Orange Socks and Other Colorful Tales by J.S. Lamb

Jim Lamb served in Vietnam in the Navy, stationed in Da Nang. He arrived in-country in the Spring of 1970, “after the Tet Offensive, but well before the Fall of Saigon,” as Lamb puts it in his memoir, Orange Socks and Other Colorful Tales: How I Survived in Vietnam and Kept My Sense of Humor (Amazon Digital Services, 77 pp., $4.99, Kindle).

Lamb says that it is a matter of record that he served eleven months in Vietnam during the war, but he really only spent seven months in-country as he was on rotation from his home base in Atsugi, Japan. His squadron was VQ-1, a reconnaissance outfit: “Big planes. Long flights. Secret missions.”

This short book contains many interesting and mild little tales of his naval service. I enjoyed them, especially because the book is well-written and well-edited.

Lamb begins with a chapter called “Welcome to the War,” and then gives us a chapter about a rocket attack on Da Nang, where they were fairly common. He tells us about boot camp at Great Lakes and about his six months at Aviation Electronics School at the Memphis Naval Station. He regales us with stories of his time as a troubleshooter at Corpus Christi, and about guarding the squadron of Stoofs. I won’t explain Stoofs, as Lamb does a better job of that than I could do.

I encourage everyone curious about what it was like to be in the Navy in Da Nang during this period of the Vietnam War to read this little book. Lamb writes elegantly and modestly of his experiences and manages to make the wearing of orange socks a heroic—as well as an amusing—escapade.

The author’s website is

—David Willson

The Making and Un-making of a Marine by Larry Winters

Psychodrama provided the major impetus for Larry Winters’ recovery from PTSD. In The Making and Un-making of a Marine: One Man’s Struggle for Forgiveness (Millrock Writers Collective, 322 pp., $14.77, hardcover; $9.99, Kindle), Winters tells his life story, which was filled with anguish that began in childhood and continued into mid-life.

Winters’ father beat him repeatedly and, at times, unmercifully. Upon graduating from high school in 1967, Winters enlisted in the Marine Corps. “The way I saw it,” he says, “what could the Marines do that the old man hadn’t already done?”

His training at Parris Island answered that question. Many authors have described the punishing teaching methods used by boot camp instructors, but Winters offers a darker level of their physical cruelty than I had ever read.

After AIT and metalsmith training, Winters spent nearly two years stateside in a Marine Air Wing before sailing to Vietnam on the U.S.S. New Orleans. Exposure to the negative feelings of Vietnam returnees at home disillusioned him about the war’s purpose. He decided to go AWOL, but a traffic accident ended the attempt.

At Phu Bai and Marble Mountain, Winters joined what he calls the “dissident element.” He worked as a sheet metal repairman, spent three months on guard duty as punishment for the wrong attitude and misbehavior, and ended his tour as a CH-53 door gunner. He felt shame and guilt for serving in a war he did not believe in.

Discharged upon his return home, he married his high school sweetheart. Their happy marriage failed under the pressure of Winters’ difficulties with running his own business and failing to bond with a son his wife and he had carefully and lovingly planned for. He felt rejected in all relationships: parents, wife, child, and employees. Divorced, he drifted from place to place and job to job.

The book’s final section follows Winters (above) through his psychological rebirth. After he found Psychodrama, overcoming shame and guilt became his primary pursuit. Although taxing, the dynamic process of Psychodrama sessions shattered the emotional shield surrounding his PTSD.

The sessions fascinated me because of what they forced Winters to reveal. Part of his rehabilitation included a fatiguing trip to Vietnam where his travel group of veterans confronted and reconciled with NVA generals and foot soldiers. Eventually, Winters solved his own problems, and went on become a mental health counselor.

Originally published in 2007, the current book is a second edition. In a follow-on book, Live the Dream: No More Excuses, Winters explains his hard-learned strategies to gain financial freedom while maintaining balance between family, friends, and faith.

The author’s website is

—Henry Zeybel

God Help Me! Cause No One Else Will by Clyde Hoch

Clyde Hoch, a former U.S. Marine Sergeant and a member of Vietnam.Veterans of America, has written six books. His latest is God Help Me! Cause No One Else Will (CreateSpace, 34 pp., $5.38).

