The World’s Greatest Military Investigator’s Ultimate Book of War Stories by Michael J Oszman

Michael J Oszman’s The World’s Greatest Military Investigators Ultimate Book of War Stories (CreateSpace, 60 pp., $10, paper) is a collection of fiction, rumors, war stories comments, dim memories, and a little truth. Oszman dedicates his book to his brother Chester and a friend named Eddy, both of whom died in 1994. I believe that they would hope—as I do—that is the first of many such writings.

The author received a degree in criminal justice and went to work for an agency of the government. He never reveals which agency because he says that if he did, he would have to kill the reader.

Oszman opens with an explanation of a rule that was extremely difficult for most military people to understand: the procedure by which troops had to receive permission to fire on the enemy. Perhaps he placed this entry at the beginning of the book because it sets the surrealistic tone of his reporting.

The book continues with dozens of brief descriptions of incidents Oszman investigated. Some are comedic and some disastrous. The author closes each incident with a bit of his own wisdom or laugh line.

The case of an exploding latrine tells how a soldier was ordered to burn material but no one told him to first remove the drums from the latrines. So he poured two gallons of gasoline into the stuff and threw in a flaming rag. As a result, a lieutenant was seriously burned.

In another incident, one trooper, suspecting that an inspection was imminent, passed around a bottle of Jack Daniels. When it was half empty, he pissed into the bottle before an officer confiscated it. The reader can only imagine the look on the officer’s face when he took a swig.

Oszman describes another incident in which the main communication lines to Air Force command were cut. Since the lines had been buried and there was no map to locate them, it was assumed that the enemy had sabotaged them. Panic ensued. In the author’s special note he explains that the wires had been accidentally severed by a backhoe.

Michael J Oszman

Oszman follows the first twenty investigative reports with a shift to military life in Korea. He tells of a Korean farmer who pick-axed a pipeline of jet fuel thinking that the line was carrying water. In another fuel incident, a Korean houseboy filled barracks heaters with gasoline. After he learned about the color coding of fuel tanks, the houseboy was observed tasting the fuel cans to make sure he had the right stuff.

The author opens one chapter with a comment about the horrors of Agent Orange. Large numbers of veterans, including Oszman’s brother Chester, suffered and died from the being exposed to that toxic herbicide.

In a humorous episode, a large flight of helicopters passed over a group of officers. Objects began falling from the helicopters. The objects were condoms filled with urine.  One landed on a major’s head. Oszman was ordered to find out who perpetrated that foul deed.

He closes this short book with a few observations about the conundrum called the Vietnam War, and ends with the statement, “but that is another story.” We hope he shares that story with us.

—Joseph Reitz

 

Tours of Duty Edited by Michael Lee Lanning

Retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Michael Lee Lanning is one of the most prolific Vietnam veteran writers. Many of his twenty-one military-themed nonfiction books deal with the Vietnam War.

That includes the well-received memoirs he wrote about his tour of duty in the 199th Light Infantry Brigade, The Only War We Had: A Platoon Leader’s Journal of Vietnam (1987) and Vietnam 1969-1970: A Company Commander’s Journal (1988), as well as Inside the LRRPs: Rangers in Vietnam (1988), Inside the VC and NVA: The Real Story of North Vietnam’s Armed Forces (1992), and Inside the Crosshairs: Snipers in Vietnam (1998). He also wrote a comprehensive guide to Vietnam War films called Vietnam at the Movies (1994).

 

Lee Lanning

Lanning’s latest book is Tours of Duty: Vietnam War Stories (Stackpole, 288 pp., $18.95, paper), a collection of tales from some forty other Vietnam War veterans that Lanning collected and edited.

Virtually all are told by men who served combat-heavy tours of duty. Don’t therefore look between these covers for the voices of cooks, clerks, truck drivers, or other support personnel. Many of the tale tellers—like Lanning—served with the 199th.

Lanning chose not to put names with these first-person stories. But, he says, he can “personally testify to the veracity of some because ‘I was there.’ Others were related to me over the years by soldiers whom I hold in high regard. Names have been left out to protect both the guilty and innocent.”

The author’s website is www.michaelleelanning.com

—Marc Leepson

Healing the Warrior Within by Alan Cutter

 

My feeling while reading Alan Cutter’s Healing the Warrior Within: A Veteran’s Spiritual Journey (CreateSpace, 240 pp., $11.95, paper) was that it needed to be reorganized with the chapters placed chronologically for clarity. I believe that the last three chapters would have been more effective moved up to follow the introduction.

Parts 2, 3, and 4 contain well-written examples of Cutter’s Vietnam War combat experiences and his post-traumatic stress disorder. I also would delete the first Letter of Paul to the Beloved Warrior, adding the absent footnotes indicated by numbers in the text of the letter.

