Valentine’s Day: A Marine Looks Back by Charles A. Van Bibber
Vietnam: No Regrets – One Soldier’s Tour of Duty by J. Richard Watkins
Vietnam: There and back: A Combat Medic’s Chronicle by Jim ‘Doc’ Purtell
Walking Point: An Infantryman’s Untold Story by Michael H. Cunningham
War Remains by Jeffrey Miller
Warriors by Ed Neilson
We Gotta Get Out of this Place by Michael Lazares
We Walked Across Their Graves: Vietnam 1967-The Que Son Valley by John Strunk
We Were Reos: Australian Infantry Reinforcements in Vietnam by Barney and Andrew Bigwood
When Can I Stop Running? by John Podlaski
When I Die I’m going to Heaven… by Barbara Kautz
When It Rains In Hell by Harry R. McCoy
YEAR OF THE MONKEY by Ronald Argo
Vietnam: There and Back: A Combat Medic’s Chronicle
by Jim ‘Doc’ Purtell
Short and to the point
‘Vietnam: There and Back’ offers readers a snapshot of what it was like to hump through the jungles with a platoon of Army Infantry soldiers. After basic training, ‘Doc’ Purtell initially trained to be a hospital medic and was then sent to Vietnam for a twelve month tour of duty. Unfortunately, the life expectancy of a combat medic is short, and due to shortages in the field, Doc’s orders were changed and he was reassigned to an infantry unit as a combat medic. It was his worst nightmare come true. His lack of training in the treatment of combat wounds ebbed away at his self-confidence and increased his fear factor. However, like all of us in war, he learned as the opportunities presented themselves and got better in time. His experiences in working with the grunts in the bush also improved his awareness of enemy tactics and helped him to hone his skill as a combat soldier.
I enjoyed reading Mr. Purtells’ story and wondered how much bigger the book would have been had the author had access to background information (letters, field reports, a diary, etc.) and utilized it instead of putting the story together through memories. I understand that like other war authors, writing his story was a way of letting the demons out. If you live with death day in and day out, those memories will never go away and the demons will continue to play a slideshow in your subconscious. Trying to bury them was an exercise in futility. Never-the-less, his message is clear: War is hell and the most frightening event anyone will experience. Great job Mr. Purtell! Thank you for your service and sacrifice…Welcome Home! Well written and highly recommended.
Valentine’s Day: A Marine Looks Back
by Charles A. Van Bibber
It’s got it all
“Valentine’s Day: A Marine Looks Back” has it all! Mr. Van Bibber’s story provides great insight into the life of a Combat Marine during the Vietnam War – it’s a story of trust, survival and brotherhood! It’s written in a unique format, one that I’ve not seen in other Vietnam War memoirs and stories. The author writes in the first person and tells his story chronologically; the tome, however, is interspersed with de-classified Marine After-Action Reports, actual letters sent home to his family and friends and written statements from fellow Marines who were there with the author.
The Marine Action Reports summarized a battle, operation or period of time and are sometimes cryptic because of the many acronyms used. Mr Van Bibber used this information to flesh out his story as he remembered it – the written feedback from fellow Marines offered either a different perspective on that particular event or filled in the blanks that Charles had missed – all of it flowing together nicely as the story is told! As for his letters home, I found it interesting that most were what I’d call “vanilla” like most letters from soldiers in a combat zone, hiding from family what was actually taking place to keep them from worrying. Only those written to Van’s father, a former WWII vet, included his inner feelings and fears, because he was more apt to understand and relate. Readers will also note that the authors’ tone and cheerfulness changes over time – the naivety and innocence giving way to the dark side.
