The French Foreign Legion and Indochina in Restrospect by Michael Kaponya

At the end of World War II Michael Kaponya was a Hungarian refugee with few prospects. So he joined the French Foreign Legion, that fabled mercenary military force founded in 1831 by King Louis Philippe. Led by French officers, the Legion is open to volunteer foreigners to serve under the French flag.

Kaponya’s The French Foreign Legion and Indochina in Retrospect (Tate Publishing, 144 pp., $14.99, paper) is a respectful memoir dedicated to the memory of his French Foreign Legion comrades. Kaponya describes his screening and induction, his experiences in North Africa, and—most importantly—his service in Indochina during the French war from 1949-52.

The Legionnaires learned tough lessons of guerrilla warfare in a terrain and climate to which they were unaccustomed. Ultimately, Kaponya realized, the French were limited to “incursions by small units and control of major highways and waterways.” Even that control was tenuous at best.

Michael Kaponya

Kaponya’s reminiscences often are as tender as they are horrific. There’s no mistaking his pleasure and pride in having been a Legionnaire. He left Indochina in 1952, two years before Dien Bien Phu, and completed his service in Algeria and Marseilles. Then Kaponya immigrated to the United States.

In addition to personal recollections of this historically important time, Kaponya offers political analyses of the period following the Second World War, especially the events in Vietnam and Algeria. Kaponya summarizes his position succinctly:

“The Foreign Legion left Indochina due to pressure from a leftist government and communists, the U.S. Army left Vietnam due to incessant far-left-instigated pressure and demonstrations, and the Foreign Legion, after victory, had to retreat from Algeria due to leftist political reasons.”

—Michael Keating

Journey Into Darkness and Battle At Straight Edge Woods by Stephen Menendez

Stephen (Shorty) Menendez served in Vietnam with Charlie Company, 3rd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment in the 25th Infantry Division. He has written two books about his tour of duty. His second, Battle at Straight Edge Woods (CreateSpace, 126 pp., $12.99, paper; $2.99, Kindle) is, in essence, an essay about on engagement that took place on April 7, 1970.

Menendez was designated the company tunnel rat due to his special training and his special physical attributes—being under five feet tall and weighing less than 100 pounds. This action near Nui Ba Den Mountain is sort of an afterthought to his much bigger book, Journey Into Darkness: A Tunnel Rat’s Story (St. John’s Press, 158 pp., 2004). If after reading that book, you wish to read Menendez writing mostly about combat, I recommend Battle At Straight Edge Woods.

Journey is not available to read on Kindle, so it was a struggle for me to read the physical book as I had to use a magnifier due to my failing eyesight. But so great was my motivation to read Menendezs’ book that I persisted.

The cover of Journey says: “He takes you deep into those enemy tunnels, making you taste the acrid gunsmoke and feel the cold black earth. Shorty’s below ground battles are nothing less than incredible.”  That blurb, combined with the great cover photo of Shorty peering out of a tunnel with a flashlight in one hand and a Ruger .22 pistol in the other (and a smile on his elfin face), totally sold me. I expected it to be a straightforward memoir.

But once I had read a few pages, I discovered that Journey Into Darkness is historical autobiographical fiction. The hero is named Mendez, not Menendez. The author tells us that all the names in the book are fictitious and “this is a story like any other. Some of it is true but mostly it is fiction.”

The book contains only two detailed accounts of Mendez descending into a tunnel in Vietnam. One comes near the beginning; the other near the end. I was disappointed as I was led to believe that the book contained non-stop, action-packed tunnel exploits.

Instead, most of the book deals with the details of a reunion of Mendez’s platoon. This is interesting stuff, but it is not what the book packaging and blurbs led me to expect. It made me wonder if the writer of the cover blurb had even read the book.

The author’s description of being in a tunnel deep underground armed with only a pistol and a flashlight was detailed and scary. I could feel the onset of claustrophobia just from reading the book, but there was no underground battle. That episode made me hunger for more.

