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

The Gomorrah Principle by Rick DeStefanis

Rick DeStefanis, a veteran of the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, dedicates The Gomorrah Principle (CreateSpace, 432 pp., $17.95, paper; $5.99, Kindle) to all veterans, especially the paratroops of the 173rd Airborne Brigade and the 82nd Airborne and 101st Airborne Divisions. The book is described as a “non-stop literary thrill ride. Stand back, Bob Lee Swagger.”  I’ve read all of the Swagger books, also about a legendary (fictional) Army sniper, so I was eager to find this thriller in the same league with the Swagger books.

The backwoods hero, Brady Nash, is notified that his boyhood friend, Duff Coleridge, has died in Vietnam under mysterious circumstances. Brady receives a letter that contains allegations that Duff was murdered and that a woman in South Vietnam, Lynn Dai Bouchet, knows how and why.

Brady Nash, who is characterized as “dumb as a brick,” “Country dumb,” and a “stupid hillbilly” by the villain, Jack Moxon, manages to join the Arm and become a Ranger. He gets sent to Vietnam to serve as a sniper, which led me to think that Nash was smarter than he looked.

Nash becomes a part of a special operations study and observation group, whose purpose is to go after VC cadre. This program is also called Phung Hoang, aka the Phoenix Program. Traps are set for Nash by Jack Moxon, who complains that Nash, that “stupid hillbilly, stumbled out of every trap set for him.”

When Nash arrives in Vietnam he gets orders for Headquarters Company, 173rd Airborne Brigade. He ends up at a firebase south of Ben Het in the Central Highlands near the Cambodian border where he serves from December 15, 1967, to January 28, 1968. Given than time frame, I figured that the book would show us Nash’s involvement in the Tet Offensive. I was not disappointed.

Rick DeStefanis

Moxon tells Nash that if we don’t stop the VC in Vietnam, we’ll be fighting them in California—in Santa Monica, no doubt. I won’t give away the ending, but there is a possibility of a sequel.

This thriller is well written and well plotted. It contains no clinkers or boring spots and it moves right along from start to finish.

I recommend it to those who have not had enough of reading sniper thrillers or books dealing with the 1968 Tet Offensive.

The author’s website is

—David Willson

Last Train Runnin by Ronnie D. Foster

Ronnie Foster sums up his opinion of the Vietnam War with words he attributes to his protagonist in his novel, Last Train Runnin (R.D. Foster, 415 pp.; $21.25, paper):

Oh the rich kids went to college

And the poor boys went to war.

They were soaking up the knowledge

Of beer and sex and cars.

We were shootin’ folks and dying,

Didn’t even know what for.

The rich kids went to college,

And the poor boys went to war.

Foster experienced his share of combat in Vietnam with the Marine Corps. In this novel of the 1960s, Foster tells his war story through the eyes of Everett Blalock, a Navy Corpsman with a serious case of fear. The young man was a renowned folk singer in Austin, Texas. After the wealthy parents of his sweetheart arranged for his induction into the Army through the draft, he enlisted in the Navy to avoid becoming an infantryman. That plan did not exactly work.

The story begins with Everett in bloody combat southwest of Da Nang. The sole survivor from an ambushed eight-man squad, he receives a Bronze Star and Purple Heart.

Thereafter, he watches many men die while he survives helicopter assaults, search and destroy missions, costly firefights, and rocket and mortar attacks. Homesick over his shattered relationship with his girlfriend, he writes songs—which are in the novel—about the good parts of life that he and the men around him are missing. Between battles, he teams up with a harmonica-playing sergeant and they create and perform music.

Alternating chapters present the life of David Duncan, an antiwar University of Texas rich kid in his sixth year of a college deferment. As a newspapers trainee, he receives an assignment to learn what became of Everett Blalock, who dropped out of sight after rock and roll took center stage from folk music. An out-of-control boozer and druggie, David staggers through a self-defeating series of life-changing events regarding protest, love, wealth, and war.

Ronnie Foster

His assignment takes him to Vietnam. The results of his quest and meeting with Everett have repercussions that extend decades beyond the end of the Vietnam War.

Along with writing books, Ronnie Foster has been a singer, songwriter, and musician since leaving the Corps. Foster’s One Day as a Lion is a tribute to twenty-one men from rural Collin County, Texas, who died in the Vietnam War.

