Condemned Property? By Dusty Earl Trimmer

In Condemned Property?: Our Most Unpopular War Continues for Americans Who Fought in Vietnam… WHY? This is Their Story and Mine (Dog Ear Publishing, 484 pp., $29, hardcover; $25, paper) “Dusty” Earl Trimmer provides a look at his service in the 25th Infantry Division in Vietnam in 1968-69. The book also contains the stories of other Vietnam War veterans, along with Trimmer’s strong opinions about the war and those who fought in it.

Trimmer wrote the book, he says, “to honor our fallen warriors during and after the Vietnam War,” along with “living warriors of that war who are still fighting their demons.”

Trimmer believes that the war “should have and could have ended… with a complete American victory!” He lays a large share of the blame for the fact that there was no “American victory” on Americans who protested the Vietnam War, as well as the U.S. news media.

The war, he writes, “was always about stopping communism. It was not a revolution by loyal patriots, as the Viet Cong were used and discarded by North Vietnam. The Ameri-Cong left-wing media and the left-wing protestors were also used TO DEFEAT THEIR OWN FELLOW AMERICANS!

Trimmer goes on to say that Vietnam veterans “are NOT condemned property. Although the media would have Americans believe that, with generations of very inaccurate reporting—actually, they have been LYING! Many of us are still fighting to survive; many of us are winning again, just as we as a generation have always been…winners!

A note about the book’s subtitle: the Vietnam War certainly was, as Trimmer notes, “unpopular.” However, it wasn’t “our most unpopular” war; that sobriquet belongs to the American Civil War, which divided the nation so drastically that Americans took arms against other Americans.

—Marc Leepson

A Date with Vietnam by Steven Weathers

Steven E Weathers’ memoir, A Date with Vietnam (CreateSpace, 288 pp., $12.81, paper), starts off with the author telling us about his problems with authority in high school. I quickly found myself wondering how he’d do with military rules and authority given the fact that the relatively mild high school structure troubled him. Weathers says he wanted to be treated as an adult, and thought that he would get that in the military.

I also wondered how soon we’d get a reference to John Wayne. We did not have long to wait. “I grew up watching John Wayne movies and I especially liked his military films when I was a kid,”  Weather says. He goes on to praise Wayne for playing military characters “so true to life.”  Weathers grew up “in a family and a society that made you feel it was your duty to go fight communism.”

He was told “to join, not wait to be drafted. Guys who are drafted are treated like shit.” This sounds like Army recruiter talk, and it is a lie.  Weathers’ recruiter told him, that in his opinion, “a bunch of jungle backwoods pack rats wouldn’t hold up long against the American military machine” in Vietnam. The recruiter also told him that losers get drafted and that second-class soldiers are the first to be sent to the fighting.  Another lie.

Steven Weathers viewed serving in the Army as a patriotic duty—and his ticket to manhood. This point of view was not unusual for men to have in the mid 1960s.

A small-town Indiana boy of seventeen, a high school dropout who knew how to type, Weathers took the military aptitude tests and ended up as an Army clerk typist. He was sent to Okinawa, “a cushy assignment on an island paradise.”  At seventeen he was too young to go to Vietnam, but as soon as he turned eighteen, Weathers volunteered for the war zone.

Assigned to the 18th MP Battalion, Weathers was happy to have escaped small-town boring America. He makes the usual observations about Vietnam upon arrival. He is hit in the face by the hottest air he had ever experienced. He comments on shit-burning, but says he never got assigned that dirty detail. He mentions the steel wire on the windows of the bus that took him to his assignment.  Protection against grenades, he says.

Weathers

Weathers next went to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 4th Transportation Command, where he lived in the Le Lai Hotel in Saigon. He discovered that he was considered a REMF and explains what that is.

He and his roommate spent their off duty time “drinking, smoking pot and frequenting the local whorehouse.” Weathers’ job consisted of typing up disposition forms, memoranda, and the occasional classified documents twelve hours a day, seven days a week.

After betting promoted to E-4, his job changed. He became a harbor pilot escort, using a jeep as transportation, and also PBRs ( patrol boat, river.) On one mission his jeep came under fire. His passenger, a harbor pilot, was killed; Weathers narrowly missed death himself.