When Chuck arrived in Vietnam, he spent the first few months with Fox Company 2/27 and then later transferred to Golf Company 2/5 to finish out his 13 month tour, both divisions, unique in their own ways. Marines are killed or wounded daily and there were never enough replacements to fill in the holes. Van Bibber shares the monthly manpower reports showing this fact, battalions never returned to full strength while he was in Vietnam. As a result, everybody was spread thin and had to do a little extra to survive. Corporals led squads on patrols, and at times, took on the responsibility for a platoon until the appropriate replacement arrived. Unfortunately, as time went on, the ranks of those with the most experience and knowledge about fighting this enemy and his booby traps were dwindling, enemy ambushes were costly and young Marines were dying because of inexperience – making it much harder for the “old salts” to keep everyone alive. Van Bibber was one of those few remaining with this experience – volunteering for night ambushes so he could properly teach his men (OJT) – gaining their trust and giving them the tools needed to survive.
As a former Vietnam Army infantryman, I could relate to much of what Van Bibber has written. Although I was in a different branch of service, patrolling the jungles, running out of food and water, no baths or changes of clothes for weeks, too hot, too cold, too wet, too sore, angry and too tired were all a way of life for us in the bush. We both had to deal with inept officers fresh out of training, but we also served under officers that knew their stuff – following them anywhere! I especially enjoyed reading about the author’s run in with certain “new” officers who had just arrived in country and thought they knew it all. Van Bibber’s jungle experience and his need to protect fellow team members caused him to refuse a direct order from one of these new lieutenants – an order that would surely result in their untimely death. You’ll have to read the story to see how this played out.
Readers not familiar with either war or Vietnam will learn what it takes to survive and how it all impacts young soldiers. You will be right there with the author and his fellow Marines…feeling their pain, fear, hunger, thirst, weariness and camaraderie. You’ll witness their bonding and understand why Marines are more concerned about the safety of their fellow soldier and their willingness to give up their own life to save a buddy.
The epilogue totally surprised me! After all the author went through in Vietnam, this is what he came home to. How sad! His arrival home was similar to tens of thousands of soldiers who returned home after the war. The public is trying to rectify this by conducting “Welcome Home Vietnam Vet” celebrations fifty years after the fact. It’s too late – the mental damage is already done and can’t be reversed.
I highly recommend “Valentine Day: A Marine Looks Back” to anyone interested in learning first-hand about the day-to-day life of a combat infantry soldier. Much has changed since Vietnam…yet in warfare, much remains the same. Great job Mr. Van Bibber!
Vietnam: No Regrets – One Soldier’s Tour of Duty
By: J. Richard Watkins
Fellow Wolfhound, 2012
I am unable to locate my original review of this fine tome but did read “Vietnam: No Regrets” a few years back. Joel tells his story as an Infantry Soldier in the 1/27th Wolfhounds, 25th Infantry Division – the same unit I served in while in Vietnam. I remember being extremely anxious to get started with the book because our timelines intersected for a couple of months; Joel was in Vietnam for almost eleven months when I arrived in country. Unfortunately, I didn’t know the author in Vietnam, but remembered visiting many of those areas he spoke of – except for Cambodia, which was over before I had arrived.
The author is a great storyteller and sees his share of night patrols and ambushes out in the bush. His attention to detail, when engaged with the enemy, makes it seem like I was right there in the middle…I was familiar with the area and could visualize the landscape. One thing I surely learned after completing the story is that when it was my turn in Vietnam, it was like Deja vous…we continued our patrols in the same areas and usually achieved the same results: running into the enemy and fighting for our lives.
The area patrolled by the Wolfhounds, west of Saigon to Cambodia, was notorious and considered highly dangerous. Several arteries of the Ho Chi Minh trail snake through the jungles and rubber plantations within this area carrying supplies and reinforcements to those areas surrounding the capital of South Vietnam. To maintain such routes, the enemy builds intricate and well-camouflaged bunker complexes for their travelling soldiers -to rest, cache food and weapons, and defend, if necessary. It is usually the American troops who stumble across these remote outposts, sometimes there are firefights and death…sometimes they’re vacant and are blown up. Then, life goes on until the next time.
I highly recommend Mr. Watkins book. Thank you for your service! Welcome Home!