Foster offers hundreds of pictures from Vietnam and a highly specialized brand of music and humor on his web at

—Henry Zeybel

The Funny Thing About War by Al Campo

Al Campo is a Vietnam veteran who served aboard the USS Lawrence from 1972-74 as a boatswains mate and operations specialist. The Funny Thing About War (Hellgate, 428 pp., $21.95, paper: $4.99, Kindle) is his first novel. The book, he says, “was a labor of love that took four decades to formulate and complete.”

A small number of books, Campo says, “exist regarding the Blue Water Navy’s activities in the conduct of the war.”  He is right about that. There aren’t many, and this is one of the most thorough and well-researched.

The novel is told through the eyes of an enlisted sailor, Chris Columbo. He was once in college on an ROTC scholarship, but left that behind due to a cataclysm in his love life. Now he’s in the Navy as an enlisted man to honor his ROTC obligation.

The Lawrence, a guided missile destroyer, takes part in Operations Lam Son and Linebacker off the coasts of North and South Vietnam. The ship is part of the effort to try to take Quang Tri Province back from the North Vietnamese Army.

We hear the Chi Lites singing “Oh Girl,” and we get a worm’s eye view of what liberty in Olongapo was like during the end of the American war in Vietnam when only about 15,000 troops were left in country. We witness the outbreak of crab lice aboard the ship due to the confiscation of bags of rice from the enemy, and hear a lot about movies that the sailors watch to stave off boredom, including Soldier Blue. As I read descriptions of meal after meal, I realized those sailors got fed about as well as we soldiers did at USARV headquarters at Long Binh where I was much earlier in the war.

This is late in the war, so there is a lot of racial stuff going on. Campo does a good job of showing us what that looked like.

No book about the Navy’s role in the Vietnam War is likely ever to give a reader a better idea of what the monotonous weeks on board ship were like.  “Re-arming, re-fueling, vert repping of food stores, helo details, motor whaleboat launches, firing missions, pot washing, deck mopping, pot scrubbing, toilet cleaning, mail calls, sweeper details, GQ drills, steering and casualty drills.”  We learn enough about those chores that we could all but step in and do them ourselves.

Al Campo

This book is especially concerned with getting things right, and the author does a fine job with that. Unlike countless other writers, Campo is the only Vietnam War novelist or memoirist who deals with Jane Fonda appropriately to the time and place. When he describes going to yet another movie, he writes, “They got some popcorn, grabbed a table, and spent the next hour and sixteen minutes ogling Jane Fonda playing a prostitute in the movie ‘Klute.’”

Campo has written a book that is 100 percent trustworthy in the details—and that is where truth resides. When he talks about “three square meals each day” and that the men could enjoy “the occasional hot shower,” you can trust that Campo got it right.

I highly recommend this novel to those who want to know what it was like to serve in the Navy off the cost of Vietnam during the dying days of the war. Have faith that no other veteran has taken the care that Campo has to get it right.

—David Willson

Le Havre: A Riveting Expose For Our World Today by Pierre Gerard

Pierre Gerard’s Le Havre: A Riveting Expose For Our World Today: The French Resistance in World War II: A Historical War Romance Novel (Merriam Press, 286 pp., $18.95) has been published posthumously. A Vietnam veteran, Pierre Gerard served in the U.S. Army in Soc Trang during his 1967-68 tour of duty.

His family has a distinguished military history. Gerard was raised an Air Force brat by his Strategic Air Command pilot father and French mother, a native of Le Havre. Those facts enrich his writing.

This historical novel follows dual protagonists, Ti-Jean Campion and Marie-Claude Le Goff, life-long citizens of the French seaport Le Havre, which was occupied from 1940-45 by the Germans during World War II. At the start of the war, French citizens in this idyllic seaside city had fresh memories of the defeat of Germany in World War I.

“The lifestyle of Le Havre’s local population, for the most part, remained the same,” Gerard writes. “Ration cards, breadlines, and the Marche’ noir, or black market, were thus far not harsh realities of life.” They reasoned “maybe the Germans were not so bad. Maybe we could live in peace with them during the occupation of the city.”

Things soon changed. The two young protagonists are consumed with their love for each other—and with preserving free France, along with fellow Resistance fighters, Les Chevalier du Normandy. They often meet at Le Chat Noir,The Black Cat, planning strategy and sipping espresso and in their more-secluded safe house away from Gestapo prying eyes.