In the preface to Paul’s letter Cutter quotes his mother’s philosophy “that we all are writing our own sacred book.” This led the author to comment that he found nothing sacred in his “unholy task” as a warrior so he rearranged “sacred” to express how he did feel: “scared, then scarred.”

I recommend that readers of the commentaries to Paul letters discuss them with trusted friends, family, Vet Center groups, or in a retreat setting when intense subjects such as reconciliation, the “unholy task” of combat, thoughts of suicide, or self-destructive behavior are mentioned.

The commentaries following the Paul letters provide insights into the author’s combat and subsequent PTSD. “I found it hard to explain what if [sic] like to be told that because of some physical loss I was now disabled,” Cutter writes. This came after his Agent Orange-related Parkinson’s Disease was diagnosed.

Alan Cutter

The section called “The Gathering” in Part 2 has several references related to Cutter’s war experiences that are worthy of note, such as: “I always arrive a little early at these retreats, or wherever I go. Before I can feel comfortable, even partially safe which is about as good as it gets, I have to have a chance to walk the perimeter.”

Part 3 contains more personal thoughts. In “G for Gratitude,” Cutter writes: “When I first stepped into a Vet Center I was not filled with gratitude. I was filled with resentment. I didn’t want to be there.”

In Part 4 Cutter writes about joining the National Conference of Vietnam Veterans Ministers, which became the International Conference of War Veteran Ministers when the membership grew more inclusive. This final part features biblical passages from the Christmas season accompanied by the author’s thoughts .

Cutter suggests that veterans write or record their war-time reflections and share them with family and friends. That’s good advice.

—Curtis Nelson

 

Shattered Dreams by Phil Spencer

Phil Spencer arrived in Vietnam on October 7, 1967. He was assigned to the First Signal Brigade and spent his tour of duty in Vietnam doing work he had been trained for: climbing poles and installing communication lines. On  December 4, he was assigned to Company A of the 160th Signal Group in the 40th Signal Battalion. Spencer spent most of his first Vietnam War tour in the Mekong Delta, but was also in Saigon during Tet 1968.

He was released from active duty after five years, two months and twenty-two days in the Army. Twenty-one days after his discharge, he was hired by AT&T as a pole lineman in Midland, Michigan. He put in thirty-eight years before he retired.

All of this makes Phil Spencer seem like a totally solid citizen, but the narrative of drunkenness and bad behavior he describes in Shattered Dreams: An Alcoholic’s Journey (WestBow Press, 264 pp., $35.95, hardcover; $19.95, paper) tells us otherwise. As Spencer puts it: “I drank to deaden the pain and the rage inside of me even though at the time I didn’t realize that was what I was doing.”

Spencer’s book is about the “stupid things people do when they drink.”  It is a stunning collection of many of those things.

Shattered Dreams contains many of the same rants I have read again and again in memoirs by Vietnam veterans. Our military had one hand tied behind its back. “We lost Vietnam because of stupid politicians.”  Just them?  What about the stupid military leaders?  What about the corruption and the military industrial complex?

The author covers his second tour of duty in just a couple of pages, which leaves a lot of room for him to cite more stupid things he did while drunk.  He complains about the Hollywood stereotype of Vietnam veterans as “being drug-crazed baby killers.” He has a valid point there.

Phil Spencer

My favorite comment is this one: “I think of Charles DeGaulle in the same way I think of Jane Fonda, and that makes them both bottom feeders.” Later Spencer says that he went to see the movie, “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They,” a film I think he admires, but he does not mention that Jane Fonda is in the movie.

“Even though I have written about Vietnam, it is only with regard to the insanity of my drinking and not about my combat experience,” Spencer says. He goes on to say that he has been told by the VA that he has PTSD. We are told that this is not a religious book, but that it is interesting how God puts things together. “This is a project the Lord has wanted me to do for some time.”

I recommend this book to those who want to see that a man can pull himself together after decades of abusing alcohol and using rage as a way of dealing with life. I am impressed with the formidable work record Spencer amassed and with the book that has resulted from his having heard God’s plan for him.

—David Willson

Unspoken Messages by Richard D. Rowland

“The intent of the author is only to offer information of a general nature to help you in your quest for emotional and spiritual well-being.” That’s an honest statement from the author, Richard D. Rowland, but it does not begin to tell us what his book, Unspoken Messages: Spiritual Lessons I Learned From Horses and Other Earthbound Souls (Balboa Press, 222 pp., $33.95, hardcover; $15.99, paper), is about.

Richard Rowland is a retired Kentucky State Police sergeant. He served two tours in the Vietnam War where he“witnessed the horrors of war personally.”

Part One of Rowland’s book, “Let the Journey Begin,” is made up mostly of stories about special animals he has known, primarily horses and dogs. Often the stories involve the sickness and death of these precious and beloved animals.

