Vietnam Journey by Ronald Stanley Miller

Detroit native Ron Miller spent more than five decades working and traveling in Asia and the Middle East. That includes the better part of a decade in Vietnam, the subject of his memoir, Vietnam Journey: Ten Years in Vietnam (CreateSpace, 262 pp., $14, paper).

Miller and his family arrived in Vietnam in May of 1965. They left just before the communist takeover in April of 1975. He was twenty-nine years old when he came to Vietnam to work for a big construction company. He and his family flew out of Saigon on April 25, 1975.

“We were among the 3,000 refugees officially evacuated that day,” Miller writes. “For us the Vietnam experience was over. I was nearly 40 years old and had spent a quarter of my life in the country. Two of my sons were born there and for ten years we adored the Vietnam [sic], but Casablanca it wasn’t.”

Miller “vowed,” he says, “never to place my loved ones in jeopardy again. This would be the last time. From this very moment on we would choose to reside and work exclusively in peaceful secure companies.”

—Marc Leepson

Solo Vietnam: A Novel by Jeanette Vaughn

Solo Vietnam (Age View Press, 266 pp., $14.99, paper) is Jeanette Vaughn’s sequel to Flying Solo. The cover features a color photo of a warplane. Between that and the title, I figured this novel would focus on the American air war in the skies over Vietnam. I was half right.

Nora Broussard wants to go to Vietnam, but the U. S. government won’t allow her to fly combat there, so she figures out an alternate route. She joins Bob Hope’s USO show as a torch singer and also arranges a job as a USO club manager.

This enables our heroine to leave her children and mother behind in New Orleans and to land in South Vietnam during the 1968 Tet Offensive. She encounters her lover, Steve, in an intimate scene aboard an aircraft carrier, but then Steve goes down over Laos along with his plane.

After that, the book became a bit far-fetched for me. Still, it remained interesting, even engrossing, as Vaughn—although not the greatest stylist—is a fine storyteller, and she has a seldom-told story to relate to us.

Jeanette Vaughn

Jeannette Vaughn is a writer and sheep rancher. Two of her children are Navy pilots. Nothing is said of the author’s military experience, but much is said in the acknowledgements to thank those with military experience from whom she drew information and details for the novel, particularly Marine Captain Robert Lathrop. She tells us that the many missions in her book were based on his manuscript memoir, Eternally at War, which can be found in the Texas Tech University Vietnam Center and Archive.

This novel is spiced up with expressions such as “Gookville,” and “baby killer.”  Mostly, though, the author avoids falling into the trap of writing the same old Vietnam War novel. Instead, she has come up with a novel that covers new ground in a responsible way, along with enough romance and action to hold this reader’s interest.  I enjoyed the book.

—David Willson

Support Troops by Brian Nicol

Brian Nicol was drafted into the U. S. Army in June 1969.  He was assigned to the Army Headquarters Command in Saigon from 1970 to 1971. His novel, Support Troops (Amazon Digital Services, 175 pp., $2.99, digital), is set in that familiarly observed environment and is pitch perfect in every way. Nicol has been a writer and editor, and it shows in this literate and witty novel. 

He’s created a unique voice for the main character, Spec5 Alan Lacey, a 22-year-old, smart-ass company clerk. All the power a company clerk has is communicated through vividly set scenes and incidents, all of them recognizable to me. I served in that same environment in Vietnam a few years earlier, also as a Spec5, and spent a lot of time typing and dealing with officers. Nicol provides the novel with realistic American characters, both lifers and draftees, and also he manages to create interesting and well-rounded Vietnamese characters.

The officers I dealt with were not the monsters that some in this novel are shown to be, so I did not seek to frag them, although there was a Sergeant Major who tempted me. The most powerful section of the novel is near the end where our hero plans a fragging. I won’t spoil it by telling how that came out.

Reviewing an e-book is a first for me. I’ve struggled with how to do it, as I could not use page numbers as reference points, nor could I write comments in the margins—there are no margins. I made a special effort with this novel, as it is such a superb work on this oft-neglected subject.

