarity of these sights forces him to relive the battles he fought here during the 1968 Tet offensive. When his mind stops the movie, he realizes that he is standing in the exact place where his foxhole had been some forty-two years earlier. In fact, he even meets a former NVA soldier, who turns out to be the one who fought Shake, hand to hand, in this very spot.
The truth is out there! Can Warrant Officer Davis find it? Will the US and Vietnamese governments try to stop him? Will he escape the assassins? Will there be closure? This is a stay up late at night book – well worth the reader having to drag his ass the next day. Highly recommended. Well done Dale!
Last Stand at Khe Sahn
by Gregg Jones
A great read
The Last Stand at Khe Sanh was an intriguing read that documented the 77 day siege of the Marine basecamp. It seems like the author took the after action reports about the events and then humanized the report and breaking it down to squad level action to make it more readable. I especially like how he listed names of personnel and followed them through the battle where they either portrayed valor or shows how they died. My close friend, Doc Cecala was wounded during an ambush while on a patrol with B 1/26; most of his platoon was killed and at least half of the second which came to reinforce them. Shot in the shoulder and legs, he managed to crawl back to the gates of the firebase and be rescued.
The book also does justice to the hill fights surrounding the base, showing how they worked through their difficulties: ground attacks, incoming, lack of water, food and ammunition.
Once finished, the reader is able to review the action taken by the American leadership and gage whether or not they did the right thing. Mr. Jones also documents the action within the white house and discussions between President Johnson, McNamara and Westmorland and how politics entered into their decisions.
Highly recommended for those wanting to learn more about one of the monumental battles of the Vietnam War. Great job Gregg Jones for putting it all together for us.
Legend: The story of Roy Benavidez
by Eric Blehm
All I can say is “WOW”
I enjoyed reading ‘Legend:…’ by Eric Blehm and was especially riveted during battle when Roy Benavidez was involved. Technically, I have to admit that this book is not entirely about Roy and his achievements, and is written in four parts. The first is about Roy’s adolescent years and difficulties he encountered while growing up with his uncle and aunt in a small Texas town. There was a strong bond between Roy and his family as well as with his boss when he worked at the Firestone Tire Store. Part 2 tells about Roy’s experience in the Army and the training he completed prior to earning his Green Beret and going to Vietnam early in the war for his 1st tour. Part 3 is pretty much dedicated to introducing all the other people that had a role in the actual battle (I was somewhat confused here and had trouble remembering all the other names of pilots and ground personnel). The story continues with the insertion of two SF teams – 9 miles inside of the border of Cambodia. Their mission was to observe the Ho Chi Minh trail and ideally hijack a Russian built truck and some prisoners. However, shortly after their insertion, they are compromised and requested immediate pick-up; usually, the chopper returns to withdraw the team but a major in the overhead C&C denied their request and ordered the team leader to continue with the mission. What they soon discovered is that they were inserted onto the fringes of a Regimental or Division sized headquarters with thousands of NVA soldiers. Under fire, the team splits into two groups and locates two probable locations to the side of the original LZ in which to defend themselves. By the time higher up approve the evacuation, both teams are in dire straits – some team members were already severely wounded or dead. The firing is so intense, choppers are unable to land and sustain severe damage. The O-2 Bird dog FA announced a special code over the radio that signals an emergency with a high probability of units on the ground being overrun. It didn’t take long before jets and gunships responded and immediately targeted the never ending supply of NVA regulars. Part 4 then continues with the battle and Roy Benavidez’s involvement.
Choppers are crashing and crews dying in the many attempt to reach the beleaguered troops. The action Roy takes is beyond belief and readers will be awed by his calmness and determination to get everybody back to safety. The story continues to describe the rest of the battle and their eventual evacuation from the LZ. Only a few survived. Benavidez was tagged in triage and left with the other dead bodies stacked outside of the hospital because of so much damage to his body. Miraculously, he garnered enough strength and fortitude to spit at the orderly who almost finished zippering him up in a black body bag. When discovering that Roy was alive, they rushed to save his life. He spent over a year convalescing from his injuries, and remained in San Antonio to be close to his family. Afterward, he continued in active service in the Army until his eventual retirement.