Although the stories are well-written and well-told, I found them hard to read as they were sad. The main theme of this section is that God sends us messages in the form of animals and these animals bring peace to the people who need it the most. As the devoted companion of two old dogs, I can tell you that I feel the truth of this philosophy.

The second half of the book, “Coming Clean and Facing Fear,” deals with Rowland’s cancer diagnosis in August of 2008.  “It is a blood cancer called multiple myeloma,” he writes. “It is relatively rare and it is incurable. No matter what we do for you,” the doctors told him, “you have three to five years to live at the most.”

It is necessary here for me to disclose the fact that around that same time I received the exact same diagnosis. The second half of Rowland’s book was of intense interest to me because of this.

Richard Rowland

Rowland explains that multiple myeloma is a cancer related to exposure to dioxin, the highly toxic component of the herbicide Agent Orange. He complains that his diagnosing doctor did not offer hope. Mine did not either, so I changed doctors and went from private care to the VA Medical Center in Seattle where I have received great care and also hope.

Rowland writes, “Your desires and your dreams are your power for growth and healing.” I totally subscribe to that philosophy.

Rowland received care in the VA Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky, and he says, “If you ever visit any veterans’ hospital, be prepared to see things that will affect you, will cause an emotional response whether you want them to, or not.”  He says a mouthful here.

He also quotes a cryptic Vietnam War saying, “It’s okay, it’s not really real.”  Rowland, though, finds out that ignoring his initial diagnosis for two years resulted in something that was really real. His bones developed lesions and they began breaking. Early in the third year after his diagnosis, he broke his first rib.

“The pain was the most intense I had ever experienced.”  My journey with multiple myeloma was exactly like his, so I know he is telling the truth.

Near the end of his book, Rowland tells us that he learned that many people diagnosed with multiple myeloma have lived many years past their predicted span. Some have lived ten to fifteen years longer than their doctors predicted. Emotional and spiritual well-being have helped them to beat those dire predictions, he says. I won’t argue with that.

Rowland set out in the book to bring peace to people like him who “carry a life-ending diagnosis.” I found my emotional burden lightened somewhat while reading this book.

I found even more comfort and peace spending time with my animal companions: Sweetie and Tobey, who never fail to bring a smile to my face and joy to my heart.

—David Willson

 

 

Above It All by Dennis Brooks

Dennis Brooks, who grew up in Slaton in West Texas, served in the U. S. Army from 1968-76. In Above it All (Amazon Digital, 5498 pp., $14.99, paper; $2.99, Kindle) he lists the medals he received only “to legitimatize the authority” for him to write about his time in the Vietnam War. Brooks received two Bronze Stars with V device, twenty-eight Air Medals, and two Purple Hearts.

Dennis Brooks does not consider himself an educated man or an author. But he wrote this book anyhow, and I am glad he did.

The cover and title give us a very good idea of the book’s subject: helicopters of every variety and their use in Vietnam, written by a man who served as a helicopter crew chief and a door gunner. The book is dedicated to A, B, and C Troops of the 1/9th Cavalry.

Brooks gives us a lot of information about his childhood in West Texas as well as his four years in Modesto, California. Brooks loved horses and spent a lot of time with horsemen, caring for horses. Brooks’s rough-and-ready writing reminds me of the books I’ve read by cowboy authors I love: Will James and “Teddy Blue” Abbott.

I can see where Brooks’s writing style and narrative voice might set some readers’ ears on edge, but not mine. I am fine with his using “sea rations” for C rations and “Mountain Yards” for Montagnards.

When the door to the airplane opened as he arrived in Vietnam, Brooks writes, “the heat came down the ilea and hit me dead in the face.” When he is writing about the manner that the malaria pill affected his body, he comes up with, “You didn’t wipe your ass, you just kind of blotted it.”  When he talks of a friend he loved, he says, “He was John Wayne in my eyes.”

Brooks is a great storyteller and puts on no airs in the book. Every line smacks of authenticity and the flavor gained from having been there and having thought a lot about flying in Loaches and slicks and having spent hundreds of hours firing an M -60 machine gun, freestyle (not the mounted kind) out of the door of the chopper.

Brooks joined the Army to avoid the draft when he got “the dreaded brown envelope.” He has a valid point that his lack of a high school diploma would have destined him for infantry.  “Helicopters were for us,” he says of himself and his best friend who did not pass the Army physical.

Brooks got his wish, and was trained as a Huey helicopter crew chief. He served in Charlie Squadron, 1st Cavalry Division, 9th Cavalry and makes the point repeatedly that enemy ears were taken and displayed on the troops’ flight helmets.  VC skulls were displayed on their Hueys’ skids.

