The Last Man Home by Susan Preiss Martin

Susan Preiss Martin’s The Last Man Home (CreateSpace, 94 pp., $11.95, paper) deals with the mysteries surrounding the death of a Special Forces soldier, Staff Sergeant Robert F. Preiss, Jr. The author is SSGT Preiss’s sister. Susan Preiss Martin tells us that she is not an author or a writer, but a story teller. She does have a story to tell. 

Bobby Preiss was deployed to South Vietnam for his first tour of duty December 1966. His sister tells us that Preiss was a high school dropout and a small town troublemaker who was given that classic option by a judge: jail or the Army.  In those days the Army needed cannon fodder, so Preiss went into the Army. Preiss did well in the Army, responding particularly well to the training and the discipline.

He didn’t do so well when he returned to civilian life, so he re-upped without losing his rank because he had been out of the Army less than a year. The last letter Bobby Preiss wrote to his mother was received on May 9, 1970.  In it, Bobby Preiss reminded his mother he had just six months left to serve in South Vietnam. He had just returned from an R&R in Australia. 

“He wished his mother a Happy Mother’s Day and that was that,” Martin writes. 

The family wanted to know more about had happened to Bobby Preiss. His status had started out as MIA, but it was then changed to KIA. The author says, “We knew we would never find out the truth.”

General Westmoreland took time from his tennis game to write the Preiss family. “Perhaps you may find some measure of comfort in knowing that he served his nation with courage and honor at a time of great need,” the General wrote. 

Both of SSGT Preiss’ parents died without knowing the details of their son’s death. His mother died of a broken heart, Martin says, half thinking that her boy was wandering lost in Southeast Asia. His father died bitter and angry about the lies the Army told him.

Bobby Priess’s siblings kept up the fight to learn the truth about his death, and also demanded that the government retrieve Bobby’s remains for proper burial in the U.S. I won’t ruin the suspense by spelling out what was discovered about SSGT Preiss’s death in Laos as a leader of a MACV-SOC Long Range Recon Team, but I will say that I was satisfied with this story when Preiss received a hero’s burial at Arlington National Cemetery. This happened in 1998, twenty-eight years after his death.

The author comments at length about how different Bobby’s welcome home in 1998 was than it would have been in 1970. Different and better. He did get parades and ceremonies and honors bestowed, but the thought looms large for me that Bobby was dead.

Martin discusses how returning Vietnam War veterans were treated badly and that had Bobby returned alive in 1970 he, “would have been treated like a leper.”  She goes on to say that all of the men who returned from Vietnam “were treated like lepers. Yes, it was horrible how Vietnam veterans were treated then and still today.”

I believe that Martin has gone a bit overboard here. But I agree with her statement that: “those who have not died since from medical issues are still fighting for justice and health benefits.”

As Martin implies, SSGT Preiss, her beloved brother, avoided all the problems that a returning Vietnam veteran encountered in the 1970’s, perhaps even PTSD, Agent Orange issues, and other related problems.  We’ll never know. Bobby got no chance.

Martin tells us that her brother “floundered” after his discharge in October 1968.  As she puts it: “I don’t think he brought his heart home.”

While home, he discovered that some of his childhood friends had “got married, some went to jail, and some died.” Bobby missed the discipline, respect, and purpose of being a Green Beret. So he opted to return to Vietnam, knowing there was the possibility of dying in action. And it came to pass.

This book includes many photographs of Bobby Preiss, his medals, and his family. The book is a monument to him. Read this book for an inside look and a griping story of how a soldier’s decision to return to war had a huge impact on everyone in his family. The survivors now have closure and a feeling of peace and reconciliation.

If you wish to read an exciting book about what Green Berets such Bobby Preiss did in Vietnam and Laos, a good one to read is John Rixey Moore’s Hostage of Paradox. Moore beat the odds and came back home and wrote a great memoir. Read it in Bobby’s memory.

 —David Willson