My Life, My Hell by Dan R. Vaughn, Jr.

Dan Vaughn of Chattanooga, Tennessee, was drafted into the Army in January of 1968 when he was 19 years old. After basic at Fort Campbell, he was shipped to Fort Dix for Infantry AIT and then to Fort Benning for more training. Vaughn arrived in Vietnam in August of 1968, serving a year with the 2nd Battalion/1st Infantry of the 196th Light Infantry Brigade.

It was an eventful year and one that Vaughn relates chronologically—and well—in My Life, My Hell: This Grunt’s Journey Back to the World (E-Book Time, 172 pp., $25.95). Vaughn—known to his buddies in Vietnam as “Dangerous Dan”—does a good job  illuminating the day-to-day life of an infantryman in Vietnam during the height of the war.

—Marc Leepson

Dead or Alive: Agent Orange by Mary Rincon

Any book with the words “Agent Orange” in the title gets my attention.  Mary Rincon’s Dead or Alive Agent Orange (PublishAmerica, 25 pp., $16.95, paper) grabbed me with the bright orange on the cover. Once that is said, there isn’t much to this odd little book other than sincerity about having lost a father, another one of those “distant” fathers.

I think this book was meant to be poetry, as the typography is uneven.  Rincon does delineate briefly the sickening results of AO exposure, and she says that her father died of small-cell cancer. The editing could be better, but the sense of grief and loss comes through, even on the pages that bring in UFO’s and the possibility that the author’s father was cloned and is not really dead.

This is a unique book, but most will find it beyond the pale.

—David Willson

The Brutality of War by Gene R. Dark

Gene R. Dark’s The Brutality of War: A Memoir of Vietnam (Pelican, 192 pp., $24.95) is a short but powerful memoir by the son of baseball great Alvin Dark. It’s a Fifth Marines memoir and Dark tells of his tour of duty as a platoon leader sergeant from July 1969 to July 1970 near An Hoa.

Better editing would have improved the narrative, but the honesty of the book saves it, especially Dark’s heart-rending comments about his distant relationship with his World War II veteran father. This is a worthy Marine Corps memoir, which I found compelling enough to read that I got through it in one sitting.

—David Willson

The Crooked Truth: Selected Poems by Dan Guenther

Dan Guenther was a Captain in the Marine Corps from 1968-1970, and has written a trilogy that draws from his Vietnam War tour. Several of the poems in The Crooked Truth:  Selected Poems (Redburn Press, 76 pp., $9.95, paper) come from that experience and are image-rich and accessible to a reader. He even includes an Agent Orange poem.

The last poem in the collection is a powerful one, “Crossing,” which is about the “dark weight” of that war that weighs many of us down.  My favorite poem is “Crop Circles,” in which the poet gives new life to the old cliché of the panhandling Vietnam veteran who works from a “curiosity made from old plywood and tiny wheels.”

There is no mawkish sentimentality anywhere in this little book because of Guenther’s plain-yet-elegant language. Dan Guenther remains one of the finest poets of the Vietnam War.

—David Willson

Cold War Burning by Darrell S. Mudd

Darrell S. Mudd’s Cold War Burning (PublishAmerica, 462 pp., $29.99) is billed as fiction but contains a lot of photos, which makes it look more like a memoir.  It includes a photo of the 16th green of the Dalat Palace Golf Course, which I enjoyed looking at, but could make no sense of.

I had trouble making heads or tails of this “adventure fiction.”  The back cover states that Mudd served on military assignments in Germany and Vietnam, and that this is his first novel.

—David Willson

How Can You Mend This Purple Heart by T. L. Gould

It’s hard to tell if How Can You Mend This Purple Heart by T. L. Gould (CreateSpace, 216 pp., $11.99, paper) is fiction or memoir as it is driven by a lot of invented dialogue dredged up from forty-year-old memories.

The author doesn’t tell us what it is. There is no clear statement that informs the reader of what branch of the military Gould served in or his time of service in Vietnam or if he served there.

Perhaps he served in the Navy. Perhaps he served from 1969 to 1970. Much of this book takes place in a U. S. Naval Hospital in Philadelphia, Ward 2 B. If you want to read a book dealing with life as a patient in a Naval hospital during the Viet Nam War, perhaps this is a book for you.

—David Willson

Sitting With Warrior by Carl Hitchens


Carl Hitchens tells his readers in Sitting With Warrior (iUniverse, 180 pp., $13.95, paper) that this book is a “work of personal memoir, myth and spirituality.” A member of Vietnam Veterans of America, Hitchens is a poet, storyteller, essayist, and blogger.