This suspense-filled story alternates between 1999 and the years of occupation with vivid descriptions of Le Havre in war and peace. Such as: “Ti-Jean continued to walk toward the end of the walkway. The sun began to show through the puffy, white clouds turning the brown sandy beach into an artist’s palette of oranges, reds, and blues mixed with the rainbow of colors of the latest designer swimwear.”
And: ” The two lovers gradually drifted off to a dreamless sleep, leaving the phantasmagoric world they existed in behind for a better place without threat or harm. Marie-Claude closed her eyes tightly and tenderly touched her lover’s face with her graceful fingers.”

The German invaders ruthlessly took homes and food and any creature comforts they desired from the citizens of Le Havre. German officer, sipping brandy and looking out the bay window at a beautiful villa shouted at his aide, ” I want that villa by the end of the cliff to be appropriated: evict the family living there.”

The German Navy moved a U-Boat into the city harbor and covered it with camouflage, protecting it from possible deconstruction by allied bombers. The Resistance had to find out what surprise the U-Boat Captain was planning. The fate of the harbor city of Le Havre— and perhaps all of Europe—hinged on the what lay hidden in the hold of the German U-Boat.

This novel is magnificent and tragic. Ce roman est magnifique et tragique.

—Curt Nelson

U.S. Army Psychiatry in the Vietnam War by Norman M. Camp

Very few aspects of the American war in Vietnam have not come under the microscope in books, magazine articles, scholarly journals, blog posts—or any other medium. One part of the war that has seen little light in the last four decades, though, is the U.S. military’s on-the-ground psychiatric treatment of the troops.

That situation has been rectified, though, with retired Army Col. Norman M. Camp’s  U.S. Army Psychiatry in the Vietnam War: New Challenges in Extended Counterinsurgency Warfare (Bordon Institute, Department of the Army, 558 pp., $75). This book is no less than the exhaustive, definitive look at that part of the war put together by Dr. Camp, a psychiatrist who served as the CO of the 98th Neuropsychiatric Detachment in Vietnam in 1970-71.

As Dr. Camp shows, the military did a decent job of providing psychological help for the troops in the field. The Army alone sent 135 psychiatrists to the war zone. But as the war dragged on and morale and discipline plunged, too many troops suffered psychiatric and behavioral problems.

As Dr. Camp puts it in the book—the first official history of Army psychiatric and behavior problems in Vietnam—“The U.S. military ultimately sustained a debilitating psychosocial crisis in Vietnam that, in addition to its humanitarian costs, jeopardized combat readiness.”

Dr. Norman Camp, MD

This worthy book is a long, detailed history of military psychiatry in the Vietnam War. In it, Dr. Camp uses many sources, including the words of psychiatrists themselves, his own experiences, official records, and the testimony of other mental health personnel who served in the war.

An Associate Clinical Professor in the Psychiatry Department at the Medical College of Virginia, Norman Camp also offers a concise history of America’s participation in the Vietnam War, emphasizing the psychosocial impact of the war during its early and later stages.

—Marc Leepson

Content With My Wages by Gregory H. Murry

A Bill Mauldin Second World War cartoon has Willie telling Joe: “You’ll get over it, Joe. Oncet I was gonna write a book exposin’ the army after th’ war myself.”

Retired Army Master Sergeant Gregory H. Murry must have recognized a challenge, along with the humor, in the cartoon because he includes it in Content With My Wages: A Sergeant’s Story: Book I—Vietnam (No End to Publishing, 355 pp.; $20, paper; $15.00 Kindle), his memoir and cleverly constructed analysis of military leaders of the 1960s.

A 1st Infantry Division grunt during his 1966-67 Vietnam War tour of duty, Murry intersperses his life story with history lessons. Having served in Germany prior to going to Vietnam, he is worldly to military ways, but also is honest enough to reveal his moments of naivety. Although parts of the book sound familiar, Murry delivers something original even in oft-told tales such as the rigors of being an FNG.

The Big Red One’s basic assignment was road clearance, but its commanders preferred search and destroy missions. They aimed to win a war of attrition through the use of superior firepower. To them, American soldiers basically were bait to attract large numbers of VC into range to be shelled and bombed.

“We made a company sized combat air-assault and walked around through the bush looking for Charlie,” Murry says, a sentence that perfectly summarizes his first three months with the division. “I spent the night of my 21st birthday on ambush patrol, and I remember being pretty proud of myself for living so long.”

Basically, Murry’s company of the Big Red One’s 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment searched until they were ambushed. Taking part in a continuous string of operations—Attleboro, Healdsburg, Santa Cruz, and others—he describes near misses and many casualties from booby traps and friendly fire. Mainly the infantrymen found and destroyed tons of rice and other VC supplies. After seven months, Murry fought in his “first serious combat” at the Battle of Ap Gu, which he describes as “one of the most lopsided victories” of the war.