This self-help tract is dedicated to veterans with Traumatic Brain Injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. In a perfect world, this informative work would be in the hands of every Vietnam veteran, military family member, and every professional working with returned veterans and active-duty personnel.

Hoch, who volunteered for duty in a tank battalion, arrived in Vietnam during the 1968 Tet offensive. “I was an old guy,” he writes. “I was around 21 years old. Most of the guys were 18 or 19. They would come to me for advice about everything. I didn’t know much more than they did. At times I felt like a father and priest to these guys.”

Hoch’s value as leader and counselor easily could have qualified him to be a Drill.Sergeant or an officer candidate were it not for a land mine explosion. Because of the resultant Traumatic Brain Injury and difficulties with memory Hoch opted to end his career as a Marine .

His return to life as a civilian came before there was widespread recognition of PTSD as a war-related affliction. “There was no.such thing as PTSD or TBI,” he writes. “I became very aggressive with people, especially my wife. I took much out on her and my children. I regret all, but can’t do anything about it now. My attitude was very hard for all of us. I set up an appointment with the VA to.see if anyone could help me.”

Hoch filed PTSD and Agent Orange VA claims. “The service officer filed all of these forms,” he writes. “All came back rejected.” Further appeals were dismissed by doctors and lawyers.

Finally, after more than twenty years, Hoch began to offer advice and assistance to other veterans, something reminiscent of his relationship with his fellow tankers back in 1968.

In this book he provides important contact information for those in need.

“Do Not Give Up,” Hoch advises. “When I feel myself getting angry at a situation or person, I have learned to.walk away. I will.go outside. If I am where there are lots of people I observe them. I will wonder about their lives. Everyone you see is fighting something. If all else fails and you feel all alone and feel no one cares, contact me. I will do what I can for you.”

You can contact Clyde Hoch through his website,

—Curt Nelson

My Brother’s Keeper by Rodwick Padilla

Rodwick Padilla is a Marine Corps veteran who served a 1966-67 Vietnam War tour of duty. He tells us that his brother, Ronald M. Padilla, came home from Vietnam after six months “in a green Zip up bag.”  Rodwick Padilla,  a member of Vietnam Veterans America, was nineteen when he volunteered to go to Vietnam “to avenge his [brother’s] death.”

My Brother’s Keeper: Poems of the Vietnam War (America Star Books, 84 pp., $17.95, paper; $7.99, Kindle) is made up of “the raw war poems of Vietnam Marine Cpl. Rod Padilla,” we are told. “They are a spontaneous outpouring of his battlefield experience years after the event. The voice is authentic. The poems are unedited.”

Honesty is the best policy my mother always told me. Given his publisher’s disclaimer, it would be churlish of me to take Padilla to task for his poems not being well-edited or proofread. However, the lack of editing still bothered me. Maybe it’s because I am a guy with a degree in English writing from the University of Washington and I have no experience as a Marine—two things that made it difficult for me to fully appreciate Padilla’s rawness and honesty.

I’ll quote a tiny bit of one of the long poem, “Between the Cracks,” to give a sense of how the poems are written:

I had a feeling that Ski had been shot

If you guest where, you would be right

Yea, where the sun don’t shine

Yes, right up his be-hind

Most of the poems in this short book are in rhyme or verse of a sort, and Padilla keeps them simple. We encounter K-bars, poisonous snakes, punji pits, John Wayne, and baby killers.  Also what he calls “Sea Rations.” Padilla refers to the AR-15 as a little plastic toy. He says we weren’t defeated in this war, if you call it a war.

We are told that the author has spent time in a penitentiary, but no details are given. We are also told that he was abandoned as a baby by his mother. He uses the expression “pineapple” to refer to himself, as he is from Hawaii. He also uses the term “little grass shack,” which I’ve heard in songs.  

The book is a physically beautiful one, with a great illustration of Padilla on the cover, his sweet, innocent Hawaiian face in a half-smile. He looks a little bit Vietnamese. There are lots of tiny black and white photos in the middle of the book showing him in-country.  

Marines “drop like flies” when “the shit hits the fan” in this little book. So if these expressions don’t bother you, and you don’t mind struggling through the un-proofread lines, this book of Marine Corps verse may appeal to you.