Brooks does not write as a hardened or emotion-deadened warrior. He freely shares his feelings with the reader, and his writing is moving. When he described his personal encounters with General George Casey and of the general’s death in a helicopter crash in Vietnam in 1970, I could feel the sense of loss that Brooks felt. When Brooks’s friends die—and many do—his pain is communicated, as well as his survivor guilt.

One of the main characters in Above it All, is Brooks’s dog Tiger, who gets a lot of ink in this massive book and deserves every bit of it. Brooks does a fine job making the reader care as much about Tiger as we do about Will James’ horse Smoky, one of the great animal characters in American fiction.

Brooks’s language reminds us on almost every page that when he says he is “a cowboy at heart,” he is not kidding.  “Cowboy up,” “Back in the Saddle Again, “long gone pecan,” “Didn’t know crap from Shyola,” and “long row to hoe ahead of him,” all work well to remind us of his West Texas roots.

When he got out of the Army, Brooks worked for a considerable time as cattle foreman on the Bushnell Brahma Ranch in Oklahoma. His struggles with PTSD make me think he would have better off never to have left cattle and horse ranching. But that was not a choice he got to make.

Brooks’s attitude about serving in the military upon receiving his draft notice (“Time to pay rent on all that freedom I had taken for granted”) carries him only so far. In discussing the option he did not take of going to Canada to avoid military service he is not scathing or dismissive of those who took that route.

I highly recommend Above it All to those looking for a book about helicopter warfare in Vietnam and who crave combat action sequences that make you feel as though you were almost there with Dennis Brooks and his friends.

—David Willson

The Exec by Robert J. Moir

 

Robert Moir graduated from the University of Virginia in 1964. He attended on an NROTC scholarship, and entered the U.S. Navy after graduating. After being promoted to lieutenant, Moir received orders for PBR (Patrol Boat, River) training. It was 1966 and he was trained to patrol the rivers of South Vietnam on a heavily armed boat. He arrived in South Vietnam in March 1967.

Moir spent his tour of duty doing something I was completely unaware of when I was in the war zone. My only exposure to the rivers of South Vietnam was when we had water skiing parties. I noticed no PBR’s on those junkets.

It never occurred to me while I was in Vietnam that the U. S. Navy was patrolling those rivers. I thought the Navy was confined to large ships miles offshore, with the men safe and sound and eating great meals three times a day. Every page of Moir’s  book, The Exec: A Vietnam Memoir (Carolina Time Press, 226 pp., $19.99, hardcover; $12.99, paper), ruptured that ignorant point of view.

The book is organized into long chapters, but is dated like a diary and often reads like one written by a literate and questioning young man with a fine education. “Our mission as I understand it, is to make our assigned waterways secure for friendly vessels and to deny the enemy their use for transport of weapons and combat supplies,” Moir writes.

I was amazed at how often Moir bumped into men he had known in college at the University of Virginia. The Vietnam War was a small world for U-Va. grads.

Moir makes a few trips to Saigon to do administrative errands and  banking. His descriptions of the hotels and bars on Tu Do Street are so accurate they made me nostalgic for Saigon circa 1967. The writing is lively and fun—except when the war intrudes.

The most interesting part of the book begins with the chapter call “Backstretch” when Moir returns to My Tho from his R&R in Bangkok in November 1967, and My Tho comes under attack.  The next chapter, “Tet—War Up Close,” is even more exciting with lots of gripping combat scenes.

I’ve read a few PBR books and this one is as detailed and exciting and well-written as they get. Moir works in an office for part of the last section of the book, but gets dragged away from the paperwork during the Tet Offensive. There they were, “sailors about to be overrun by main force VC troops,”  he says. “Half the city was in flames.”

Moir ended his tour as the exec of River Section 533. He was responsible for “533’s personnel, patrol scheduling, assigned patrol areas, experiences with river traffic and hot spots, boat readiness, weapons inventory and logistic support.”

His fine writing makes all of this interesting and easy to read. From the sections about remote duty on the Co Chien to his very different duty in My Tho, the author finds reasons to comment on the war. He quotes Eisenhower saying that the United States should avoid a ground war in Asia unless our survival is at stake.

“The VC seem so embedded,” he writes. “Can we really hope to stabilize this chaotic place enough to foster democracy and help improve their standard of living? Even then, how long is it going to take?’’  Good questions.

Moir’s mission to deny the enemy use of the waterways to supply arms for attacks on South Vietnam’s cities was shown to be a failed one when the Tet Offensive blew up. The mission had to be radically redesigned after that event. By that time, though, Robert Moir was done with his tour of duty and had happily left South Vietnam and the war behind.

I highly recommend this book for anyone seeking to know the role of the PBR in the Vietnam War and the impact of the war on a well-educated and perceptive young man.

—David Willson