After living in the bush for more than two months, Murry’s battalion received its commander’s praise for breaking “the USARV record for continuous time in the field,” a commendation received with muttered curses from the men. The next time he spoke to his men, the commander told them of another record: “This battalion has the highest venereal disease rate in the entire 1st Infantry Division.”

After a moment of dead quiet, the men broke out in cheers and laughter. This time the colonel ended up cursing them out. Dichotomies such as these typify relationships between enlisted men and officers throughout the book.

Murry’s accounts of two battles should be mandatory reading for all infantrymen. The first—the Battle of Bong Trang—took place shortly before he arrived in-country. He explains that by discouraging candor, commanders turned a loss into a media victory. Murry compares what had been accepted as the final word at the time with the latest information based on new interviews, previously overlooked after action reports, and additional information he uncovered.

Murry took part in the second battle—Xom Bo II during Operation Billings. From a forty-two man platoon, he was one of only eight fit for duty after the fight. He analytically reconstructs the battle and determines that, despite heavy losses, commanders ignored findings that dictated changes in tactics.

Confession in the form of telling the truth is the bedrock of Murry’s intellect. He concludes that the military leaders in Vietnam were hampered by Second World War thinking because the highest-ranking officers had gained their combat or staff experience in that war. They expected prolonged battles, whereas NVA leaders chose to hit and run.

Greg Murry back in the day

Murry cites a post-war confession from Big Red One commander, Gen. William E. DePuy: “I was surprised about the difficulty we had in finding the VC.” And: “They controlled the battle better.” And: “They were the ones who usually decided whether or not there would be a fight.”

DuPuy’ successor Gen. John H. Hay, Jr. worried that “as our leaders rotate, our battle-won wisdom shrinks.” He solved the problem by simply re-emphasizing search and destroy tactics.

A long Appendix titled “Stilwell, DePuy, and the Vietnam War” closes the book. In it, Murry traces the career intersections of Richard Stilwell and DePuy with that of William Westmoreland. The facts are fascinating. The three generals strongly advocated attrition strategy and search and destroy tactics.

DePuy in particular must “take as much responsibility for losing the war as anyone,” Murry says. After the war, under the aegis of Army Chief of Staff Westmoreland, the careers of Stilwell and DuPuy flourished. While reading all of this, one can almost hear Murry scratching his head in wonderment.

Content With My Wages is a young grunt’s view of the Vietnam War as refracted years later through the eyes of a scholar with deep-seated morality.Greg Murry provides hundreds of end notes, an extensive bibliography, and ten pages of photographs.

This is the first of a project trilogy. Book II will cover his role in the war on drugs. Book III will deal with his military activities in Afghanistan.

—Henry Zeybel

Shell Shock by Steve Stahl

Former UCLA and Stanford University psychiatry professor Stephen Stahl is an expert on PTSD. The hero of his novel, Shell Shock (Harley House Press, 448 pp., $17.95, paper; $5.99, Kindle), Dr. Gus Conrad, discover a covert “diabolical” military faction called The Patrons of Perseus, which was “formed during the First World War to celebrate heroism and eliminate cowardice.” The novel deals with Conrad’s attempt to fight the evil Patrons.

Blurbs compare this novel—a thriller—to those of David Balacci, Stephen Hunter, Dan Brown, and Lee Child. Having read thrillers by all of those authors, I agree. A book of this sort needs diabolical bad guys, and there are plenty.

Shell Shock covers events going back a century. World War I gets most of the attention, but recent wars also are given their due, including the Vietnam War. We get Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen as characters, with long conversations between them and a fictional character. I enjoyed reading those bits quite a lot. These conversations are set in remote Scotland at Craiglockhart, where the men were taken after being diagnosed with shell shock, the WWI term for what is known today as post-traumatic stress disorder.

Steve Stahl

We read justifications of why shell shock, battle fatigue (the World War II term), and PTSD have been demonized by the military. It’s because, Stahl writes, they are “diverting resources for weapons to psychiatric care and pensions for those injured with PTSD by these wars.”

We’re told that a ploy of claiming the men had “pre-existing moral deficiencies” would discredit these men and save a lot of money.

There’s a lot of serious stuff going on in this thriller. But there also is plenty of action to hold the interest of a reader. I recommend it to those who want to read a thriller dealing in a serious way with PTSD. The author’s website is

—David Willson