The book is structured around the reunion and an encounter with a VC general who invites the men to return to Tay Ninh in Vietnam to revisit their battleground. The general has a hidden agenda based on a desire for vengeance for the men of the platoon having been responsible for the death of his nephew—the last of the general’s blood line.

The author deals with many of the perennial concerns of Vietnam War writers: Agent Orange, the notion that we didn’t lose the war, shit burning (which becomes almost a litany in the book), rage at the sight of the enemy’s flag, and the idea that Vietnam veterans not get “much of a homecoming.”

If you are interested in reading about the travails of having a unit reunion and about what a return trip to an old Vietnam battleground might be like, this is an excellent book for you, well-written and well-narrated by the author. The parts that deal with the protection of a firebase near the Cambodian border and the running of patrols all day looking for VC and the ambushes at night of “Chargin’ Charlie” Company make great reading.

I would have loved more of that and less of the reunion. Perhaps if the book had been honestly packaged as being about the reunion, I would have avoided the feeling that I had been snookered.

So if it is combat you wish to read about, Battle at Straight Edge Woods is the better choice of these two books—even though there is no tunnel rat underground battling.

—David Willson

Missions of Fire and Mercy and Chopper Warriors by William E. Peterson

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William E. Peterson enlisted in the Army at eighteen, signed up to be a Huey helicopter crew chief, and volunteered to go to Vietnam. College bored him, and left-wing professors irritated him. He wanted to leave behind Carney, Michigan, apple orchard country. He wanted to fly at breakneck speed at treetop level above the jungles. He wanted adventure. Peterson’s served in Vietnam with the 227th Assault Helicopter Battalion in the 1st Air Cav, AKA The Ghost Riders.

Peterson did everything in his tour that involved the Huey, and it is all in his memoir, Missions of Fire and Mercy: Until Death Do Us Part (CreateSpace, 302 pp., $21.99, paper) in exciting and exacting technological detail. If you hunger to read accounts of choppers in action in Vietnam, these books are for you.

The main body of Missions of Fire and Mercy consists of letters Peterson wrote home to his parents, friends, and his girlfriend Cindi. I give them credit for saving these great letters and for thereby helping Bill Peterson write graphic descriptions of the horror he dealt with in Vietnam on a daily basis.

When Peterson, a Swedish-American boy, arrives in country, he gets more than he bargained for. He even drinks some coffee, which he had never liked. He does not yearn for the lutefisk, but he states that his “faith in God has never been stronger. Even while stitching the area with machine gun fire, I find myself praying silently or maybe even audibly to Him for His protection. I firmly believe God has a timetable for all of us.”

As many Vietnam veterans have before him, Peterson notes how beautiful the country was, then says: “It’s a shame we are ruining it with bomb craters, Agent Orange, and burned out villages.”

Peterson expresses often how he feels about the fighting, calling it an “ugly, nonsensical war.”

“When I volunteered for this duty, I truly believed in this war—thought it was necessary to help stamp out communism, protect our freedoms—all that stuff,” he says. “Anymore, I think America has made a big mistake by coming here in the first place.”

But he then goes on to say: “We have the firepower available to put an end to this war in short order. If the politics could be put aside, we could win this war…”  That is a big if. Plus, when has politics ever been put aside?

Peterson comments that he had the utmost respect for his enemy, that “they were fantastic and determined warriors.” He goes on to say that the guerrilla war they engaged in was a hard one for Americans to fight.  “Sure, we killed a lot of them with massive firepower,” he says, “but the next day those who had not been killed were back at it again.”

The 1968 Tet Offensive is at the center of Missions of Fire. We encounter Clint Eastwood in his movie, Hang ‘em High, Raquel Welch in Bob Hope’s Christmas Show, and John Wayne westerns. Peterson also tells us the “guys in the rear really have it made.”

We once again hear that the AK-47 is much more reliable than the M-16, which jams when it gets sandy, and that Agent Orange was used without any thought that it might have harmful effects on humans. We meet Chris Noel in a mini-skirt and she is just as sweaty as the “rest of us.”  We also encounter shit-burning, and are told that Peterson is in a “God-forsaken war,” even though he has total faith that God is watching out for him.

