Dear Kara by Paul Giannone

Paul Giannone joined the U.S. Army and served two tours in Vietnam (1969-70) as a Public Health Advisor. Giannone’s service in the war is at the heart of his well-written memoir, Dear Kara: One Man’s Journey From War to War (Dream Catcher Publishing, 269 pp., $19.95, paper). The book is dedicated to Giannone’s daughter Kara, who was born in 1993.

Giannone today is the deputy director of Global Disease Detection and Emergency Response in the Center for Global Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. In his book, he also recounts his work after the war as an emergency responder and public health specialist in places such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sudan, Albania, and Iran.

As our colleague Bernie Edelman notes on the book’s back cover: “Dear Kara is a sometimes searing, often poignant and always engaging collection of stories and incidents from Paul Giannone’s ongoing journey to such garden spots as war-ravaged Vietnam, barren Sudan, hopeless Albania and revolutionary Iran to make the world just a little better place, a world in which the real heroes go unsung and the enemy, often, is us.”

—Marc Leepson

US MACV-SOG Reconnaissance Team in Vietnam by Gordon L. Rottman

Gordon L Rottman served in the 5th Special Forces Group in Vietnam in 1969-70, and then went on to make the Army his career. Rottman published his first military history book in 1984, and has been producing prodigiously since then. He has written fifty books for Osprey, the British military publisher.

Rottman’s latest is US MACV-SOG Reconnaissance Team in Vietnam (Osprey, 64 pp., $18.95, paper), the 159th in Osprey’s “Warrior” series. These are heavily illustrated, concise books that are filled with photographs and drawings (in this case by Brian Delf) primarily of weapons and equipment.

Rottman looks at MACV-SOG’s covert recon cross-border operations in Laos, Cambodia, North Vietnam, as well as those in South Vietnam. Those missions mainly included keeping track of American POWs and MIAs (Operation Bright Light), training and sending undercover Vietnamese teams into North VIetnam, and so-called “black” and “gray” psychological ops in the North.

—Marc Leepson


The Quiet Professional by Alan Hoe

Alan Hoe, a retired British Army Special Forces soldier, was a close friend of  U.S. Army Special Forces Maj. Richard J. “Dick” Meadows. Hoe’s latest book, The Quiet Professional: Major Richard J. Meadows of the U.S. Army Special Forces (University of Kentucky, 253 pp., $29.95) is a tribute to his former friend and brother in arms.

This book, which Dick Meadows asked Hoe to write, contains lots of first-person testimony from Meadows, who enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1947 when he was fifteen. He went Airborne and served in Korea with the 187th Regimental Combat Team. Meadows, at age of twenty, became the youngest Master Sergeant of the Korean War.

After Korea, he volunteered for the newly formed Green Berets, where Meadows wound up serving for more than two decades, receiving a battlefield commission in the process. That included more than three years’ service in Vietnam with the Vietnam Studies and Observation Group, the famed clandestine MACV-SOG operation.

Among many other things in Vietnam, Meadows led the first Bright Light mission attempting to rescue a downed U.S. pilot inside North Vietnam. He later went on to help plan and lead the ground assault team of the abortive Son Tay Prison Raid that went after American POWs.

Hoe (not to be confused with VVA member Alan Hoe of Hawaii, who did the Keynote Speech at the 2005 National Convention) also goes over Meadows’s many activities after the Vietnam War, including working undercover after he retired from the Army to help free the American hostages held by Iran and setting up a security business in Peru.

—Marc Leepson

The Last Boarding Party by Clayton K.S. Chun

In recent months Books in Brief has run reviews of two new books about the Magayguez Incident: The 24-Hour War by James E. Wise, Jr. and Scott Baron, and The Mayaquez Incident by Robert J. Mahoney. Now comes The Last Boarding Party: The USMC and the SS Mayaguez, 1975 (Osprey, 80 pp., $18.95, paper) by Clayton K.S. Chun, an instructor at the U.S. Army War College at Carlisle Barracks in Pennsylvania.

As is the case with other Osprey books, this is a concise account of a military engagement that includes many photographs, maps, charts, and illustrations. Chun provides a clearly written narrative that goes over the details of the combined air, naval, and Marine operations that took placer after the Khmer Rouge seized the S.S. Mayaguez, an American merchant ship, and its crew in international waters on May 12, 1975. He concludes that the operation, which was not without significant mishaps, was a success.

American military forces, Chun says, “demonstrated their ability to conduct a rapid-response mission. Adaptive, creative leadership, along with valor, turned a potential disaster at Koh Tang [Island] into a successful evacuation. All services involved showed an ability to work out problems in spite of conflicting directives caused by higher officials unaware of the full situation.”

The mission “proved a success,” Chun says, “but the loss of personnel and equipment was costly.”