If you wish to read only one novel about support troops in Vietnam, this is the one. It held my attention; it had humor and pathos; and it is as well written as they come. It even has an epilogue that takes place in 1983 at the Tu Do Bar in Honolulu which wraps up a few mysterious plot lines.

—David Willson

Hidden Army by Lawrence Rock

 

VVA member Lawrence Rock was a sergeant in the U. S. Marine Corps from 1964-67. He is the editor of a previous book on Vietnam War support troops, The Tooth and the Tail.  A disclaimer: I reviewed that book  in Books in Review II, and my positive review is quoted in Rock’s new book—Hidden Army: Support Troops Types in Vietnam: An Oral History (CreateSpace, 346 pp., $14.99, paper).

Hidden Army is well organized into subject chapters with clear headings such as “The Blue Water Navy, Early Years,” “Supply Logistics Support,” “Medical Support,” and so on down to Chapter 10, “The Blue Water Navy, the Later Years.”  Because I was an Army stenographer in Vietnam, I turned first to the “Administrative Staff Support” chapter. This thirty-page chapter is clearly organized and arranged, with a brief introduction and then lists the names, identities, and ranks of those interviewed.

I immediately hit gold when I read about Army Spec4 William Harkins, an ammo specialist at Long Binh, who matter-of-factly describes a detail he was on when he first arrived in Vietnam, “spreading Agent Orange around our perimeter.”  I “do not remember inhaling any spray,” Harkins says, “but I do remember the defoliant coming into contact with my hands.”  Since I have developed Multiple Myeloma caused by my exposure to Agent Orange while I was stationed at Long Binh Post in 1967, this bit of first-person evidence of AO being applied there was of high interest to me.

This entire book is packed with such revelations, and every page is worth reading. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to truly get a sense of how it was in Vietnam for the almost 90 percent of us who served as support troops.

The book does not have an index, so you’ll have to read all of it to find a precious nugget that hits you in the heart. It is worth the effort.

—David Willson

Moment of Battle by James Lacey and Williamson Murray

Moment of Battle: The Twenty Clashes That Changed the World (Bantam, 478 pp., $30) immerses the reader into the epicenter of world-changing battles. Authors James Lacey and Williamson Murray are acclaimed military historians. Their attention to detail and flowing narration make the book both worthwhile and enjoyable. They are very clear in explaining how each battle affected world history.

All the battle descriptions depict the evolution of military tactics and equipment. The authors also show how human error and dumb luck often made the difference between victory and defeat. Wrong decisions were often based on incorrect information and sometimes decisions were just a matter of ego.

The book also reveals the evolution of military tactics. While some methods of combat might be practiced the same way for decades or even hundreds of years, successful leaders seem to be the ones who were able to change tactics in the midst of the fighting and to take advantage of the enemy’s weaknesses or mistakes.

Moment of Battle never drags. It’s more like twenty adrenaline rushes. I would suggest that the reader allow a bit of time between chapters and not read this book straight through. That way you can take time to appreciate the contributions made by so many. Having a global map at hand to identify locations as we know them today also would be helpful.

The book begins with the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC. Readers are caught up in a battle in which the victors overcame incredible odds that allowed democracy to maintain its foothold in the world. The screams of the wounded and dying can almost be heard emanating from the pages.

Cultural differences between Western and Eastern Europe still exist today due to the battle of the Teutonberger Wald in the first century A.D. In that battle the seemingly undefeatable Romans were stopped by a German army. The legacy of that fight would continue to play its part in two world wars and the Cold War in the 20th century.

Williamson Murray

England and Spain had their turn at being the most powerful nations on earth. The battles of Hastings in 1066, and the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 are vividly described here. It is not an exaggeration to say that blood flowed like water and the dead piled up in both engagements.

Lacey and Murray have us travel with Grant to Vicksburg in 1863 and into the Battle of the Marne to open World War I in 1914. We are invited to fly with the pilots in the Battle of Britain in 1940 and in the battle of Midway in the Pacific in1942.

