Books in Review II


Welcome to “Books in Review II,” an online feature that complements “Books in Review,” which runs in The VVA Veteran, the national magazine of Vietnam Veterans of America.

This site contains book reviews by several contributors, while other reviews appear in each issue of The VVA Veteran. Our goal is to review every newly published book of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry that deals with the Vietnam War or Vietnam veterans. Publishers and self-published authors may mail review copies to:

Marc Leepson
Arts Editor, The VVA Veteran
Vietnam Veterans of America
8719 Colesville Road
Silver Spring, MD 20910

Email your comments, questions, and suggestions to

–Marc Leepson, Books Editor

Vietnam’s High Ground by J.P. Harris


Clarifying the fine points of exactly how the United States became involved in the Vietnam War might keep historians busy forever. Of course, the Domino Theory offers an obvious answer—one nation falls to communism and that pushes over others. But that choice resembles a conclusion such as “Joe committed suicide after growing tired of living” without examining Joe’s broken marriages, job losses, PTSD, and Agent Orange symptoms.

In other words, examining underlying details reveals reasons for the war that are far more interesting.

In 2015, Charles R. Shrader published A War of Logistics: Parachutes and Porters in Indochina, 1945-1954 in which he described the First Indochina War—fought by the French in the Red River area of North Vietnam, then called Tonkin—as a “war in which logistics decided the outcome.” Research proved his conclusion in the sense that poor logistical support can (and, in this case, did) defeat an army. Schrader based his argument on what he found in declassified contemporary French official documents and U.S. intelligence material, as well as “reports and memoirs of French participants and Western observers,” plus a wide range of secondary studies.

In Vietnam’s High Ground: Armed Struggle for the Central Highlands, 1954-1965 (University Press of Kansas, 552 pp. $45, hardcover; $27.99, Kindle), J.P. Harris provides a fitting continuation to Shrader’s history. Harris—a senior lecturer in war studies at the Sandhurst Royal Military Academy in England—moves the action southward and makes large-scale use of Vietnamese communist sources and American archives. His research examines the evolution of military action in Vietnam’s Central Highlands from subversion, insurgency, and counterinsurgency through the major battles of 1965.

Despite the dates in its subtitle, Vietnam’s High Ground focuses on military action in the 1960s with the last half of the book devoted to 1965. Concluding his accounts of fighting that was costly to both sides in the Ia Drang Valley, Harris says, “It would have taken a reckless pundit to pick a winner at this stage.”

Harris’ book is formidable. Opening it to any page provides a wealth of facts and explanations on major and minor events of the time and area. All of it offers perspectives of actions from all participants. Excellent maps, photographs, and forty-five pages of notes perfectly complement the text.
Reading the book made me feel humble. Harris covers all that I was familiar with about the early fighting in the Highlands. Well beyond that, though, he delves into actions that were unknown to me. His depth of investigation presents a stand-alone education about that phase of warfare in Vietnam.

Vietnam’s High Ground adds valuable insight to The University Press of Kansas’s Modern War Studies Series.

—Henry Zeybel

Flapjacks and Fish Sauce by Jim Barker

Jim Barker’s Flapjacks and Fish Sauce: Asymmetrical Vietnam Humor (115 pp., $12.95, paper) is a compilation of stories from veterans who served in Vietnam during the war. In his introduction, Barker (at left in the photo) says of war: “Like a Texas tornado, conditions can be quickly brewed up that make ‘saints of sinners,’ and occasionally vice-versa. In this colosseum of intensity, the extraordinary, absurd, unusual  and comic find fertile ground.”

The stories Baker has compiled prove his point. Some are outright funny. Some are of a gallows humor that makes one cringe.

One story tells of a man who lost his rifle in a rice paddy. He “fished around” for it, and thought he found it, only to come up with a severed arm.

The less gory tales can be laugh-out-loud funny. There’s the one about a guy on guard duty who felt something tapping on his shoulder.  He thought it was his team leader trying to keep him awake. A little later his rear was firmly squeezed. He yelped and turned around to find he was being groped by an orangutan.

Jim Barker served in Vietnam in 1971-72 as an adviser and linguist with MACV in II Corps.

For ordering info, email the author at

—Loana Holyman

Relfections by Andrew P. O’Meara, Jr.


Andrew P. O’Meara, Jr.’s Reflections: Memories of Sacrifices Shared and Comrades Lost in the Line of Duty (Xlibris, 103 pp., $29.99, hardcover, $19.99, paper; $3.99, Kindle) resembles a fragmentation grenade—small but impactful. The book aims to praise Col. George S. Patton–the son of the famed World War II general—and to find fault with journalists who reported the Vietnam War. It accomplishes both missions.

O’Meara served two Vietnam War tours: initially with the 1st Cavalry Regiment (ARVN) in 1962-63, and then with the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment (Blackhorse) as the S-2 Intelligence Officer in 1968-69. Patton commanded the latter.

O’Meara describes Patton as “a marvelous teacher and inspirational leader” who was his “coach and mentor.” He also rates Patton as a “tactical genius.” He credits the Colonel with guiding him in building an Intelligence staff whose plans (including targeting of two dozen B-52 Arc Light strikes) solidified Blackhorse’s control of its Area of Operations near Long Binh.