Peterson’s Chopper Warriors: Kicking the Hornet’s Nest (CreateSpace, 154 pp., $17.95, paper) is mostly more of the same, although it also includes the work of other writers. All of them are pretty good, although Peterson is the best of the lot, and he is excellent. He is a gifted storyteller who mostly avoids the usual clichés of recent Vietnam War memoirs.

We find one in this book, however, in Larry Troxel’s “Double Security.”  After a big firefight, one of the VC bodies is “that of the barber who has been working on base and cutting our hair.” I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard that one. 

I enjoyed James De Bose’s “Four Killer Agents.” It is an excellent entry on spraying defoliants from C-130s in Operation Ranch Hand. His recollections of the nasty, oily stuff blowing back into the airplane and saturating his clothes, hair, and skin is chilling.

 

The author in Vietnam

Those who want more chopper adventures should read both of these books and spend an afternoon living the life of a Huey crew chief, but without the life-long nightmares and PTSD that are the likely benefits of the actual experience.

 

 

I’m going to order the books by Stephen Menendez, who has a fine piece in the Chopper Warrior book. I’m eager to read of the exploits of a man who was under five feet tall and who weighed less than 100 pounds and spent his tour as a tunnel rat. I hope to have reviews of his books—Into the Darkness and Battle at Straight Edge Woods—in this space one of these days.

Peterson’s website is http://missionsoffireandmercy.com

—David Willson

From Nam to Normal by Richard A. Price

From Nam to Normal: Battle of the Demons (CreateSpace, 182 pp., $8.99, paper) by VVA member Richard A. Price is a passionate, practical, well-organized handbook for Vietnam veterans dealing with PTSD.

Price makes no claims to be a psychiatrist, psychologist, or therapist. But in 170 pages he describes a lifetime’s worth of suffering with PTSD. He also includes a variety of useful techniques to help veterans back to normal. But he warns the reader: “Don’t kid yourself; the journey isn’t easy. But what has ever been easy for the Vietnam veteran?”

Richard Price spent many years teaching secondary school and college-level courses at Ohio State and Kent State Universities. His true passion surfaced when he began dealing with his fellow Vietnam War veterans and their PTSD. He credits Vietnam Veterans of America with providing him much-needed support in his work with Vietnam veterans.

In his book Price uses an impressive style in setting out his experiences and journey to normalcy. Each of the twelve chapters compares an aspect of the battlefield with a similar situation back home. The chapter titles include “The Firefight: My Symptoms Surface,” “A Friend in the Foxhole: The Value of a Buddy,”  “Search and Destroy: Attacking PTSD.”

Price spent two tours in Vietnam as a Seabee. He arrived on the first day of the Tet Offensive in 1968 and led a machine gun squad defending the Gia Le perimeter. Following Tet, he began working on Seabee construction projects. At the end of his tour Price flew home on a cargo plane that turned out to be a full of caskets.

“No one can expect a veteran returning from combat to be the same person he was before,” he writes. “That was expected of us, and for that matter, we somehow had that expectation of ourselves.” Price compares his home-front reception to an ambush that destroyed his dreams, and also set the stage for his PTSD demons.

Price explains that veterans often are unaware that their personal reactions often stem from wartime experiences, and that damage can be done to familial relationships as well is to self and property. The results often lead to escape through alcohol and drugs. Self-awareness and wartime buddies can help a veteran navigate this minefield on the road to recovery.

“The majority of people think of intervention as a positive thing,” he writes. “They couldn’t be more wrong.” This statement can be confusing, but Price makes it clear that it is necessary to be very selective in using intervention methods. Interventions in his own life have helped him overcome depression, but Price says that he still deals with depression and is always on the lookout for the triggers that send him down that road.

The chapter titled “Operation Normal II: My Continued Quest for Normal” is both heartwarming and heartbreaking. Price tells of his love and pride for his family, but he also writes about how his PTSD hurt his family. He admits that instead of working to repair and strengthen his relationship with his wife, he immersed himself in work, a common symptom of PTSD.