Roy deserved the Medal of Honor for his actions that day, however, his involvement in Cambodia was top secret, and instead, the Dept. of the Army awarded him the Distinguished Service Cross – a step below the MOH. SF soldiers were sworn to secrecy and agreed not to expose anything about their missions or locations for thirty years. The penalty for doing so is a dishonorable discharge, large fine and imprisonment.
Ten years later, those who survived the battle wrote reports that detailed Roy’s actions during that fateful day in hopes of reversing the decision regarding Roy’s MOH, yet the Army refused to upgrade it. Others continued the effort and when an eye witness came forward – one who Roy thought perished and vice-versa, and his testimony tipped the scales. The MOH was awarded for his actions in a battle west of a town in South Vietnam and Cambodia was not inferred.
This is a great read with a lot of detail of the actual events. Roy was quoted in the book, “that day was filled with heroes, all trying very hard to save this team, unfortunately, many of them did not survive the battle.” The last third of the book will keep you reading until the end! RIP Roy Benavidez! Thank you Eric Blehm for a great story!
Lest We Forget
By John W. Cassell
A Father’s Love, August 4, 2013
“Lest We Forget” is a short story with a powerful message. Many father’s had served in war, witnessing death and destruction firsthand, asked to perform impossible tasks, always living in harms way and then surviving that part of your life. Many had prayed to their God during that time, setting pacts and negotiating for things in the future. Surviving the war without shedding blood doesn’t necessarily mean that a person is unscathed. Those invisible wounds have brought down the strongest of soldiers over time, many feeling guilty for not dying with their friends, causing them to suffer a life of guilt and despair.
Now your daughter enlists into the military and is deployed to Iraq. You worry about her and feel helpless that you are unable to protect her. How far would you go? What are your options? Could you make the same choice?
“Lest We Forget” keeps one thinking long after putting the book down. Is any of this possible? Great job John Cassell!
Let’s Kill the Dai Uy (Short Story)
By Mark Berent
A walk in the park., February 14, 2013
I’m not able to add much more than what has already been written about Mark’s short story. I found it amusing that he wore his flight suit and didn’t carry much more than an M-16 and a couple of canteens of water. The hump kicked his ass. Just think what would have happened if he carried 80 lbs. on his back and did this everyday for almost a year. Still, I enjoyed it and will have to look into his other works.
Marble Mountain: A Vietnam Memoir
By Bud Willis
Memoirs of a Marine Huey Driver, December 29, 2013
As a Vietnam Infantry veteran, I have always held chopper pilots in the highest regard for always being there when needed. Without them, many more of us would have perished. I had jumped from choppers into hot LZ’s, seeking the deepest depression or fattest tree for protection, while the crew functioned cool as cucumbers during this ordeal. These chopper pilots were relentless and continued to ferry reinforcements and pick up the wounded with not much protection for themselves. They flew their machines through steady streams of gunfire, some exploding in the air or crashing, and yet, the crews continued as if they were invincible. Dust off’s, ash and trash runs, troop deployments, evacuations, resupply, over-head support, VIP taxi’s and tour guides were all part of their everyday job – sometimes having to fly by themselves when short on personnel.
Additionally, Mr. Willis informs us that all pilots also have secondary duties (administrative functions) while on the ground…..sleep was at a premium and a single shift sometimes lasted 24 plus hours or more Bud Willis does a wonderful job with this well-told story and offers the reader an in-depth look at the everyday life of these flying Marine warriors, which isn’t, by the way, a nine to five job. Bud’s memoir also includes pictures, copies of reports and written statements from those he had served with. The book follows “BOO” through training and then during his tour as a chopper pilot in Vietnam; his tour lasting 13 months from March, 1966 through April, 1967. The author also has a fantastic sense of humor and wit that sometimes catches me off-guard, making me laugh out loud. When I thought about the antics and games these officers orchestrated – I had to remind myself that even as officers, many of them were only 19 – 21 years old and still kids themselves. However, war steals that naivety and innocence, leaving in its place deep scars, both physically and mentally.