While storming the beaches of Normandy in 1944, we relive the beginning of the end of the Nazi regime. Savagery, blunders, brilliance, heroism, and indescribable suffering are all part of all the fighting, regardless of the century.

France lost its colonies in Indochina to the Viet Minh in 1954. The reader witnesses the defeat of the French by the Viet Minh under Vo Nguyen Giap at Dien Bien Phu in 1954. The authors do not discuss the American war in Vietnam. Perhaps not enough time has elapsed for historians to judge if the outcome of the Vietnam War made a big difference in the world. I believe that the Vietnam War has made a tremendous difference in the attitude of the American people toward their own government. It remains to be seen if that change makes a difference throughout the world.

The book concludes with the American military’s drive to Baghdad in 2003. Although this battle took place relatively recently, the authors make predictions of the world-wide effects of the Iraqi defeat and their that nation’s attempt at democracy.

Col. Marcone of the 69th Armor Battalion could be speaking for most Americans who fought in that war.  “They kept coming, rolling over their own dead,” he said of the Iraqi army troops. “They should have learned. Fighting for us was easy. Killing at close range, though, is very hard and unforgettable I am still dealing with having to kill so many people. Destroying the 10th brigade still bothers me.”

—Joseph Reitz

Marines, Medals and Vietnam by William L. Myers

William L. Myers’s Marines, Medals and Vietnam (Redoubt Press, 392 pp., $25, paper) contains detailed descriptions of seventeen Vietnam War combat operations in which U.S. Marines took part. That includes large engagements such as the Siege at Khe Sanh and Operations Starlite, Orange, Dodge City, and Buffalo, along with other actions that never had any official name.

Myers, a former Marine, uses a variety of sources to tell the stories of these engagements, including memoirs, secondary sources, letters and official reports. Some are told in the first person; some in the third. Myers always includes the names, ranks, service numbers, and hometowns of the men who fought in the battles.

He ends the book with a fifty-page alphabetical listing of names—along with service numbers, unit, date of the award, age, and hometown—of Marines and Navy corpsmen who received the Medal of Honor, Navy Cross, Distinguished Service Cross, and Silver Star in the Vietnam War. 

—Marc Leepson

More Than Merely Names by Patricia B. Hopper

The latest edition of MORE THAN MERELY NAMES: An Updated List of Prisoners of War and Missing in Action from Southeast Asia (Task Force Omega, 362 pp., $28, paper) provides an alphabetized list of information about 3,768 American military personnel, civilians, and foreign nationals who have been listed as POW/MIA or KIA/BNR (body not recovered) from the Vietnam War.

This loosely bound book, first published in 1998, is the work of Task Force Omega’s chair, Patricia Hopper. Her nonprofit group works for a full accounting,and the return of POWs and MIAs who, Hopper says, “have the right to return home, whether they are alive or dead.” Hooper believes that there still are, as she puts it in the book, “live American Prisoners of War in Southeast Asia and our government knows it!”

The individual listings that make up the heart of the book contain the missing person’s original rank, the promoted-to rank, incident date, country of loss, branch of service, incident date, status in 1973, current status, home of record, birthday, name location on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and other information.

The book’s website is  www.taskforceomegainc.org/index_files/Page903.html

—Marc Leepson

The Never-Ending War by LM Clark

LM Clark’s The Never-Ending War: The Unseen Scars of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (Tate Publishing, 280 pp., $20.99, paper) is the story of author Laura M. Clark’s husband Ray’s Vietnam War tour of duty and the severe emotional problems he encountered afterward. It’s told in Ray Clark’s voice, although Laura Clark did the writing, changing “a verbal account of a horrific war story,” Ray notes in the book’s Foreword, “into a picture everyone can see.”

Ray Clark joined the Marine Corps in September of 1966. “I was seventeen years old,” he says, “was laid off from my job and had recently broken up with my girl friend. Having nothing better to do, I asked my dad if he would sign for me to join the Marine Corps. He reluctantly agreed to let me enlist, knowing that I’d probably get drafted anyway.”