In “Cans on the Wire: Triggers and Depression” Price explains “triggers” and their role in PTSD. He notes that there are many kinds of triggers, and that can make the identification of PTSD difficult. To a Vietnam veteran, dreams, the comments of a friend, or even a path through a forest can be triggers that bring on the fight-or-flight syndrome.

Nam to Normal discusses the role of movies in creating the image of a returning soldier. World War II movies produced heroes on the screen, while Vietnam War movies typically created a very different kind of image.

Price says that in writing this book he often suffered writer’s block. Anyone who reads his book will appreciate that he worked through the blocks. His book will help many war veterans on the long march to normalcy for a long time.

—Joseph Reitz

You Must Live by Tuan Phan

Tuan Phan served in the South Vietnamese Army from the time he was seventeen in 1969 until he fled the country in 1975. In his memoir, You Must Live: A Former South Vietnamese Soldier Tells His Story (202 pp., $14.99, paper), Tuan Phan weaves in the story of his life before, during, after the war with brief explanations of the bigger-picture issues, including Vietnam’s history and the history of U.S. involvement in the war.

Tuan Phan in Vietnam in 1969

The author had a difficult life growing up, but had fond memories of the American troops he first encountered as a young teenager. “These blue-eyed, blond haired G.I.’s in their ‘cool’ uniform appeared attractive and good-looking,” he writes.

“When you got up close to them, aside from that full war gear they were wearing, I found nice human beings—generous, kind, and sweet. They were no different than our people in their thoughts and feelings. Once in a while, we approached some soldiers that may have been a little more cautious. Then they could be cranky.”

Tuan Phan fled his native land after the North Vietnamese prevailed. He came to this country alone and with just sixteen cents in his pocket. But Tuan Phan persevered, married, had children, and brought many family members to this country.

His is an American success story that began amid the chaos at the tumultuous end of the Vietnam War.

The author’s website is www.youmustlive.com

—Marc Leepson

Surviving the War Zone by Richard Quarantello

Richard Quarantello’s Surviving the Warzone: Growing Up East New York Brooklyn (Xlibris, 192 pp., $22.99, hardcover; $15.99, paper) is the most action-packed book I have ever read. In fact, it may be one of the most action-packed books ever written as I could not find one episode that didn’t describe some kind of fighting—from the streets of Brooklyn to the jungles of Vietnam.

A very violent fight introduces the book and sets the theme of survival. The author also includes a rundown on much of the historical violence that created New York City.

That book’s first sentence is the most shocking and the most difficult to believe of anything in the book. To wit: “The story I’m about to tell you is nonfiction.”  Growing up on a farm in Indiana certainly didn’t prepare me for what I was to learn about the 1960s life in Brooklyn.

Quarantello uses an effective writing style that kept me at the edge of my chair. The book is made up of a series of short vignettes with no wasted words. There are more than thirty short episodes describing the life of a young man coming of age in a domestic war zone.

Ricky Q., as he was known, got his first job as a butcher shop delivery boy at age twelve. Keeping himself in good physical shape, he was noticed by members of the New Lots Boys gang. By thirteen, he had become a bona fide member.

Brooklyn gang, 1959, photo by Bruce Davidson

He learned boxing from Mr. Nero, an African-American man well respected by the gang who imparted wisdom that served Ricky Q. well. “Lesson number one, it’s not called fighting, it’s called boxing, and it is a science. Fighting is a reaction to your emotion; boxing is thinking, using your mind. It’s an art that will help make and shape your character.”

The reader is introduced to several characters who grew up the same way Quarantello did. They shared an esprit de corps and “had each other’s backs,” which often came in handy in the violent world they inhabited.

Today we are shocked to hear about children being attacked by other children for a pair of tennis shoes or a coat. No such story would have shocked Ricky Q. and his friends.