Walking Point: An Infantryman’s Untold Story
by Michael H. Cunningham
A Diamond in the Rough
“Walking Point: An Infantryman’s Untold Story” by Michael Cunningham tells his story as a grunt during the Vietnam War. This 1st person tome reads like a diary of events occurring either that day or during a period of time with limited dialog throughout; his tour spanned seven months during 1968. Although, the author does an admirable job of telling his story, his characters are one-dimensional and known only by their names. Granted war is hell and the infantry soldier seems to suffer the most while living in the jungles for most of their time there. Death is around every corner, and being a point man was especially dangerous with a short life expectancy. Hopefully, readers that were not there are able to pick-up on the foul living conditions, pesky insects, cold food, lack of sleep and water. War is not as glorious as depicted in a video game!
I do applaud the author for writing and publishing his story, it is a difficult task requiring time, dedication, sacrifice and an understanding family. As a note to Michael, if you want to invest more time to make this rough diamond shine, you may want to consider a rewrite with much more descriptive prose, dialog and characters that readers can relate to. If not, I would suggest that as a minimum you solicit the help of a line editor to go over your story and correct the many grammatical errors within. With guidance, your story will flow much better.
Still recommend “Walking Point…” for readers interested in learning what life was like for a grunt during the Vietnam War.
By Jeffrey Miller
War Remains – a must read!, December 5, 2010
Jeffrey Miller penned a fantastic novel about a loving family’s quest to learn more about Robert “Bobby” Washkowiak, who was listed as MIA during the Korean Conflict. The story first introduces us to Bobby and his closest friends from advanced military training, Harold and Walter, who have all arrived together in Korea during the fall of 1950. The U.N. troops had the North Koreans on the run and retreating to the North. Victory was eminent and it was rumored that the American troops would be home for Christmas.
We are then introduced to Bobby’s wife, Mary and their young son, Ronnie via the many letters written home from the war. Bobby was deeply in love with this woman and wanted her not to worry about him while he was fighting this war. It would soon be over, he’d write, and they would all be together again. In fact, he promised to return home. Then the Chinese enter the war and it is the U.N. troops that are retreating. Human waves of Chinese soldiers attack and penetrate defensive perimeters, forcing the American soldiers and those of other nations to hastily retreat south in an attempt to survive the onslaught. Only to be led through a gauntlet of enemy soldiers where many soldiers did not make it through to safety.
Several decades later, we find that Ronnie had survived his own war in Vietnam and later married and had a son of his own, Michael. Both men come upon a footlocker that had been stashed in the attic and long forgotten in Mary’s former home. Inside, they find a treasure trove of letters, pictures and other memorabilia that had been sent home from Bobby to his wife while fighting in the forgotten war. Their mother and grandmother had saved everything! Michael takes it upon himself to study the Korean conflict and battles, reading and re-reading his grandfather’s letters in an attempt to trace his route through time. He was surprised to find so many similarities between his grandfather’s letters home and the stories of others. He was finding that he could soon predict what the next letter might say.
Jeff does an excellent job taking the reader though a time machine, back and forth between current day and then moving back to spend some time with Bobby and his close friends in 1950 and 1951. The author also had a knack for knowing when to switch gears and move to a different time. In fact, it was something like this that caused me to stay up much later than I should have so I can go back in time and find out what happened next. Great job Jeffrey!
War Remains is a highly recommended read; it’s not only a war novel, but a story of love, hope and honor. Bobby made a promise to return home to his wife and family. Does he live up to it? Read the book and find out.
by Ed Neilson
Nine Different Views of the War
Nine different Warriors of the Vietnam War tell their stories to Ed Nielsen, who compiled them into this book called “Warriors”. Their accounts vary, yet there appears to be some redundancy between the stories and even within the same story – as if the authors were answering identical questions proposed by Ed Nielsen. All together, they touch upon what life was like for many soldiers within the war; their fears, naivete, devotion, brotherhood, bravery and sometimes shared laughter. On the flip side, some of the stories centers upon the way the war was fought – i.e. military soldiers spending lifetimes in special schools of warfare then being dictated to by the politicians in Washington on how the war should be fought…calling the shots…specifying rules of engagement, etc. Personally, I was not aware that this was taking place until decades after my tour in Vietnam. There were over 2.8 million soldiers having served in Vietnam and every story is unique and personal…even the same incident can be described differently by those witnessing it.
