Team 19 in Vietnam by David Millie

Team 19 in Vietnam: An Australian Soldier at War  (University Press of Kentucky, 411 pp., $40) is an Australian army officer’s (and pilot’s) account of his year (1968-69) of service in the Vietnam War in Quang Tri Province in the northeast corner of the former South Vietnam near the DMZ.

Millie was an advisor to ARVN troops, and effectively became a liaison to American army units as well. A point he makes repeatedly is that the ARVNs could be an effective force, despite what American grunts thought. Difficulties in communications often were the true reasons for ARVN ineffectiveness when working alongside Americans.

Millie tells of many ARVN engagements in his detached, after-action style. The South Vietnamese troops come across as heroic, unwilling, and foolhardy—much as any group of conscripts.

Conscription was universal for males who were of age, but often you could get out of it by joining local militia or police forces. Also, if ARVN soldiers lacked motivation, it may have been because of the corrupt bureaucracy that ran things. For one thing, they often served without pay. Their pay went to officials in their villages or provinces who were supposed to pass it on, and often didn’t. As a writer, Millie is pretty dry, reflexively insisting on the passive voice. Here he is describing his return to Quang Tri Province in 2012: “The tour objectives were centered on friendship, pilgrimage, and veteran curiosity.” This, in fact, was an exhilarating personal trip, not a cautious diplomatic probe. It’s as though Millie can’t break the habit of impersonal after-action reports.

                                           David Millie

Millie’s comments on the legacy of the Vietnam War are conventional, but deeply felt, and contain some striking insights. He feels that the struggle between communism and democracy in Vietnam took all the oxygen out of fighting elsewhere in Southeast Asia, allowing fledgling democracies to stabilize and put down their own insurgencies. Presumably, he’s referring to Thailand or the Phillipine, or even Indonesia. It’s an interesting thought.

David Millie emerges as a devout Catholic, a dedicated family man, and a principled officer who believed in his mission. As a commander, he sometimes had to discipline fellow Aussies with drinking problems, or those who had broken down under the stress. Millie’s remedies went by the book, but also were thoughtful and compassionate. He seems like a commander any soldier would be glad to have. In the 1970s, Millie became active in the settlement of Southeast Asian refugees to Canberra, of which he is justifiably proud.

In the end, despite his dry style, Millie has given us penetrating insights into the ARVN side of the Vietnam War, and into Australia’s unique contribution.

—John Mort

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