Most of the book is taken up with Quarantello’s life from 1959-65. After that, the Vietnam War took center stage. Ricky Q. was inducted into the Army in 1965. Although his life drastically changed in basic training, he still managed to get in fights with fellow trainees. One incident involved slices of toast.

Ricky Q. spends only a small portion of his book telling of his war-time activities. He describes his bewilderment at having to kill people who had never been a threat to him or his family. While serving with the 101st Airborne, he was wounded three times.

Like millions of others caught up in war his main goal was to go home in one piece and find his place in the world again. A fitting song to close this book might be Billy Joel’s “Good Night, Saigon.” I await the sequel, Ricky Q.

—Joseph Reitz

Broken But Not Abandoned by Ronald L. Schwerman

To read Broken But Not Abandoned: A Veteran’s Journey to Healing and Hope by Ronald L. Schwerman, (The Wordsmith, 226 pp., $14.99, paper 2013) is to watch a train wreck in slow motion. Because the book is written in the first person, the reader knows that redemption will occur at some point.

Schwerman’s story—which he tells with the help of David Aeilts and Grace Smith—reaches out and grips the reader on many levels. It is a page-turner.

Schwerman, who was born and raised in Minneapolis, often played around railroad tracks, sometimes hopping a train and riding for a few blocks with his friends. His father worked for the railroads, taught his son how to operate signals, told him railroad stories.

Schwerman’s dad was a veteran of World War II in the Pacific. The family home was a kind of battlefield involving fights between mom and dad, fueled with anger and alcohol. For anyone who does not know what it is like to live in an alcoholic’s family, this book is a must-read. Alcohol, it turns out, became a nemesis in the author’s life for decades as well. ‘

The book is clearly written, and Schwerman’s honest disclosure of himself is at a depth of which I have never before seen in a book. There is no doubt that such honesty was crucial to Schwerman’s redemption into a successful life.  

On 27 February 1967, at Da Nang Airbase Schwerman, an airplane mechanic, was hit by a rocket. He lost both arms, one leg, and sustained critical internal injuries. After being hit, he was in such bad shape that a Navy corpsman pronounced him dead. For some reason, the corpsman who meant to throw his still-living body onto a pile of dead bodies, threw him onto a truck of wounded men instead.

Eydie and Ronald Schwerman

The story of Ronald Schwerman’s journey from brokenness in mind, body, and spirit to a life with hope and possibilities has spanned more than three decades and in some aspects will continue for the rest of his life. Fortunately, he has now kicked alcohol off the train, and his faith in the power of God is his constant traveling companion. Schwerman, who closes some of his chapters with biblical quotes, writes that the divine power on which he relied manifested itself in the form of family, friends, and medical personnel.

His story includes two divorces and a third marriage. He alienated both of his daughters, who themselves spiraled into the darkness of drug addiction. His verbal abuse of his family is extremely painful to read.  

Schwerman has now reached a level of healing and personal growth in which he can offer advice for a successful marriage, drive a van, and take trips with Eydie, his wife. Some of her thoughts on her husband’s life are included in the book.

Appendix 1 and Appendix 2 should be required reading for the families of veterans of any war, including the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. These final pages provide information on PTSD and some clear direction for returning veterans. 

“Waiting” is not an option, Schwerman says. “You have a problem that is affecting all of us. I have your back, and we will do this together, but you are the one with the services—you have to ask for the help.”

The author’s website is www.brokenbutnotabandoned.com

—Joseph Reitz          

Returning Soldiers Speak edited by Leilani Squire

The prose and poetry in Returning Soldiers Speak: An Anthology of Prose and Poetry by Soldiers and Veterans (Bettie Youngs Books, 160 pp., $16.95, paper), a small anthology edited by Leilani Squire, includes testimony from veterans of World War II through the war in Iraq. Squire facilitates weekly creative writing workshops at the West Los Angeles VA Hospital and Wellness Works in Glendale.

I first looked at the book’s table of contents for clues for how it was organized, perhaps in sections pertaining  to a particular war. But the table of contents left me in the dark. Next I read Squire’s introduction, but found no clues there either. So it was only after reading the entire book that I discovered how it was organized. Returning Soldiers Speak starts with pieces related to World War II, then pieces about the Vietnam War.  And so it goes.