Had some difficulty reading through some of the stories because of the variation in formatting and the amount of typos – I recalled seeing the many of the same.
We Gotta Get Out of this Place
by Michael Lazares
As a grunt during the Vietnam War, we held chopper crews in the highest of esteem – always there when needed and seemingly fearless in their endeavors. I have read dozens of books about these crews and learned more about what they endure during their tours. It was a difficult time! God Bless them!
This book, “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place”, is a compilation of disjointed stories by crew members during their tours. Some are funny and typical of the mischief twenty year old soldiers get involved in, others are serious and dreadful. Another reviewer stated that it is difficult to rate work such as this and I wholeheartedly agree. The stories appear to be snippets of memories by various pilots and air crew members – most are too short and leave the reader wondering what happened next; only a few stories of the collection related differing viewpoints to the same incident – the rest cited experiences from across the country and in different years; a few had typos. As individual viewpoints, each snippet is ‘stand alone’ without reference to the prior experience or a lead-in to the next; no common thread connecting them. Don’t get me wrong, the individual stories are interesting and bring you right into the action with the storyteller. I did enjoy many of them.
This book is a fast read and interesting enough for readers that want quick, broad pictures of helicopter crew experiences during the war without getting bogged down in a novel. The author has another book recently published, “Goodbye, My Darling; Hello Vietnam!” which I have already purchased and downloaded to my Kindle, I am hoping that it is much more engaging.
Thank you for your service! Welcome Home Brothers!
We Walked Across Their Graves: Vietnam 1967-The Que Son Valley
by John Strunk
Well Worth Reading
“We Walked Across Their Graves: Vietnam…” is a first-person memoir of the author’s tour of duty as a Marine in the Vietnam War. The year is 1967, Marines and NVA forces continue to battle one another for control of the notorious Que Son Valley. Losses have left the Marines short-handed, 19 yr. old PFC’s are running squads and replacements are slow to arrive.
The author brings readers right into his squad as they hump through jungles, rice-paddies and over hills in search of a brazen enemy, Water and food are scarce – rationing only goes so far and then you have to do without for a day or longer; fatigues are in tatters – soiled with dried blood and feces – the later due to dysentery which seems to last forever. The men are exhausted. Patrols last from sun-up to sun-down, foxholes completed in the twilight, night defensive perimeters require the troops to share in guard duty and remain awake 50% of the time, night ambush patrols are dispatched well after dark – these squad members are awake all night long, then periodically, the entire platoon packs-up in the middle of the night and rushes through the pitch darkness to support a sister unit that is in trouble. Sleep is taken whenever possible…eating and writing letters become luxuries that are down at the bottom of their list of responsibilities. Their main goal is to survive the day…one day at a time for 13 months. Oh, and didn’t I mention – somebody out there with you is always trying to kill you at every opportunity. There is no peace of mind!
Mr. Strunk tells it like it was – the good, bad and ugly. As a Vietnam Veteran myself, I served as an infantry soldier with the U.S. Army and could relate to much of what the author writes in this tome. No matter how many years ago it happened, it is an experience that will never be forgotten. The epilogue summarizes his life after Vietnam – excessive drinking, different jobs, marriage, starting a family and then eventually finding God
Well done Brother! Thank you for your service and Welcome Home!
