Ronnie D. Foster has written a thoroughly researched and most interesting book, One Day as a Lion: True Stories of the Vietnam War Heroes from Collin County, Texas ( Entry Way Publishing, 242 pp., $16.95, paper; $6.99, Kindle). The title is taken from an ancient Tibetan proverb: “It is better to have lived one day as a lion than to have lived ten thousand years as a sheep.”
The author grew up in McKinney, Texas, just north of Dallas. He served twenty months in Vietnam with the U. S. Marine Corps. Like many Vietnam veterans, after he came home Foster tried without much success to suppress his thoughts about friends who gave up all of their tomorrows in the war zone.
Some three decades years later, he was in his hometown speaking with some other veterans when the discussion turned to the Vietnam War. Foster was dismayed to learn that those veterans did not remember his friend from high school, Bill Bryan, who received the Navy Cross for his heroism at Khe Sanh during the battle for Hill 861 North in 1968. That was Foster’s motivation to tell the story of every Collin County veteran who did not return from Vietnam.
Foster’s book covers all twenty-one Collin County servicemen: thirteen from Army, seven USMC, and one Navy man. One of the men, Army 1st Lt. Russell A. Steindam, received the Medal of Honor for sacrificing his own life by falling on an enemy grenade to save his comrades. Other combat awards received by members of the group include a Navy Cross, three Silver Stars, a Distinguished Flying Cross, and six Bronze Stars. Eighteen received Purple Heart Medals (the other three died from non-combat related causes).
A prodigious amount of research went into ensuring the accuracy of each veteran’s story. The author and his two research assistants relied upon sources such as The Virtual Wall website; official After-Action Reports; high school yearbooks; letters mailed home; newspaper articles; medal citations, personal interviews with battle survivors and family members; and condolence letters from commanding officers.
That research paid dividends: All the Collin County veterans Foster writes about become real humans, not just statistics.
One Day as a Lion was awarded the Silver Trophy as a finalist at the 2009 North Texas Book Festival. In this reviewer’s opinion, it should have been awarded the Gold.This gem of a book is a must read.
The author’s website is www.ronniefoster.com