Retired Marine Corps Major Gen. John Admire in his novel, Darker Than Dark (Yorkshire Publishing, 412 pp., $19.95, paper; $7.99, Kindle), wanted to pay special tribute to the men with whom he served in Vietnam in 1966 and 1967. He more than accomplished his mission by creating four main characters to tell the story of courage and compassion of young Marines in the Vietnam War. In this book we see the darkest side of war, and hear the thoughts and discussions that took place away from the battlefield.
These young Marines formed a very effective fire team, but they also formed a family that shared suffering, support, and good-natured bantering. Thanks to Admire’s writing skill, I could sense the fear of ambushes and nightly patrols. The heat, the cold, and seemingly constant rain were almost palpable on the pages. At one place, I found myself blinking to clear my eyes in the dark jungle. Only a man who had been there could bring such realism to the page.
This story contains more than action-packed scenes. The fire team holds bunker talks on a regular basis to discuss the war and events back home. Through these chats, we get a much clearer picture of what was on the minds of the Marines as they tried to make sense of a limited war. One PFC says it best: “It seems we gotta use enough power to make the NVA know we’re serious, but not so much power that the war goes too serious on us.”
Admire begins each chapter with a quote from one of the main characters. I found the quotes worthy of being placed in a separate addendum to the book. They keep the reader in touch with the thoughts of the men, and—amazingly—they also ring true about today’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
I was impressed at the complexity and strategy involved in routine patrols and ambushes. A corporal would call the men together after an action and discuss what went right and what went wrong. To a battlefield veteran, this may have been normal procedure, but this noncombatant gained greater respect and appreciation for the Marines.
The team operates in several areas near the DMZ, taking part in, among other fights, the Battle for Con Thien (the “Hill of Angels”). The story climaxes with the intense fighting for the hills surrounding Khe Sanh. Along the way the reader is exposed to firefights, river crossings, and deaths by friendly fire.
Admire includes the severe problems with the introduction of the M-16 rifle. It malfunctioned so easily and so often the men would look for AK-47s on the bodies of killed NVA soldiers to use.
The description of fighting at Khe Sanh was the most vivid this reader has ever seen in print. The horrors and heroism seemed unending. If the author wanted his readers to understand the sacrifices of men at war, he clearly succeeded.
To bring this book to its conclusion, Admire gathers the main characters in a reunion thirty years later. They still don’t understand everything that happened in Vietnam, nor why the American people turned against the war. But they still believe freedom is worth fighting for—and sometimes is the only way to keep it.
Thank you, John Admire, for this great read.
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