The World War II entries were strong and affecting, but I was primarily focused on the Vietnam War sections.  So I read John Rixey Moore’s story, excerpted from his memoir, Hostage of Paradox. This small piece of that huge book focuses on his search through a wilderness of devastation and carnage for a lost Starlight Scope.  Nobody has written better of how we laid waste to Vietnam than Moore has.

Leilani Squire

Next I read the poetry of R. S. Carlson, one of the best Vietnam War poets. He has three powerful poems in this anthology. I recommend Carlson’s book, Waiting to Say Amen. It is a fine one.

Jeffrey Alan Rochlin has four poems in this anthology. “God Bless America” is one of the most powerful poems I have read. Quoting from it does not do it justice, so I suggest buying this book so you can read it.

The book also contains one of the most honest and well-written short pieces on the Vietnam War that I’ve ever read, “Titles,” by Earl Smallwood, Jr. He was brave to write this, as it deals with a very sensitive Vietnam War issue—the fact that most of those who served in Vietnam were not grunts, nor were they Green Berets, Rangers, Marine recon, or SEALs. There were men and women, too—WACs, who spent their tour as clerk typists. How many were there? Solid statistics are elusive, but there were thousands.

As this entry shows, upwards of eighty percent of those of us who served in the Vietnam War were not in direct combat. We supported the combat troops. Smallwood does a brilliant job representing those unsung folks and describing the steps he took to ensure he would be a clerk typist in Vietnam, not a grunt.

“Dogface Soldier” by William Galloway is one of the best modern military stories I have read anywhere. This story is a model of good, clear, powerful writing—storytelling at its best. I would love to read a book written by Galloway. His story of a soldier with a bad attitude—an attitude so bad that his superiors would not ship him out to Iraq—really hit home.

I have tried to give a flavor of this anthology and how worthy it is. The high price that warriors pay for America’s commitment to war is evident on every page of this fine book. I thank those men and women for making the effort to tell their stories in this excellent, hard-hitting book.

The book’s website is http://returningsoldiersspeak.org

—David Willson

The Boys of Benning edited by Dan Telfair

The Boys of Benning (Authorhouse, 384 pp., $19.95, paper) is a tribute to fifteen 1962 Fort Benning OCS graduates. The co-editors—Dan Telfair, Zia Telfair, and Thomas B. Vaughn—say they have done more proofreading than editing. The narratives, therefore, come across like tales spun by your grandpa sitting in front of a fireplace.

This book is the result of a 2012 class reunion that took place in Columbus, Georgia. The surviving members of the class renewed a common bond and agreed to write a book together. No man is an island, and while only fifteen stories are presented in the book, many other soldiers are included.

The families of these men deserve credit for their supporting roles during family separations, training, wartime, and well into the retirement years of the former officers. In the Preface, Retired Army Col. Vaughn notes that this book was written primarily for family and friends. “If this book gains a wider audience, we will all be pleasantly surprised,” he says.

This writer thinks a pleasant surprise is in store. Simply put, The Boys of Benning-–and the boys’s families—deserve the recognition. The collection of Benning narratives reminds us that wars are fought by ordinary people who are often called to do extraordinary things. Self-sacrifice, suffering, and death paint a more realistic picture of war than Hollywood and recruiting posters do. Personal integrity is often challenged. An OCS board colonel, for example, asked Rudy Baker:  “Sergeant, are you prejudiced?”  Baker replied, “Yes sir, I guess I am to some extent, considering where I was raised, but it will never interfere in any military duties I have to perform.”

The organizational and leadership skills the men learned in their military training often carried over into their civilian careers. A strong sense of determination to succeed fostered by their OCS training,seemed to last well throughout the 50 years since their graduation. Post-military occupations include a diversity of activities, from flipping burgers at McDonald’s to teaching in college. But among all the men, there continued to be a sense of duty and response to commitments.