—Marc Leepson

When the War Never Ends by Leah Wizelman

Leah Wizelman, a biologist and researcher at the Technical University of Munich in Germany, specializes in the psycho physiological aspects of post-traumatic stress disorder. In her new book, When the War Never Ends: The Voices of Military Members with PTSD and Their Families (Rowman & Littlefield, 176 pp., $32), Wizelman presents thirty-two of these voices: short, first person accounts by veterans from the United States, Canada, Australia, and Germany who have PTSD. The voices also include several spouses of the veterans.

Several of the veterans served in the Vietnam War. All describe in intimate (and sometimes painful) detail the effects of PTSD on their daily lives.

“Talking to a therapist seems to be helping,” says one Vietnam War Marine Corps veteran, “also being on an antidepressant called Fluoxetine. As for my family, the best support they can give me is to be there for me and to try to understand. I hope to get my life back.”

—Marc Leepson

The Drop by Michael Connelly

I have been a big, big fan of Michael Connelly’s best-selling Harry Bosch detective procedural novels since the first one, the Edgar-Award-winning The Black Echo, burst on the scene in 1992. Bosch is an LAPD detective whose service as a tunnel rat in the Vietnam War is never far from his consciousness. That’s especially true in The Black Echo, in which Bosch finds the body of a war buddy in a storm drain and spends too much time underground dealing with present-day criminals and war-time demons.

There are fewer flashbacks and references to Bosch’s Vietnam War tour of duty in the subsequent books. But the war nevertheless is a part of Harry Bosch. Connelly, a former Los Angeles Times police reporter, always includes at least one or two mentions of Bosch’s tunnel rat days in each of the compulsively readable Bosch novels, which he also fills with clever plot twists as Bosch uses his brains and experience to ferret out murderers and other bad people. The novels all contain dark moments for Bosch and those near and dear to him. He always prevails, but often at great personal and psychic cost.

In the latest, The Drop (Little Brown, 388 pp., $27.99), Connelly is at the top of his game. The writing is crisp. The words and actions flow. The plots—there are two main ones—are believable and compelling. Bosch is at the center in all of his conflicted glory. He’s grumpy but kind; he’s a rule breaker but an ethical straight shooter; he loves the company of women but specializes in disastrous relationships with the opposite sex. And he is one hell of a murder detective.

The plots involve a cold-case murder of a young woman and the death of the son of a Los Angeles City Councilman. Bosch faces his usual hurdles with politically motivated superiors, some less-than-sterling cops, and a handful of ruthless evildoers.

His war experiences come into play only twice, and only briefly. But both are telling. In one scene, involving a woman he is dating, he undergoes a strong sense memory of rotting fish from his tunnel rat days. In the other he has a flashback to the tunnels after making a gruesome discovery as he’s investigating a mass murderer/child molester.

Bosch “closed his eyes and remembered another time when he was in a place of death,” Connelly writes, “huddled in a tunnel and far from home. He was really just a boy then and he was scared and trying to control his breathing. That was the key. Control your breathing.”

If you want a gritty, entertaining, rapid-reading detective novel, you cannot go wrong with The Drop—or, for that matter with any of the other sixteen Harry Bosch novels, going back to The Black Echo.

—Marc Leepson

Loveless in the Nam by Jim Boersema

Jim Boersema was drafted into the U. S. Army after graduating from Michigan State University with a degree in journalism. He served in various countries over a period of years, including as in infantryman in Vietnam. His novel Loveless in the Nam (Dorrance Publishing Co., 216 pp., $23, paper) tells the story of Frank Loveless and his service in the Vietnam War as a 2nd Lieutenant.

Lt. Frank Loveless is a modern Harry Flashman, who was made famous in a long series of popular novels written by the great George MacDonald Fraser. It was inevitable that eventually an author with the right credentials and talents would come along and give the Flashman treatment to the Dirty Little War I took part in.

I am glad that I lived long enough to get to read this comic masterpiece about the combat adventures of our anti-hero, Lt. Loveless, a craven coward and a womanizer who always lands on his feet. He comes out of every situation, no matter how dire, smelling like a rose and being awarded yet another medal.

This book was a delight to read, and I highly recommend it to every reader who is tired of sober, serious, and often boring accounts, whether fiction or memoir, that claim that America really did win that war, and that we stopped the spread of worldwide communism.

Loveless, who has “a reputation as a fearless, gung-ho soldier with a lucky star over his head,” actually enters every risky battle situation with his “insides quaking with dread” and is often so scared he wets his pants.  “Vietnam showed me that it’s not who a man is, but who he appears to be that counts,” our hero ruminates.

I came home from Vietnam having learned that same lesson. Frank Loveless is my kind of hero, and I am eager for the next book in this series.  I hope Boersema cranks it out fast.

—David Willson