 It is a lovely book to look at.  

—David Willson

Three Days Past Yesterday by Doris I. “Lucki” Allen

Doris I. “Lucki” Allen’s Three Days Past Yesterday: A Black Woman’s Journey Through Incredibility (CreateSpace, 72 pp., $10, paper) lives up to its subtitle: It tells the story of an incredible journey by a black woman in the United States Army. There are passages worthy of note and respect in every chapter and in every poem. This is an honest and clear presentation of Allen’s three tours in the Vietnam War and her ongoing struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Allen, a member of Vietnam Veterans of America, writes that her three Bronze Stars and other career honors in no way make her a hero, nor do they ameliorate her PTSD symptoms. “‘Why are you laughing Lucki?’, they ask me. My reply, ‘I’m laughing just to keep from crying.’ Will this feeling of helplessness ever go away? I’m still stuck in Vietnam.”

Allen’s prose and poetry are filled with examples of how she was changed by the Vietnam War. For example: “I still can’t understand why people kill people to show people that killing people is wrong.”

This concise compendium illustrates that Allen’s ability to handle life in a combat zone and deal with her post-war emotional problems are due in great measure to the support she had from her parents growing up. “I knew that I was unique,” she writes. “Mom and Dad saw to that. Mom assured me that no matter what risks I took in life she and Dad would always be there to help guide me. And so it goes—I have never been ordinary.”

Keeping her parents’ encouraging words in mind as she served in Vietnam War from 1967-70 helped Allen (in Vietnam in the photo below) through many tough times. However, while seeking the safety of bunkers during rocket attacks she found other sources of security. As she writes: “Between God and my bottle of Crown Royal, I knew I could make it through each day.”

Despite the brevity of this work, much wisdom is revealed. It’s akin to what might be found in a cleric’s daily breviary. In this case, the book provides veterans with valuable methods of managing some of combat’s unresolved remnants.

I plan on keeping this book within reach at my desk and I recommend it to any veteran.

Since April is National Poetry Month, here is Allen’s poem, “Help”:

Little girl–war

All she knew was the word Help…

Didn’t know what help

She wanted cause she couldn’t explain what

Help she needed.

So the medic came and asked

” What’s the matter?”

All she could say was “I don’t know”

—Curt Nelson

Fear Was My Only Weapon by Dennis Papp

Neil Simon’s Biloxi Blues tells a comedic World War II barracks story about a twenty-year-old draftee who learns to cope with a diverse assortment of soldiers during basic training while enduring the wrath a bullying superior.

J. Dennis Papp updates the theme in Fear Was My Only Weapon: Can a Personnel Clerk Maintain His Sanity and Survive Vietnam When He’s Forbidden to Have Any Bullets for His M16? (CreateSpace, 233 pp., $8.96 paper; $2.99, Kindle). Papp’s story takes place at Bear Cat outside of Long Thanh in Vietnam during the first nine months of 1968. Married and twenty-three years old, Papp had been cruising through administrative duty at Fort Sill when he received orders for Nam with only nine months of service remaining.

Papp joined Personnel Actions Team 4 at Bear Cat. He still had a lot to learn, and his bosses picked on him. His friends were the usual supportive suspects: Clyde, Smiles, Numbers,The Face, Boomerang, and Incoming. Papp’s nickname was Pinky. Naturally, each name had a story behind it. Bear Cat went untouched during the Tet Offensive.

Papp and his buddies solved administrative problems, went on R&Rs (Papp took three), and roamed the base (below), which had tents, a mess hall, a PX, and a barber shop. While bonding, they cracked old jokes that still bring smiles and they drank as if tomorrow didn’t exist.

His Top Sergeant chose Papp to be his whipping boy. The abuse culminated with an Article 15 for Papp that carried a fine, plus a fourteen-day restriction with laborious extra duty. Papp’s only revenge was to out-shout the Top during a Red Alert without suffering consequences.Papp describes a lifetime-quota of mental turmoil over the possibility of not making it home. But the life-ending threats he experienced were mainly in his mind until late in his tour. Then he went to Dong Tam as part of an advance party. There, “the days were physically draining; the nights, emotionally so,” Papp writes. He mixed concrete all day and went through Red Alerts at night.