This memoir offers a good description of the impact that Tet 1968 had on Weathers’ life, and life in general in Vietnam for soldiers with assignments such as his. After Tet, Weathers was moved out of the hotel and into more a typical barracks living situation. Later, while riding in a helicopter, he fell out at about fifty feet, and survived only because he landed in a grove of trees that cushioned his fall.

The main strength of this memoir is its unabashed honesty, especially about Weathers’ behavior and that of his best friend.  He tells us about kicking Vietnamese off of their bicycles while driving his jeep if they impeded his progress. He says he enjoyed “kicking gook ass” in bars.

Like many other rear-echelon troops, Weathers had a mama san to clean and polish his boots and do his laundry. Like many others who served in Vietnam, his favorite song was the Animals’  “We Gotta Get Out of This Place.”  He expressed outrage at a culture that sold dogs and cats and other pets in the marketplace for dinner items.

When Weathers came home in 1968 after two tours of duty, he partied for thirty days. But his parents were at him about moving out and getting a job. So he went back to the grocery store job he had left to join the Army.

Civilian life was hard. He had two dismal marriages. Weathers joined the Army Reserves where he found the structure and camaraderie he missed from his time in Vietnam. Weathers became a Senior Track and Wheel Inspector, and later a drill instructor. He received many honors and medals, and stuck with the Reserves until retirement.

Eventually he even found true love. She had been married for sixteen years to a man she called “a crazy Vietnam vet.”

This memoir is an honorable and honest addition to the canon of Army Vietnam War memoirs. I enjoyed reading it. There were many familiar chords in it reflecting my own REMF tour of duty in the Vietnam War–and also many differences.

—David Willson

Foreign Correspondent by H.D.S. Greenway


H.D.S. (David) Greenway’s new memoir, Foreign Correspondent (Simon & Schuster, 304 pp., $26), looks at the nearly forty years he spent reporting for Time magazine, The Washington Post, and the Boston Globe from ninety-six foreign countries. That includes Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia during the American War.

Greenway arrived in Saigon in 1967 where “life was pleasant and safe enough for the moment.” That soon changed drastically with the 1968 Tet Offensive. In February Greenway hustled off to Hue to cover the action. At at one dicey point he wound up picking up an M-16 and firing at the enemy.

Soon thereafter, he was hit by rocket-propelled grenade fragments as he, two other civilian journalists (Charlie Mohr of The New York Times and Al Webb of UPI), and Marine combat correspondent Steve Bernston carried a severely wounded Marine out from under enemy fire. The Marine Corps later awarded the three civilians—Mohr, Webb, and Greenway—and Sgt. Bernston the Bronze Star for their courage under fire.

Greenway

You would expect an experienced journalist to present a well-written memoir. Greenway comes through on that score. His writing is crisp and his insights are often telling. That includes this assessment of the Vietnam War:

America “came to save the Vietnamese from Communism, not exploit them economically as the French, and there were many, especially among the propertied classes, who feared Communism and appreciated our effort. As for the peasantry in the countryside, they just wanted to be left alone.”

And this on the American military’s handling of corespondents: “The U.S. military was always upbeat, and if you stayed in Saigon you might think the war was being won. If there was one trait that trumped all the others during the long war, it was American self-delusion. As Sebastian Junger would later write about Afghanistan, it wasn’t as if American officials were actually lying to you about the progress of the war. They were just inviting you to join in a conspiracy of wishful thinking.”

Greenway also gives us a good deal about his fellow correspondents in Vietnam, including Michael Herr, Gloria Emerson, David Halberstam, Dick Swanson, R.W. Apple, and Stanley Karnow. He writes about hanging out with the photographers Sean Flynn and Dana Stone in Cambodia in April 1970, days before they rode their motorbikes toward Khmer Rouge positions and were never seen again.

—Marc Leepson

Uphill Battle by Frank Scotton

Frank Scotton’s Uphill Battle: Reflections on Viet Nam Counterinsurgency (Texas Tech University Press, 376 pp., $85, hardcover: $39.95, paper) is an odd—though entertaining and insightful—account of a USIA and foreign service officer’s work during the Vietnam War.

It’s odd, because Scotton was a difficult, headstrong young man who didn’t like to follow orders. He arrived in Vietnam in 1962 under the supervision of a man he came to respect deeply, Everet Bumgardner. But Scotton liked to go it alone in the bush, playing Rambo and embarrassing his superiors, even getting himself kicked out of his AO through the combined protests of his Vietnamese counterparts.

