The 9th Infantry Division in Vietnam by Ira A. Hunt, Jr.

Retired Army Major Gen. Ira A. Hunt, Jr.’s The 9th Infantry Division in Vietnam: Unparalleled and Unequaled (University of Kentucky Press, 195 pp., $35) is a by-the-numbers look at the only U.S. Army infantry division that was activated and trained stateside specifically to fight in Vietnam. Gen. Hunt served as the 9th’s Chief of Staff and as a brigade commander in Vietnam, and later (1973-75) was the U.S. Support Activities Group (USSAG) Deputy Commander in Vietnam.

The 9th arrived in Vietnam in February of 1967 and fought there—primarily in the Mekong Delta—until the division pulled out in July of 1969. Gen. Hunt says that the Division accomplished its mission of denying the enemy “access to the resources of the region [the Delta] and to improve security, to make possible the political and social aspects of the [government of South Vietnam’s] pacification program.”

Gen. Hunt makes great use of numbers in the narrative, which goes into detail on strategy and tactics. During the war that number crunching revolved around what later became known as the body count.

One detailed chart at the end of the book, for example, provides  month-by-month numbers from February 1967 to July 1969 of enemy KIAs, POWs, Hoi Chanh, and “total losses,” along with American KIAs, WIAs, and “total casualities.” The chart also offers ratios of enemy KIAs versus U.S. KIAs and total enemy losses versus total U.S. casualties.

According to that chart, the 9th Division accounted for 31,135 enemy KIAs during that period versus 1,869 U.S. KIAs, a 16.7 to 1 ratio.

—Marc Leepson

In the Company of Marines by James O. Finnegan

Jim Finnegan was a married father of five and a newly minted medical doctor in 1967 when he joined the Navy. “My only thought was that I had acquired medical and surgical skills that could help those who were wounded in combat,” Finnegan says in his short, readable Vietnam War memoir, In the Company of Marines: A Surgeon Remembers Vietnam (, 181 pp., $11.08, paper).

Finnegan spent one year in Vietnam. For the last four months of 1967 he worked at the Dong Ha combat base “caring for Marine casualties and ducking fairly regular but light incoming artillery fire.” From January through April of 1968, during Tet, he was the commanding officer of a surgical team looking after some 2,500 Marines at Khe Sanh during the infamous siege.

Dr. Finnegan’s website is

—Marc Leepson

U.S. Army Helicopter Names in Vietnam by John Brennan

Back in 2009, we received an email from John Brennan, who served as a Flight Operations Coordinator with the Army’s 114th Assault Helicopter Company in Vietnam. Brennan asked us for help with a big project he was working on: a compilation of the names that Army troops bestowed on their helicopters in the Vietnam War. We did our part by posting an author’s query for him on our Arts of War on the Web site.

That project has come to fruition with Brennan’s new book, U.S. Army Helicopter Names in Vietnam (Hellgate Press, 418 pp., $29.95, paper). Brennan, who has served as the 114th AHC Association’s unit historian,searched far and wide and has come up with lists of names (by name and by unit number) of some 3,000 in-country Army helicopters that flew in Southeast Asia from 1961-73. Listings contain as much info as Brennan could ferret out, including the helicopter’s unit and details on where and when it flew and the names of its crew members.

Among the most popular names: Avenger; Bad News; Blood, Sweat + Tears; Cheap Thrills; Easy Rider; Foxy Lady; Grim Reaper; Iron Butterfly; Magnet Ass; Patches; Proud Mary; Roadrunner; Sat Cong; Snoopy; Suzie Q; Triple Nickel; War Wagon; Widow Maker; Wild Child; Wild Thing; and Witchdoctor.

A few others that stood out: Grace Slick, Nixon’s Withdrawal, Think Snow, and VC Birth Control.