After reading Marble Mountain, I have bumped up these pilots a couple more notches on my high esteem list. I also have a much better understanding of what these sky warriors thought about and had to endure in order to survive…sadly, many did not!
by: Rick DeStefanis
A Pleasant Surprise
Melody Hill is the first book I’ve read from Rick DeStefanis and I enjoyed it immensely. The story begins in Melody Hill, TN where readers are introduced to Duff Coleridge and his family – Mama, Lacey and step brother, Brady in the days before Duff leaves for Vietnam in early 1967. Duff and his friend, Jimmy, are placed with the same company which operates in the Central Highlands. The humping was never ending in the mountains, and when Duff hears of an opening in the LRRP’s, he volunteers himself and Jimmy. Both are accepted and teamed up as snipers. During his second mission, Duff becomes a hero by saving the rest of the unit when he stays behind to cover the unit’s withdrawal to safety. Duff’s marksmanship was superb – a skill he honed while growing up in the mountains of TN – allowed him to take down several enemy fighters during the stand-off. The Army awarded him a Silver Star for a task that he didn’t think was heroic. It was just the right thing to do.
It isn’t long before the SOG unit hears about Duff and they convince him to join their ranks. The missions are top secret and usually include local militia and police forces. However, all is not like it appears…there’s a spy in their midst and some of the American’s are dabbing in the black market. Duff falls in love with a French/Vietnamese who works for the South Vietnamese Government. Duff agrees to go under cover and help to identify those responsible for the many atrocities occurring during the missions. Duff is soon found out and finds his life in danger. He’d uncovered documented proof to prosecute the guilty parties – and must do everything possible to expose them. However, his only friend and backer is the girl he wants to marry and take home. Things get dicey and Duff finds a big target on his back.
The suspense will keep readers busy well into the night. I have to say that I was disappointed with the ending as many questions were still unanswered. Discovering that Melody Hill is a prequel to one of Rick’s earlier books, I didn’t hesitate to purchase it and will begin reading it when I finish this review. I highly recommend this book as it is not only about the Vietnam War – it is also about good vs. evil and true love.
Kudos Mr. DeSteffanis!
Mighty Men of Valor: With Charlie Company on Hill 714-Vietnam, 1970: 2nd Battalion 502nd Infantry 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile) Second Edition
By John G. Gould
Vietnam War Memoir in the 101st Airborne, May 27, 2014
John G. Roberts’ memoir sometimes reads like a journal composed from after action reports; citing coordinates from topographical maps, unit injuries and amount of enemy kills. Just as a point of interest, the many maps and pictures found within the book are quite difficult to see or read on a Kindle. The story is told through the eyes of the author, a shake ‘n bake buck sergeant, who chronicles his tour in Vietnam with the 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry of the 101st Airborne Division (0-Deuce). I was anxious to read this story as I also served in a sister unit within the 101st: 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry (Geronimo), and wanted to compare his experiences to mine. Although, Sgt. Roberts left Vietnam three months before my arrival (I transferred up north for the final five months of my tour after the 25th Division went home), much of what he wrote hit home and brought back memories – both good and bad.
John writes about the day-to-day routines of the infantry grunts – the misery of humping, digging foxholes and keeping watch for the enemy during the black of night. Then waking up and repeating the process all over again. Most of the time, these treks are uneventful and soon become redundant and boring – causing soldiers to become complacent and sloppy. Their ranks continue to diminish as soldiers are Medivaced daily – not due to enemy action, but as a result of falls, sprains, heat exhaustion, dysentery and malaria. Relocating to the Ashau Valley changed everything.
The Ashau Valley is a dangerous and notorious place, the surrounding mountains, thick with vegetation, steep and mysteriously shrouded in clouds during the monsoon season, made it difficult to climb, sleep and fight. Here, everyone is on full alert, because the enemy is always nearby. When contact is made, there are moments of sheer terror before their training takes over. His descriptions of the gut wrenching action are spot on. Many of the battles here last days instead of hours – the author’s experiences are on Hill 714 and others without a name.
Low hanging clouds on these half-mile and higher mountains often created a hardship to those grunts fighting in the hills; making it impossible to receive food, water, medivacs or air-support during those times – sometimes going without for several days. This is the time they are most vulnerable.
John also tells about his homecoming at the end of his war and of his difficulties with PTSD in the years to follow. His wife also contributes to the book and writes the final segment, offering advice about living with and supporting loved ones who suffer from PTSD.
I thoroughly enjoyed “Mighty Men of Valor” and recommend it to all. Veterans will relate…civilians will learn. Welcome Home Brother! God Bless!