Early on, his exploits were not only reckless, but pointless, and he came within a whisker of being ordered home. In the early part of the book, the reader will be reminded of Alden Pyle, the over-confident fictional CIA operative in Graham Greene’s acclaimed novel, The Quiet American.

Early on also Scotton’s wife, serving with him in Vietnam, demanded a divorce.

Scotton gained fluency in the Vietnamese language, and made some Vietnamese friends. He learned that loyalties could shift among the Viet Minh, the ARVN, the Vietcong, and the South Vietnamese government. In other words, you could never understand Vietnam as well as the Vietnamese, and you needed always to be a student.

U.S. Army medical personnel treating South Vietnamese civilians in 1970

In 1963, for instance, it was important to understand who was Catholic and who was Buddhist. The so-called pagoda raids of Catholic President Ngo Dinh Diem—and his overall bungling of the Buddhist crisis—eventually led to his assassination.

Scotton’s reckless early experiments fostered his ability to organize small groups that operated in the same, village-level spheres as the Viet Cong. Though he retained a slightly rogue modus operandi, Scotton became effective at the grassroots level. He maintained that “Any American (or Australian) assigned to the program should be imbued with an irregular spirit, abjure creature comfort, and risk going native.”

Scotton became an advisor to senior staff, and an important leader in his own right, rising to the post of USIA Assistant Director for East Asia. He spent time in Vietnam from 1962-75, and retired from USIA in 1998.

Scotton doesn’t have anything very startling to say in this book about the failure of U.S. policy in Southeast Asia. As he notes: “We all know how the story ends.”

Scotton’s book is nevertheless fascinating for its portraits of famous and influential people who passed in and out of view in Vietnam during the war: Maxwell Taylor, William Westmoreland, John Paul Vann, and many others. His book could have used some maps, and the photos are not very useful.

But otherwise Scotton documents his assertions thoroughly, and educates as well as entertains.

– John Mort

lThe Silence of the Fallen by David DeChant

David DeChant served two tours in Vietnam, the first from 1966-67 as a U. S. Marine Combat Intelligence NCO assigned to battalion scouts, and the second from 1968-70 as an Embassy Courier flying throughout Vietnam on Air America flights. DeChant says very little in his new memoir, The Silence of the Fallen (Sanhedralite Editing and Publishing, 298 pp., $2.99, Kindle,) about his second tour; the emphasis is on that first tour.

The point of view of the book is different from many Marine Corps memoirs. We do get some of the usual stuff, such as “Eat the apple, fuck the corps—The Crotch.”  And DeChant playing “John Wayne with a friend throwing a K-bar.”

However, when DeChant details the first casualty in his unit, he points out that it was friendly fire, “one of the expendable millions in the folly of Vietnam.”  We do encounter yet another reference to a VC barber, but it turns out that this guy only looks like DeChant’s unit’s barber, in the sense that “all Asians resemble each other.”

DeChant makes it clear that his life was pleasant compared to that of many. For one thing, he never fired his rifle while in Vietnam. “We lived like animals in the bush; however life at Dong Ha was relatively nice: hot chow, cots, mail, clean laundry, calls home, and even movies in an open-air theater. Most of the time, we could even get a nice hot shower.”

He includes the oft-stated complaint of this era about the M-16, calling it “absolute garbage. A piece of shit.” He supports this contention with many details. DeChant notes that the Marines asked for, but did not get, their M-14s back.

M16 edited...............“We should have been at home chasing pussy, going to college, starting careers,” DeChant writes. It’s difficult to argue with that.

The story is told in stark and hypnotic prose. “Move out, slow down, keep your interval, pick up the pace, slow down, take a break. Dry land, rice paddies, rivers, streams, rolling hills, open areas, 12 foot high elephant grass, (find the chopper above), sweat, bugs, leeches, vipers, heat, thirst, and the ever present fear of sniper attack, ambush, booby traps, wounds and death.”

Then there’s this brilliant rant in this very quotable book: “We were trying to stay alive and survive the insanity of this war perpetrated by America’s so-called Best and Brightest (worst and dumbest)—immoral, treasonous, cowards, merchants of death and treacherous war-lovers, most of them!”

As you might guess, DeChant does not hold back his feelings and his facts. I loved this memoir and highly recommend it to those who have the stomach for it.