He served in the U.S. Marines, including a 1968-69 tour of duty in the Vietnam War with Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Marines in the 1st Marine Division. His book alternates prose chapters with poetry-like chapters.

That includes time at Hill 37, which is mentioned in this myth-heavy book. Hitchens describes the book as “my own recording of the Vietnam War, my survival, readjustment, and, most important, spiritual evolution for which Nam was a catalyst.”

In writing the book, he says, he “found a deeper understanding of myself and, surprisingly, a doorway into the psyche of those who fought and died, and that of the divided nation from which we came. While I started off (I thought) writing in my singular voice of experience, I discovered that I was to some extent writing in the collective voice of all combatants of war down through the ages. Along the way, I retrieved the part of myself left behind in the jungle and mountain terrain. This part was personified in the ‘young kid’ who had come with me to Vietnam.”

This a carefully edited and physically beautiful book, but much of it remains a mystery, and is enigmatic to this reader.

For more info, go to the author’s website.

—David Willson

Noble Warrior by James F. Livingston, Colin D. Heaton, and Anne-Marie Lewis

James E. Livingston received the Medal of Honor for his extreme courage and daring leadership under fire in late April of 1968 during a vicious three-day battle that raged in and around the village of Dai Do outside Dong Ha between the 320th NVA Division and two 4th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division battalions. Livingston, a 28-year-old Captain commanding Company E of the 2nd Battalion—along with G Co.’s CPT Jay Vargas—fearlessly led his men through long hours of constant action, including an assault on the NVA positions, despite being wounded three times. Vargas also received the MOH for his actions that day.

Livingston (above) recovered from his wounds, came back to Vietnam in 1975 to help plan and carry out Operation Frequent Wind (the final evacuation of Saigon), and retired from the Marine Crops as a Major General.

The bulk of Livingston’s book, Noble Warrior: The Story of Maj. Gen. James E. Livingston, USMC (Ret.), Medal of Honor (Zenith, 272 pp., $28), is a first-person account of the general’s life and war times. The book also contains his reflections on military service, war, and national security. There also are first-person, sidebar-like inserts from Marines who served with Livingston and Forewords from Marine Gens. Al Gray, Paul X. Kelley, and William Weise.

Livingston wrote the book with the help of former Marine Colin D. Heaton (a military historian who served under Livingston) and Anne-Marie Lewis.

—Marc Leepson

Bright Light by Stephen Perry

Stephen Perry and three of his buddies enlisted in the Army in November 1965. The plan was that the four California friends would go Special Forces on the buddy plan. They took basic at Fort Ord. But only Perry and Bert Merriman made it to Special Forces training school.

The training entailed combat engineer AIT at Fort Leonard Wood, jump school at Fort Benning and then the payoff: the JFK Center for Special Warfare at Fort Bragg. Merriman went to Vietnam, but Perry underwent more training at Fort Sam Houston, where he became a medical specialist, and at Fort Rucker. Perry then volunteered for the war zone. He landed in Vietnam in December 1967, was shipped up to Da Nang, and then assigned to the shadowy Special Operations Group (SOG) in Phu Bai.

“SOG was not officially part of the Special Forces operations in South East Asia, but Special Forces was used as a cover to shift highly trained insurgents into the top secret operations,” Perry writes in his revealing memoir, Bright Light: Untold Stories of the Top Secret War in Vietnam (Book Locker, 128 pp., $16.95, paper).

In the book, Perry recounts secret ops, including ones into North Vietnam, searching for downed U.S. pilots, and into Laos on intelligence-gathering missions. For more, including ordering info about an updated edition, go to the publisher’s website.

The author’s website is

—Marc Leepson

Luminous Base by Bruce Williams-Burden

Bruce Williams-Burden, a Navy Corpsman who volunteered to fly Medevacs in the Vietnam War, has written a tribute to his fellow Corpsmen, Luminous Base: Stories About Corpsmen and Helicopters, Courage, and Sacrifice (CreateSpace, 313 pp., $17.95, paper). The bulk of the book is made up of the stories of fifty-seven Medevac Corpsmen who were killed between 1962 and 2007 in Vietnam, Cambodia, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Most lost their lives in Vietnam. The author also includes a history of the Navy’s medical evacuation system and descriptions of helicopters used from 1962-2007.

Williams-Burden enlisted in the U.S. Navy in November 1966 and volunteered for Vietnam. He served a 1969-70 tour at the Danang Airbase in a dispensary and with a Rapid Response Security Platoon, and then flew Medevac helicopters with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadrons 364 and 263. Since 1986, he has been the Chief Physician Assistant in the Neurosurgical Service at the Seattle VA Medical Center.

—Marc Leepson