Col. Patton in Vietnam

In firefights, Patton often led the advance.  “Every other commander I had served under hunkered down when he came under enemy fire,” O’Meara writes. “That wasn’t Patton’s style. His unspoken response was: ‘Let the enemy hunker down.’  His aggressive actions became our shield in battle.”

O’Meara followed Patton into situations that a lesser man would have avoided. He graphically portrays these encounters and credits Patton as the leader who “taught all of us who served under his command how to fight.”

Showing “the war as American combatants saw it,” O’Meara compares their sacrifices to war correspondents’ accounts. “Instead of being portrayed as defenders and liberators, [American soldiers] were wrongly depicted as war criminals,” he says.

In this regard, he sets new standards for how old problems might have been resolved differently. For example, he says, “Just as leaders prepare soldiers for what they will face in combat, they also need to prepare them for what they will face in a hostile homecoming.”

—-Henry Zeybel

Arizona Moon by J.M. Graham


J. M. Graham enlisted in the U. S. Navy in 1965 and served as a corpsman in Vietnam with the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines in 1967. His novel Arizona Moon (Naval Institute Press, 320 pp., $29.95), tells an exciting combat story of three men whose lives are intertwined in Vietnam.

In the course of this well-written, involving Vietnam War in-country combat novel we get to know these three men well—Cpl. Raymond Strader, a Marine Corps squad leader who has just a few days left in his tour of duty; Lance Cp. Noche Gonshayee (Moon), an Apache warrior caught between two cultures; and the “enemy,” Truong Nghi, who is involved in a pre-Tet Offensive munitions transfer and who is a patriotic zealot.

Cpl. Strader has two days and a wakeup left in country when the helicopter he’s on goes down with Moon on board. They are taken captive by Truong Nghi and the three end up playing a game of cat and mouse in the Ong Tu Mountains. The NVA desperately tries to protect its cargo. The Marines, who never leave a comrade behind, try to retrieve their brothers-in-arms.

I agree that, as the cover claims, this novel is “compelling and relentless.” This is one of the best of the Marine Corps Vietnam War thrillers I’ve read, and I highly recommend it.

We get lots of cowboy and Indian imagery, a debunking of John Wayne, the myth of the Island of the Black Clap, much ham-and-motherfucker talk, rear echelon bashing, seeing of the elephant, and Iwo Jima references. ARVNs are bashed, too.

All the usual stuff, that is, plus an exciting thriller that kept me on the edge of my seat.

If you are looking for a Marine Corps thriller, make this your next one.

—David Willson

The Outside Lands by Hannah Kohler


Hannah Kohler’s The Outside Lands (St. Martin’s, 304 pp., $25.99, hardcover; $12.99, Kindle) is a work of fiction and a good-sized one. The cover shouts Vietnam War: a helmet lies like a turtle on its back with a poppy growing out of it. The helmet cover is in good shape and is not ripped or blood stained. There also is a peace symbol in the shape of a tennis ball, blue and white.

Hannah Kohler was raised in England. She studied English and American literature at Cambridge and began writing this Vietnam War novel while studying for her Masters in Creative Writing at City University, London.  Kohler lives in London with her American husband. The Outside Lands is her first published novel.

It is set in San Francisco in 1968. The main characters, a brother and sister—Jeannie and Kip—are “lost and half-orphaned, their mother dead under mysterious circumstances, and their father—a decorated WWII veteran—consumed by guilt.”

Kip joins up to go fight in Vietnam. Jeannie chooses an early marriage and motherhood. Kip is accused of fragging his CO and ends up in jail. Prior to that, he was assigned to artillery, which is described as “practically in the rear.” We’re told “war is not for everybody.”  No kidding.

Along the way, there are references to John Wayne, Audie Murphy, Al Capone, Buffalo Bill, Woody Strode, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, and Roy Orbison, as well as to Iwo Jima, Deadwood, and Seattle. Even “Gunsmoke” and “Bonanza” are mentioned. We’re told about friendly fire, that Marines don’t leave their dead behind, and the revolting nature of ham and motherfuckers.

I expected more anachronisms, but was happy they didn’t appear. Except for M16s. Did Marines have them in 1965? I believe it was more like 1967. I know that there were problems with them and many Marines lamented giving up their M14s.


Hannah Kohler

Kip ends up in Leavenworth in 1975. Jeannie watches the NVA takeover of Saigon on TV.  “They watched helicopters drag and fall into the ocean, their blades churning spray like smoke, their tadpole heads sinking in the water,” Kohler writes.

There are some truly unlikely coincidences and happenstances in this very literary novel that I won’t explore. The author thanks retired Marine Lt. Col. Ron Coulter, who helped with her research.

Hannah Kohler pursued a dream in writing this book.  A blurb on the back cover refers The Outside Lands as “‘an exhumed history’ of a misbegotten war.”

Aren’t all wars misbegotten?  They seem so to me.