The book’s title is based on the fact that Papp had no infantry training; therefore, on his first guard duty in Nam, he was not permitted to lock and load a bullet into the chamber of his rifle. Thereafter, an “impotent” M16 became his trademark.

Papp is a witty writer. But he might reconsider his style. He doesn’t need to explain how to button each button when a character puts on a shirt. And when it comes to dialogue, every comment doesn’t merit a response.

—Henry Zeybel

Who Cares? I Do by Jack Moser

Jack Moser entered the Navy in 1958. He served as an intelligence officer in the Vietnam War, and holds a doctorate in psychology.

A few of the poems in Who Cares? I Do: Poems  (Fithian Press, 128 pp., $14, paper) deal with the Vietnam War:  “Kill Everything That Moves,” “My Queen of Vietnam,” and “The Phu Qui Island Chorus.”  Lots of the poems deal with God and Ireland. I’ll quote from “Kill Everything That Moves” to provide a sense of the book.

It is thirty-eight years since the Vietnam War ended.

The sordid stories of American atrocities

Are just starting to raise their bloody heads.

We now know that U.S. military forces

Killed millions of innocent civilians in cold blood

We were all so obsessed with the “body count”

That everyone we killed was the enemy

From the one-month old baby

To the ninety-year-old man planting rice,

The orders were clear, “Kill everything that moves”

That meant everything:



Water buffalo

Americans “killing millions of innocent civilians in cold blood”? This is not the war that I knew in Vietnam—and it is nothing close to the truth. Even books that claim that Americans committed unending atrocities in the Vietnam War, such as Nick Turse’s deeply flawed Kill Everything That Moves (2013), don’t come close to contending that we killed millions of innocents in cold blood.

This book of poetry is not for me, but perhaps it might be for you.

—David Willson

A Hard Decision by Westley Thomas

Westley Thomas served with the U. S. Marines in Vietnam from 1966-68 and in the Marine Reserves from 1975-77. The action in his book, A Hard Decision (AuthorHouse, 136 pp., $23.99, hardcover; $14.95, paper; $$3.99, Kindle), we are told, “takes place during and after the Vietnam War era, on Staten Island in the North Shore area.” This is a two-act play with many short scenes.

One of my favorite scenes is the one in which a captured American is interrogated by a VC, who—in the most astonishing coincidence of all time—happens to be the guy who used to be his barber. I’ve encountered the trope of the VC barber again and again in Vietnam War fiction, but Thomas takes this to an illogical extreme. I enjoyed it—in a perverse way.

Here’s some dialogue, illustrating the disconnect between the American troops in Vietnam and the Viet Cong fighters:

VC soldier #1:  (yanking Captain Dickenson from the chair) Get up you bastard, hold still. This is how we treat American prisoners. Move, I’m no longer your barber, you bastard. I am your enemy and you are my prisoner.

(VC interrogator and VC soldier #1, laughing)  

Captain Dickenson: “How could you? You who have cut my hair so many times and given me shaves as my own personal barber and houseboy? I thought we were friends!”

This short play is filled with bad things that happen to Vietnam veterans, and it ends in terrible violence. I can’t imagine how this play would be staged, but I would love to see it to find out.

Plays don’t benefit from being read, in my opinion, but should be seen when performed. But A Hard Decision held my attention to the very end.

—David Willson

Small Fires in the Sun by Herbert R. Metoyer, Jr.

Small Fires in the Sun by Herbert R. Metoyer, Jr. (Cane River Media, 412 pp., $25, paper) is a novel based on historical events, but is wholly fictitious. The book centers on the life of Louis Juchereau de St. Denis, the founder of Natchitoches, the oldest city in Louisiana.

This is a complex and lengthy historical novel. The cover tells us that it is “a historical, romantically enhanced adventure novel” dealing with the three primary cultures of colonial Louisiana: The French, the Natchez—an Indian tribe—and the slaves. 

The author is a retired military officer and a helicopter pilot who served all over the world, including in Vietnam. I’m sure that the experience and wisdom he gained during his military career informed and influenced this novel, but it never gets anywhere near the Vietnam War.