The book is illustrated with 40 in-country photographs.
—Marc Leepson

First a Torch by Richard Baker


First a Torch by Richard Baker (Ink and Lens, Ltd.,  488 pp., $22, paper) is
a novel of the defeat of the French at Dien Bien Phu in 1954. This large book reminds this reader of great American novels of sweep and scope by the likes of John Dos Passos and James Jones. But it is more than that.

It is a panoramic novel that carefully and thoroughly introduces us to the several characters that we will meet much later at Dien Bien Phu, and there will be surprises I won’t spoil. By the time we meet these characters again, we know them and care about them, so we will be hit hard by the high cost of war.

Richard Baker served in the Army in Vietnam with the 4th Infantry Division Band, and was twice wounded while on patrol. Baker today lives part-time in Hanoi, which contributes to the remarkably even-handedness with which he portrays the other side, the Viet Minh.

I’ve read many books on the Battle of Dien Bien Phu and this fine novel ranks at the top of the heap. Baker has done his research and created flesh and blood characters who cause us to keep turning the pages in this blockbuster of a novel.

—David Willson

More Bang for No Bucks by Colin Campbell

The blurb on the cover of Colin Campbell’s slender More Bang for No Bucks (Camp Bell Press, 93 pp., $13.50, paper) by Colin Campbell tells it all:  “A unique story of Australian soldiers in six U. S. Army self-propelled M 108 Howitzers in Vietnam.”

The book contains history, personal accounts, and lots of excellent photographs, diagrams, and maps, as well as a glossary and thorough endnotes and a list of sources.  If this subject is of interest to you, order this book.

Colin Campbell was a troop commander in Vietnam in 1967-68 and served in the Australian Army for thirty years, retiring as a colonel.

For more info, including how to order in the USA, go to the author’s website.

—David Willson

Phantom Letters by Gary K. Thrasher

Gary K. Thrasher flew F-4’s for the U.S. Air Force’s 389th Tactical Fighter Squadron, from 1966-68, as a 25-year-old Lieutenant. He tells his story in Phantom Letters: A War Story, A Love Story (Longdon St. Press, 314 pp., $14.95, paper) effectively in alternating chapters of letters home to his wife and chapters of recollections of his missions.

Thrasher does a great job of communicating the pain of being separated from his wife and son and also held this reader’s interest when he related the blood-and-guts details of his flying missions and the considerable risks of flying the F-4 over North Vietnam. There are also memories related of the high-jinks the flyers indulged in between missions to let off steam.

This book is as close as I need to get to being behind the gunsight of a fighter. Well-written, well-told memoir with great photographs.

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

—David Willson

The Killer is Dying by James Sallis

In The Killer is Dying (Walker and Company, 240 pp., $24) James Sallis, a master novelist of suspense and mystery, has given us a novel in which the Vietnam War is integral, but that connection has not been mentioned in the many reviews that I have read.

The killer of the title is a professional assasin who is a Vietnam veteran apparently dying of Agent Orange-connected cancer. There are many realistic hospital scenes familiar to me from my time in oncology wards in VA hospitals.

There are also fine scenes of our killer (nicknamed “Christian” during his tour of duty) in Vietnam.  “Sometimes he is there again, with the field burning around him, trees at the perimeter igniting one by one, flaring up like birthday candles. Sometimes he hears the pop-pop-pop of rifles in the distance set against the whoosh of trees igniting, sometimes it all takes place in silence.”

This taut and tense novel is a game of cat and mouse between the detectives trying to find Christian before he kills again and Christian, the killer. I have found no evidence that Sallis (left) is a military veteran of any kind, but he has done his homework. If you have read no books by this great American writer, this is a great starting point.

—David Willson

A Homeless Man’s Burden by Wesley Murphey

A Homeless Man’s Burden (Lost Creek Books, 306 pp., $15.95, paper) is a conservative Christian mystery novel by Wesley Murphey, a Navy submarine veteran who served from 1975-79.