We Were Reos: Australian Infantry Reinforcements in Vietnam
by: Barney and Andrew Bigwood
An Educational read
A most interesting story that looks at the War in Vietnam from an Australian’s point of view. The “Diggers” of Australia and “Kiwis” of New Zealand both fought communism alongside soldiers from the United States, Taiwan, Korea and Thais. The author, Barney Bigwood, takes readers through the Aussie process of military indoctrination, training and their appointment to home units. The Aussies and Kiwis sent complete units to fight the war with the intent of pulling them out together at the end of their deployment. Deaths and injuries during the war caused shortages within those ranks of fighting units. As a response, a unit of “REO’s” was created – soldiers were pulled from various home units, and sent to the war as replacements. They filled in the gaps and fought alongside their mates from other units, then moving on to replace other shortages when the unit they are in ends its deployment and goes home. In fact, these soldiers bounced between military units as replacements only.
Barney shares his stories as a replacement trying to fit in with the soldiers of the new unit he’s assigned to. Although, he may have been in country longer than many in his “short” unit, he’s still treated like a Cherry. Unit officers were always pleased when receiving REO’s because of their experience and tenure in fighting the enemy.
Readers can feel the soldiers anxiety, fear, thirst, hunger and pain while reading about the many patrols, battles, deaths and sacrifices of those in Barney’s story. Additionally, the author shares his experience with the 2D&E, a temporary unit put together with soldiers from other units. This group fought bravely as a unit, suffered many casualties and was then disbanded after the mission was completed. Unfortunately, the Australian military and government covered up its existence and didn’t recognize those who fought together during the mission. This has just recently come to light, and the military has now admitted to its existence but still holding back on critical documentation needed to help those veterans.
As a Vietnam Vet myself, I enjoyed reading these stories and also fought in many of the same places the author described during his tour and enjoyed my R&R in Vung Tau. I also learned much about the Aussie Military and how they operated during the war. Mr. Bigwood’s work sometimes reads like an after action report. It is extremely descriptive but has minimal dialog when reporting. Highly recommended for anyone interested in the Vietnam War – especially those avid readers of U.S. soldier memoirs to compare how things were done by their Aussie allies.
Great job Mr. Bigwood! Thank you for your service – and Welcome Home!
When Can I Stop Running?
by John Podlaski
Review from Amazon
As Real As It Gets
By George E. Nolly on July 16, 2016
Outstanding read that paints a dramatic picture of what it was like to man an LP (listening post) in enemy territory on a night that never seems to end. Interwoven with the story is flashbacks from the author’s youth, when terrifying events scared him into running for his life. But now, in the darkness, a short distance from the enemy, he cannot run. He must stay at his assigned station, maintain total silence, and report enemy activities to his headquarters.
This book reminds me a lot of the Pulitzer-nominated book The Things They Carried. It’s one thing to read that our soldiers were sent out from their outposts, in teams of two, to maintain reconnaissance of the enemy territory. It’s quite another to learn the intimate details of what that entailed. This book paints a graphic picture of everything involved in LP duty – constant mosquito bites, sitting in a mud hole being pelted by rain, hearing (and smelling) enemy soldiers taking their latrine breaks mere feet away.
The descriptions are extremely well-crafted and vivid, and the flashbacks evoke memories from my own reckless youth.
After you read this, you will really want to find a vet who humped the boonies in Vietnam just to say “Thank you for your service”!
Welcome home, brother!
When I die I’m going to Heaven…
by Barbara Kautz
This is a first-hand account of the author’s time served as a nurse in the 24th Evac Hospital unit in Long Binh during 1970/71. Half of her tour was spent in ward 5 which attended to soldiers with brain or spinal injuries; many were in comas and those awake required constant attention. Her shifts were 12 hour days and six days a week…rotating shifts between days and nights after a “catch-up” day. The stories within the book tend to rotate between her care of specific patients (American, VC, and civilians), her coworkers, and her off-time where she sometimes breaks the rules. After six months, she tranfers to a different part of the hospital where the work is less stressful.
I thoroughly enjoyed this story by Barbara Kautz – as I learned more about what nurses had to endure during their one-year tour of duty. While in Vietnam during the same time, I spent time in the 93rd Evac as a patient which was nearby and could relate to much of what she talked about in her book. Barbara does offer an update on her coworkers at the end of the book and talks about a couple of the recent reunions.