—David Willson

Last Plane Out of Saigon by Richard Pena and John Hagan

Regardless of a reader’s attitude about the Vietnam War, Richard Pena’s Last Plane Out of Saigon (Story Merchant Books, 136 pp., $12.95, paper), written with John Hagan, offers insights worth reflecting upon four decades after the fact.

Drafted into the Army out of law school, Pena served as an operating room specialist in Vietnam. He ended up among the last American troops to evacuate South Vietnam in 1973. Discharged upon his return to the States, Pena finished college and became a lawyer. During his Vietnam War tour of duty, Pena kept a journal that he stashed away for thirty years. That journal serves as the core of this concise flashback to the life of a wartime draftee.

Pena arrived in Vietnam amid the chaos of the 1972 North Vietnamese Easter Offensive. Upon deplaning at Tan Son Nhut, he wondered why he had been “sentenced to exile in this forsaken land.” He questioned whether America could win the war and worried about people “dying for a policy dictated out of ignorance and falsehood.”

Pena worked as a technician in the operating room of the 3rd Field Hospital in Saigon. Most of the patients came there straight from the battlefield, having received no treatment elsewhere. Pena therefore saw the results of war in human terms every day.

Throughout his tour, one question haunted him: “What does it mean?”

Richard Pena

He tried to answer that question in several ways, and suffered emotionally along with the bloodied, shattered, men he treated. In his journal Pena analyzed his relationships with fellow American soldiers and Vietnamese civilians, the latter of whom he strongly distrusted.

Pena put his thoughts and theories in his journal because “to speak out about the tragedy is said to be anti-American.” To him, Vietnam became a land of lies, betrayals, and corruption that left soldiers and civilians “angry and bitter all the time.”

Despite his emotional turmoil, Pena persevered in his duties. Near the end of his journal, he wrote: “In these last days before departing, I realize that the weight I have carried for the past eleven months will never be lifted from my shoulders.” In other words, his journal tells a story that must never be forgotten.

Having read this short book three times, I believe it has its greatest impact when read uninterrupted. The journal is divided into four parts that are interwoven with chapters by John Hagan that provide background information about the war. I therefore suggest that those familiar with the Vietnam War read Pena’s chapters first. Those unfamiliar with the war should start with Hagan’s chapters.

The collaborators reach two conclusions: First, they agree that wars such as Vietnam are destructive to America’s society and economy. Second, they emphasize the need to learn from foreign policy failures and mistakes.

Neither idea is new, but the thought processes the authors follow to reach them clearly exhume the intellectual conflict of the Vietnam War era.

The author’s website is www.lastplaneoutofsaigon.com

—Henry Zeybel

Freedom Is Your Destiny by Daniel T. Eismann

Physical warfare, spiritual warfare, and miraculously recovering from health challenges are the central issues in Freedom Is Your Destiny (Desert Sage Press, 318 pp., $14.99, paper) by VVA life member Daniel T. Eismann, a lawyer who serves as a Justice on the Idaho Supreme Court. 

This well-executed volume is a must read for anyone interested in Eismann’s topics. This decorated, two-tour Vietnam veteran Huey crew chief has written a detailed account of life aboard a UH-1, as well as pre-flight and post-mission maintenance.The organization of the chapters with transitions from riveting combat missions to biblical histories of Jesus and his apostles are generally well done. 

There are twenty-six chapters, many of which are worthwhile. The one disadvantage in this book, though, is the lack of an index. 

I recommend the chapter called “Blessed Are the Merciful,” featuring the OR Nurse Annie. It’s the one I enjoyed the most. Some chapters contain opinions that are open to discussion, but not this one. “God has anointed certain people with the Motivational gift of mercy,” Eismann writes. Annie embodied this biblical reference.

Idaho Supreme Court Justice Daniel T. Eismann

“Enjoying the Battle” is the title of the chapter devoted to the author’s health issues and those of his daughter and their “miracle” healing. This will resonate with all Vietnam veterans who have been exposed to Agent Orange, as well as with families who have experienced traumatic illness. 

The final.chapter, “Going Home,” focuses on.the Freedom Bird Vietnam veterans longed for. The author also.mentions the spiritual requirements for attaining the freedom flight to heaven. These requirements will likely be evaluated in various ways by readers.

 
—Curtis Nelson