—David Willson



Confessions of a Surviving Alien by Jon Meade


As a raconteur par excellence, Jon Meade possesses a huge but tolerable ego because his interactions with other people aim at betterment for all. In Confessions of a Surviving Alien: A Memoir of a Life Defined by One Word—Vietnam (Trafford, 504 pp. $39.99, hardcover; $25.95, paper; $6.99, Kindle), Meade presents a long, highly detailed account of his first fifty years of life, four with the Marine Corps that included a 1966-67 tour in Vietnam.

The middle half of the book deals with Meade’s time in the Marine Corps. In it, he talks about many events that were new to me, such as a USO Nancy Sinatra performance for his unit that turned into a riot; the life and death of a nine-year-old Vietnamese prostitute; and a Marine killing another Marine, practically in front of him. Meade clearly distinguishes between what he saw and hearsay.

Meade wanted infantry duty, but instead was sent to Vietnam as a welder with the Ninth Engineer Battalion near Chu Lai. He did get to be a perimeter guard, but never engaged in the higher level of combat that he desired.

A twist of fate made Meade an orderly for disfigured combat casualties. Concurrently, he learned that many of his boot camp comrades had been killed in their initial combat encounters. A realization that luck had kept him alive created life-long survival guilt.

He spent his final two Marine Corps years as a military policeman at Lemoore Naval Air Station in California. Stories from that period center on his determination, along with Vietnam veteran coworkers, to maintain discipline among sailors, frequently through intimidation or force. What he saw as unnecessarily harsh punishment for twelve of his fellow Marines for drug use shrouded his honorable discharge.

Growing up in Minneapolis with parents who acted unpredictably, Meade found excellent role models among relatives and friends. Most of the stories from his teenage years involve mental and physical confrontations between males with overabundant testosterone levels. He boxed and lifted weights and grew quick and strong for his age.


Jon Meade

A sort of controlled turmoil filled Meade’s post-Marine life: Marriage, journalism school, boxing, buying and selling houses, four children, separation from the woman he calls “MyWife,” changing jobs, a reunion with “MyWife,” Mr. Mom duties, divorce, more conflicts with “Ex-Wife,” many romances, good and bad jobs, absent-father guilt, minor roles in movies, and more romances, all amid commuting in California, Utah, and Minnesota.

Jon Meade offers more than his life story. He presents strong opinions about life and labor in an honest and orderly fashion. He also has a strong desire to help other people, despite the heavy demand required to help himself cope with guilt for living through the war.

All things considered, Jon Meade impresses me as a good guy to have on your side.

—Henry Zeybel

Duty Is Ours, Results Are God’s by Randall Jansen


Randall Jansen, the author of Duty Is Ours, Results Are God’s: A Marine’s Story of Duty and His Search For Truth (Tate, 189 pp., $12.95, paper: $10.99, Kindle), wanted to be a career Marine. In his book, Jansen succinctly tells his life story, including his belief that God’s plan for him included formal Bible study, theology, and becoming a Chaplain after his discharge.

Jansen’s transition from helicopter pilot to sky pilot began on April 29, 1966, when he was wounded near Chu Lai. On his 24th birthday, three days later, aboard the hospital ship U.S.S. Repose, a Navy doctor told him, “After surgery, you will have limited use of your arm, and your Marine career is finished.”

Jansen had joined the Marines in 1961 after deciding he was unprepared for college. He soon met his first Marine DI, who emphatically told him, Jansen writes, that “if I ever did anything again without permission he would jump onto my shoulders and unscrew my head. I was no longer in charge of myself.”

Having graduated from Marine Aviation Training and Officer Candidate School, Lt. Jansen’s first assignment was on the U.S.S. Donner for a six-months Mediterranean cruise. It included stops in Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Holland, France, and Greece. “I was having the time of my life,” Jansen writes. “I would have made the cruise for free.”

His next assignment took Jansen to the Caribbean on the helicopter carrier U.S.S. Guadalcanal for three months. His squadron spent six months in Okinawa before arriving in Da Nang in October 1965. The first thing Jansen saw was “an H-34 helicopter (the type I had spent the last twenty-two months flying) parked on the ramp. It was riddled by bullets. The instant I laid eyes on it, I knew without a doubt that I was going to be hurt.” He was correct.

In February 1966, Jansen received his first Purple Heart. Ten days later he was hit again while flying—and had another close call with death. If the bullet that hit him had been a “quarter of an inch front or back,” he writes, “it would have entered my right buttock and traveled through my heart and lungs.” Jansen credits God for the fact that the survived 248 missions in Vietnam.

He was wounded the last time soon after returning from R&R. That led to his discharge in 1970. As a civilian Jansen found himself incensed by the government, protesters, and the media. “My anger was eating me up,” he writes. “Finally I came to my senses and told the Lord that I forgave everyone. The lesson was simple. Forgive everybody for everything, because God forgave us much more.”

In his early forties, however, Jansen found himself out of work and “the peace and joy I had known most of my life was evaporating.” He began to question why there is evil in the world, and had deeper thoughts about truth, evolution, and the place of science in the origin of the universe.

He found his answers in his strong Christian beliefs.

—Curt Nelson