Clark had boot camp at Parris Island, advanced training at Camp Geiger in North Carolina, and was assigned guard duty at the National Security Agency at Fort Meade in Maryland. He could have spent the rest of his hitch at Fort Meade, but Clark was not happy there. “I didn’t join the Marine Corps to stand guard on a two-by-three foot door mat, monitoring color coded ID badges for the next three and a half years,” he says. “I joined to be a grunt, marine infantryman, doing what grunts do—fight!”

After he repeatedly requested to be sent to Vietnam, the Marines Corps agreed. Clark had two weeks of jungle training at Camp Pendleton in November of 1968. He arrived in country in early February of 1969 and was assigned to K Company of the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Regiment of the 3rd Marine Division. Clark saw plenty of action during his year in Vietnam. And he paid a psychic price after returning home.

Ray Clark found help through his deep religious faith. As he puts it: “I’m resolved to the fact that my never-ending war will never entirely go away, but I do believe forgiveness of our past can be accomplished through God’s love and mercy if we will just ask him to.” God, Clark says, “has given each of us the ability to pursue and enjoy the rest of our lives if we will just begin by reaching out to him first.”

He has three pieces of advice along those lines: “1. Admit you are in need of his salvation. 2. Believe that Jesus is Lord and Christ. 3. Confess your sinful state to him, and you shall be saved.”

—Marc Leepson

Love Our Vets by Welby O’Brien

Love Our Vets: Restoring Hope for Families of Veterans with PTSD (Deep River Books, 216 pp., $15.99, paper) is a conversationally written self-help book designed for wives and other family members of veterans dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder. Author Welby O’Brien, who has an MA in counseling and his written widely about divorce and other family subjects, is the wife of a veteran who has PTSD.

In her book, O’Brien takes a practical approach to the problem, proffering sixty-three questions about PTSD, along with her answers, as well as other words of advice, including “A Prayer a Day.” The book, she says, “is not a treatise on PTSD, nor at attempt to fix it,” nor a “marriage/relationship manual.” Instead, O’Brien has set out to “provide comfort, encouragement, and practical help for spouses, families, and all other loved ones of veterans with PTSD.”

Welby O’Brien

One example of the book’s tone and content is O’Brien’s answer to the question: “He is drawn to war movies. Should I discourage him from watching them because it seems to not be helpful at all?”

“The best thing we can do is connect with them,” O’Brien counsels. “If you can handle it, watch it with him. Personally, I cannot watch war movies…. Our job is not to fix or to change, but we are privileged to be close enough to love them and connect. If they choose to open up at any level, that is a beautiful thing for both. Any discussion does not require a mutually agreed-upon solution. What a freeing concept!”

The author’s website is www.loveourvets.org
—Marc Leepson

Once Upon a Time in South Chicago by Robert Stanley

Robert Stanley tells us that Once Upon a Time in Chicago & the 1st Cav (Superior Copies, 160 pp. $15, paperback), his book about the blue-collar neighborhood where he grew up and his time in the Vietnam War, contains “a bunch of errors in grammar.” He is correct about that.

The book also contains a sprightly written look at Stanley’s working-class South Chicago neighborhood and his thirteen months in Vietnam beginning in March of 1968.

The loosely bound volume contains lots of graphics, including copies of letters Stanley wrote home from Vietnam, newspaper clippings, pictures he took in country, and shots of street scenes and old friends on the east side of South Chicago.

In addition to his own story, Stanley lets others from his neighborhood tell their own short Vietnam War and other stories.

Rob Stanley was drafted into the Army in August of 1967 at age nineteen. He had Basic Training at Fort Leonard Wood, then Radio Operator AIT at Fort Huachuca. Stanley served in Vietnam with the 1st of the 5th in the 1st Cavalry Division. He had an eventful tour, seeing more than his share of action from near the DMZ to Tay Ninh. Stanley extended his Vietnam tour to get an early out.

For more info, email the author at sochicago21@aol.com

—Marc Leepson