While all of the men describe their Vietnam War experiences, some are more graphic than others.  Retired Lt. Col. Ken Weitzel, who grew up in Berea, Ohio, fought in the 1965 Battle of Ia Drang Valley. That engagement was one of the bloodiest in the war, and included hand-to-hand combat, as well as close-in  air strikes. Every platoon leader was wounded and most of them died.

The reader might expect to hear bitterness in the tone of these veterans. It says much about the character of these men, though, that no sense of anger or long-held hostility comes through. What does come through is loyalty to family and country and appreciation for the opportunities that came their way. The bond that was formed in Georgia in ‘62 remains strong today.

Retired Col. Dallas Cox explains that bond by quoting from the diary of Mai Van Hung, a North Vietnamese soldier he never met. “How frustrating life is! To whom should I unburden myself? In whom should I confide? Who can understand my pent-up feelings? No one could possibly, except us, the soldiers!”

—Joseph Reitz

Stained With the Mud of Khe Sanh by Rodger Jacobs

Rodger Jacobs’s memoir, Stained with the Mud of Khe Sanh: A Marine’s Letters from Vietnam, 1966-1967 (McFarland, 260 pp., $29.95), is presented in the form of letters and interspersed comments written recently. It is a high-class, high-quality book, with photographs taken by Jacobs during his tour of duty. The book even has a useful index, something rare in a memoir. Warning, though: the index is not completely accurate.

I immediately checked the index for the usual things I look for in Vietnam War memoirs: Bob Hope, John Wayne, antiwar demonstrators, Joan Baez, Iwo Jima,. baby killers. None of them were in the index, but I found all of them in the book.

So the book is full of surprises. That is not a bad thing, but it does make the book more difficult to use as reference material. I did find body bags, body count, booby traps, Donut Dolly, and Bernard Fall, as well as just about every other thing a reader would want in a Marine Corps memoir.

Jacobs served in the Marines in Vietnam almost exactly the same time I served there in the U. S. Army. I therefore read his book with special interest and attention, finding some of his experiences similar to those I wrote about in REMF Diary.

But Jacobs’s entries are much better than mine. He was ninety yards away from Bernard Fall when the famed correspondent and historian was killed by a Bouncing Betty mine. When I heard the news on AFRTS that day, I was horror struck.  But imagine how Fall’s death struck Jacobs, who was right there. That is only one of hundreds of powerful and immediate sections in this fine book.

Jacobs gives us edited versions of his letters home, and he omits some entirely. He always tells the reader when he is doing this, but he does not tell us why.

Jacobs’s parents must be praised for keeping the letters and photos that his son sent home and for presenting them to him when he was past the most difficult times after coming home from the war.

Rodger Jacobs served with the First Battalion, Ninth Marines, “The Walking Dead,” during the last part of his tour in Vietnam. He was stationed first with A Company, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Division in Da Nang.

Jacobs is a guy who avoided formal education, but he comes from a middle-class family and his father was a World War II veteran and a veterinary doctor. His book is more evidence to disprove the notion that those of us who served in Vietnam, especially in the Marines, were dead-end kids who lacked smarts.

These letters are well-written and always of interest. Jacobs minces no words about sensitive issues, such as bad commanders and their bad decisions, and the tragic decision to take away M-14s and replace them with M-16s that often jammed.

The Inspector General, for whom I worked, was involved in an investigation about how the M-16 let down the Marines. So when I read how the Marines begged for their M-14s back and were denied them, I got teary about the deaths this casued. Sad stuff, powerfully presented by Jacobs and by his commander who has a letter in the book.

It took Rodger Jacobs many years to find himself after that war. He did it through the intervention of a father who loved him, the love of a good woman, and by finding a craft, wood-turning, through which he has created many fine works of art.

Jacobs can be proud of this work of art, too, one of the finest enlisted Marine Corps memoirs I have read. It stands tall, right next that great Marine Corps officer memoir, Welcome to Vietnam, Macho, Man by Ernest Spencer. I highly recommend Stained with the Mud of Khe Sanh.

—David Willson