1966: The Year of the Horse by Robert K. Powers

Bob Powers, who was born and brought up in Chicago, tried to join the Army Reserves in September of 1965. He was working as a newly minted journeyman electrician with a newly bestowed 1A draft classification. “I had a new 421 Pontiac Bonneville coupe and a Corvette powered cherry ’56 Chevy,” he writes in 1966: The Year of the Horse (Dog Ear Publishing, 215 pp., $14.95, paper), his war memoir. “I loved muscle cars and drag racing. My love life was great and my future was looking good.”

Powers’s future did not look so good after he failed the Army Reserve physical—and it looked much worse when his draft notice came in January of 1966. Strangely, Powers passed his draft induction physical, and was inducted into the Army on March 30. Then came Basic Training at Fort Polk in Louisiana, followed by Infantry AIT at Polk’s infamous Tigerland, and then the inevitable assignment to Vietnam.

Powers put in an eventful nine months with the 1st Cavalry Division’s 5th Battalion, 7th Cavalry in the Central Highlands. His tour of duty was cut short after he was severely wounded following a day of humping the boonies when a trip wire booby trap went off as Powers and his unit were waiting for a helicopter.

“All of a sudden there was a tremendous explosion to my right,” Powers writes. “It felt like I had been hit in the head with a rifle butt. My ears were ringing and there was dirt everywhere. I slipped my left arm out of the straps on my rucksack and I went to do the right and I couldn’t move my arm. I extended my left arm across my chest and my hand into my right armpit and I could feel a large wet hole in my back. My hand was covered with blood.”

Powers was medevaced out and operated on at the 15th Medical at LZ English. He recovered at the 85th Evac Hospital in Qui Nhon, the 7th Field Hospital in Japan, at Clark Air Force Base Hospital in the Philippines, and at Ireland Army Hospital at Fort Knox.

His readable memoir, filled with much reconstructed dialogue, is told chronologically, beginning with Powers’ Army Reserve physical and ending with his honorable discharge in March 1968.

The author’s website is www.1966theyearofthehorse.com

—Marc Leepson