Thank you Barbara for your service, sacrifice and Welcome Home! As a “round eye” nurse in Vietnam, your presence alone brightened many a soldiers’ day. Highly recommended.
When It Rains In Hell
by Harry R. McCoy
Well Worth Reading
“When it Rains in Hell” by Harry McCoy is a first person recounting of the author’s tour of duty during the Vietnam War. Harry was a machine gunner in the 9th Infantry Division during 1968 and stationed predominately in the Mekong Delta, however, he also experiences several missions in the Central Highland mountains. The author intersperses historical facts throughout his story to help readers better understand the background of Vietnam and how history had impacted its people – making them a tenacious foe.
The author describes his missions during road clearing and convoy security while riding in the rear of a jeep, manning an M60 machine gun mounted to a cross-bar – a-la “Rat Patrol” jeeps during WWII. Later, Harry carries the machine gun while humping through the muddy Delta and through thick mountains in search of the enemy. Mr. McCoy brings readers into his head while sharing his experiences; allowing them to see what makes him tick and why he reacts the way he does through a range of emotions. One thing for certain, he doesn’t sugar coat war and dispels the romantic or adventurous aspect of it – surely a message for today’s youth who spend hours playing video war games.
Mr. McCoy married his girlfriend prior to leaving for Vietnam. They were very much in love and wrote one another daily, counting the days until his return home. When it does happen, this veteran is not the same person that left a year earlier. Harry still has several months to serve prior to his discharge and arranges an assignment not too far from home. Being together is a struggle. His wife is a saint who tries to understand what her husband experienced, helping him through his bouts with alcohol, sleepless nights and rages. The stigma of a Vietnam Vet at that time also followed him upon his return, making it difficult for him to secure a decent job and support his family.
There is very little dialog in the story, but told like readers sitting around a campfire with the author – listening to Harry weave his tale. As a Vietnam Vet myself, I was intrigued by some of his experiences and could relate to many others. “When It Rains in Hell” is recommended for anyone wanting to better understand how war impacts America’s youth. As the saying goes, “You can take the soldier out of Vietnam, but you can’t take Vietnam out of the soldier.”
Well worth reading. Great job Mr. McCoy! Welcome Home Brother!
YEAR OF THE MONKEY
By Ronald Argo
Intriguing to say the least, January 31, 2013
I found “Year of the Monkey” to be unusually different from the many books published about the Vietnam War. The first couple of chapters pulled me in – keeping me interested and anxious to find out what this soldier did to deserve the punishment he was awaiting. Once this hook was in place, the author takes everyone back to the beginning – where it all began.
As a reporter for a military magazine, the lead character seems to have “Carte Blanche” with his duties and job responsibilities. He is stationed in Long Binh with access to Saigon and a never-ending supply of drugs, beer and cigarettes. When a Green Beret arrives, after reassignment to the Press Corps, there are many questions asked and no answers given. He is quiet and keeps to himself – shrouded in mystery.
The main character finds himself falling in love with a girl he meets in a Saigon bar. She informs him that she is not a prostitute, but instead, a visiting student from a village down south in the Delta region. She promises him that if he is able to come visit her in the Delta, she will take care of him like nobody has ever before. Shortly after, as luck has it, he is assigned to a story near her village and soon hooks up with her. Many things occur during this time, which causes the reader to second guess what is actually taking place. Is he being set-up or is love getting the best of him?
The CIA is involved, forcing him to spy on his new friend, the Green Beret. Bits and pieces of his hidden identity are soon revealed – the reader soon learns that everyone is playing a role in a scheduled master plan. Soon the big question from the beginning of the story is answered. But did it really happen that way?
Some parts of the book are slow-moving and repetitive, and in my opinion, the drug scenes are depicted much too frequently. All-in-all “Year of the Monkey” is a suspenseful story and worth reading.