A homeless man dies under an Oregon bridge, his death witnessed by Shane Coleman, a fur trapper. This death and the homeless man’s confession motivates Coleman to investigate the 1960 bean field murder of nine-year-old Ellen Brock. Coleman’s search for the truth introduces the reader to a shattered Vietnam War veteran who took part in the My Lai Massacre, and to characters who assure us that American troops didn’t win the war “because our government wouldn’t let then win the war.”

They also tell us that “the media undermined everything they tried to do over there.”  Further we are told that “You can’t win a war when the media is allowed free access to the battlefield.”

I believe that history puts the lie to that assertion. No mention is made of the resolve and dedication of our Asian enemies defending their country against forces they considered to be interlopers.

The plot also involves a veteran who dies from Agent Orange-related cancer.  “Vietnam finally got him.”  Booby traps, tunnel complexes, and bloody shoot-outs also occur. I was relieved when the unbalanced Vietnam vet character was not the evil doer in the death of the little girl.

This mystery successfully evokes the Oregon backwoods and the people who choose to live there. If you wish to read a Vietnam War-related mystery written by a non-Vietnam War veteran, I recommend starting with The Killer is Dying by James Sallis. This is Murphey’s first mystery novel.

—David Willson

Empty Tubes and Back Seat Memories by Russ Warriner

Russell Warriner does a good job to telling his Vietnam War story with much reconstructed dialogue in his memoir, Empty Tubes and Back Seat Memories: A Life Changing Experience (Outskirts Press, 362 pp., $16.95, paper). Warriner joined the Army in 1967, had Basic at Fort Gordon and AIT in aviation mechanics at Fort Rucker. He went on to put in an eighteen-month tour in Vietnam as a crew chief and door gunner on a rocket-equipped Huey with an Army Aerial Rocket Artillery battery in the 2nd Battalion, 20th Artillery of the 1st Cavalry Division.

That eventful tour took its emotional toll. “Vietnam,” he says, “had different effects on everyone who served there. I do not believe that anyone who served in Vietnam completely escaped the effects of Vietnam. It did not matter who you were or what rank you held. I believe that no two people came away affected in exactly the same way, although in many ways, they are all similar. In any war, the effects can last forever.

For more info on the book, and the Blue Max ARA Association, which Warriner, a VVA member, founded, go to the author’s website.

—Marc Leepson

Keeping the Promise by Donna E. Elliott

Former military photojournalist Donna E. Elliott does an effective job of telling the story of—and paying tribute to—her brother Jerry Elliott, who is still listed as Missing in Action in the Vietnam War, in Keeping the Promise: The Story of MIA Jerry Elliott, a Family Shattered by His Disappearance, and His Sister’s 40-Year Search for the Truth (Hellgate Press, 320 pp., $21.95, paper). As the subtitle notes, the book also includes a first-person account of Donna Elliott’s quest to get a full accounting of her brother’s fate.

Jerry Elliott joined the Army in July of 1966, forgoing his senior year in high school to do so. After Basic at Fort Polk and Infantry AIT at Fort Gordon, he volunteered for the Airborne and took jump training at Fort Benning. He and his fellow 268th Pathfinder Detachment arrived in Vietnam in May of 1967.

On January 21, 1968, Elliott was a door gunner on a 282nd Army Helicopter Company gunship on a mission supporting the Siege at Khe Sanh when he saw the lead helicopter go down. He jumped from his gunner’s seat to try to save the crew and never was heard from again.

Donna Elliott with her son and grandsons

Donna Elliott has dedicated herself to trying to find out what happened to her brother. “January 21, 1968, I would never forget this date,” she writes of the day her family learned that her brother was missing in action. “A knock on the door had changed our lives forever. Even when the Army found Jerry, things would never be the same. We now realized the harsh realities of war could reach out and touch anyone, at any time, in any place. As long as he remained in Vietnam, Jerry would never be safe; we needed him to come back home.”

—Marc Leepson