Herbert Metoyer

It should be read by those who love colonial adventure and have an interest in the interaction of a variety of cultural and racial forces in America. This novel tells an interesting and spell-binding story and makes those three cultures of Louisiana come alive.

Fans of the Benjamin January novels of Barbara Hambly set in 19th century New Orleans are likely to enjoy this historical novel, too.

It is refreshing for this reader occasionally to step away from reading about the Vietnam War.

—David Willson

To Hear Silence by Ronald W. Hoffman

In To Hear Silence (CreateSpace, 412 pp., $16.99 paper; $9.99, Kindle), Ronald W. Hoffman says, “If you were to investigate Charlie Battery 1/13, you would find this unit at the Battle of Khe Sanh in 1968. Before that—and before this book—little to nothing has been published about this unit.” His subtitle clearly explains his book’s purpose: Charlie Battery, 1st Battalion 13th Marines, The First 15 Months (July 1, 1966-October 5, 1967): The True Vietnam Experience in Support of the 3rd Battalion, 26th Marines.

Along with teaching a history lesson, Hoffman offers a look at his Vietnam War experience with Charlie Battery 1/13. He smoothly ties together his diary entries, declassified Marine Corps documents, memories of fellow Marines, and letters he sent home to his mother.

A 1966 draftee, Hoffman opted to serve as a Marine. Two years earlier, poor eyesight had prevented him from enlisting in the Corps. He trained as a radio operator on a Forward Observer Team.

Along with 3/26, Charlie Battery traveled from San Diego to Vietnam aboard the USS Lenawee on her final deployment. With layovers at Hawaii, Okinawa, and the Philippines, the voyage took from September 4 to December 11, time that included combat training exercises. Hoffman’s account of the unit riding out a typhoon in the disintegrating twenty-two-year-old ship could make a book by itself.

Dong Ha was the unit’s first stop in Vietnam. Hoffman’s description of the base exactly matched my recollection of the place: an absolute shit hole. Shortly after arriving, 3/26 took part in Operation Chinook and spent seventy-nine consecutive days in the field.

Following Operations Chinook I and II, Charlie Battery accompanied 3/26 to Phu Bai to Leatherneck Square on the south edge of the DMZ, and finally into Khe Sanh—another part of the book that could stand alone. The mission was the same everywhere: find and destroy the enemy.

Hoffman recites Marine activities as day-by-day events of entire units. For example, he reports that “Kilo Company was hit with sniper fire from across the river” and “India detected a column of some three hundred VC troops that they engaged with mortar fire.” Generally, he identifies individual Marines only when they are killed.

The companies of 3/26 used Charlie’s 105-mm howitzers against practically everything they encountered. They even called for rounds on a single enemy soldier who loitered beyond rifle range. More often than not, the difficulty of verifying results created frustration for everyone because Gen. William Westmoreland demanded body counts. Time after time, Charlie Battery unloaded dozens of rounds on target areas with outstanding coverage, and then the men in the field found traces of blood but no bodies.

“Probable” kills outnumbered verified kills. So, digging up enemy bodies to determine the cause of death became a common practice to increase the number of confirmed kills. After one encounter, American forces hunted well into the night with artillery illumination to find dead enemy soldiers and try to double a body count.

Practically every day, Marines triggered booby traps. At one point, because of more casualties to the Marines than to the enemy, daytime missions were said to end; instead, companies were assigned sectors and expected to wait in ambush. Nobody followed the new plan and the tactics remained unchanged.

At the time, Hoffman wrote: “This isn’t at all what any of us thought war would be like.”

Meanwhile, the NVA largely switched from conventional warfare to guerrilla tactics. In small groups they hit and ran. When they had the numbers, though, the NVA employed human wave attacks against isolated American units.

Hoffman did plenty of homework. His meshing of different sources provides reams of facts to help readers reach their own conclusions about the effectiveness of American efforts during the early stages of the Vietnam War. Some might view Hoffman’s research as a study in frustration.

The book contains photographs, maps, and five appendices: The Vietnam War by the Numbers (a summation of all Vietnam casualties); September 1966 Convoy Ships; a Roster of Charlie Battery 1/13; Original 3/26 Members Killed in Action; Replacement 3/26 Members Killed in Action; and Marine Corps Acronyms and Definitions.

—Henry Zeybel