Lamb in a Jungle by Kenneth F. Teglia

Kenneth Teglia is a decorated field artillery forward observer (FO), who served in Vietnam with the Americal Division beginning in December 1969. He was attached to an infantry company as an FO, and was later a fire direction officer and an instructor in charge of special subjects for the division.

There is plenty about all of the things Teglia did in Vietnam in his memoir, Lamb in a Jungle: Conscience and Consequence in the Vietnam War (War Journal Publishing, 124 pp., $14.95, paper), especially some inside stuff on what it is like to be an artillery FO. Teglia makes the valid point that the risks were high no matter what your job was in Vietnam. Sappers might show up anywhere; rocket and mortar attacks often would rain down upon all positions no matter how lulled into feeling secure they might be.

Teglia has produced a slender, handsome, well-written, and well-organized book. The short chapters have titles such as “Fat Chance,” “Innocence,” “Pershing Rifles,” and “Intimate Relations.” I immediately started reading the latter, thinking it might be spicy. No sex, but lots of action of the military sort.

I was highly interested in “Pershing Rifles” as my grandfather served with Pershing in the Philippines. The famed general told my grandfather that he needed a haircut—at least that’s the story that Grandpa Homer told.

This small book introduced me to the elite organization of the Pershing Rifles, which I’d never heard of. If I had heard of it, I would have run in the other direction. It was a spit-and-polish unit for ROTC officers who liked to make things hard on themselves by learning a bunch of fancy marching and rifle maneuvering.

The second thing that this book introduced me to was the crazy notion that the Americal Division had mandatory sensitivity classes. The goal was to teach respect and understanding of the culture we were destroying in Vietnam. Teglia learned how to do this from Marines who taught such classes. He was then put in charge of a program for the Americal. This was nothing I encountered in the Army during my thirteen months in-country.

Ken Teglia

He tells us that some were not convinced that what he was doing was the right thing, but he had his orders and the blessings of a general who thought it was a good idea, so the program went forward. I doubt much sensitivity could be taught to the ordinary newly arrived enlisted man in Vietnam. I encountered few enlisted men who were open to the idea that Vietnamese culture had the validity and nobility of our fine American culture, which had produced such high water marks as Coca-Cola and Mickey Mouse.

In the exceptional array of photographs in this book, there is one priceless one showing a group of newly arrived Americal troops sitting in the author’s class looking as though they’ve been poleaxed and gob-smacked. The author attributes their look to “jet lag.” He is being gracious.

This short memoir is well worth reading for its insight and glimpses into Army subjects that other memoirs have not touched upon. Of course, Teglia mentions a lot of the usual: John Wayne, shit burning, REMFs, freedom birds, baby killers, FNGs, Vietnamization, hearts and minds, snakes and leeches, friendly fire, and million dollar wounds.

The human condition and how to arrive at a more harmonious world through education are two less common concepts the author discusses.  He also makes some interesting observations about William Calley and the My Lai Massacre.

The book has a great cover for a memoir, a color photo of the author, movie-star handsome, in Vietnam. He is smiling and barefoot, and all of his equipment is strewn around him. He is obviously happy to be where he is, in the boonies, and at war.

For a matter-of-fact, intermittently exciting look at what an Army lieutenant might encounter in a year’s tour in Vietnam, I highly recommend Teglia’s book.

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—David Willson