“Who’s Chief?” may have been one of the most important questions former Marine Rick Greenberg, the author of Silent Heroes: A Story Forty Years in the Making (CreateSpace, 298 pp., $11.48, paper; $5.99, Kindle), ever had to answer. That two-word question opened a dialogue between the author and his wife about his activities with the 1st Recon Battalion during his 1969-70 Vietnam War tour of duty.
Greenberg—who actually tried to enlist in the Marine Corps at the age of twelve—explains that while he set out to write an autobiography, the book morphed into a work of “real-life fiction.” The author’s simple, straightforward writing style puts the reader into the heart of the action. I quickly forgot that this was fiction because the book is is a true page turner, taking me into the wee hours of the morning.
Greenberg, a life member of Vietnam Veterans of America, arrived at Da Nang at night on September 10, 1969. His description of that event was so realistic that I could almost feel the humidity and smell the jet diesel smoke. His description of flashes of light and explosions in the surrounding hillsides led him, his buddies, and the reader to believe that they might be under attack.
Greenberg’s first assignment was to guard the perimeter of the camp. His first night proved inconsequential, but the next morning almost was his last. Sitting on his bunker observing the natural beauty of Vietnam, he became fascinated with incoming mortar rounds, thinking of them as “fireworks” until someone pulled him out of harm’s way. I believe I was shaking with Greenberg as he described the incident.
Greenberg takes the reader along on his first recon patrol and describes his duties as a communications specialist. The reader quickly realizes that there is a lot more science involved in that job than just talking into a radio as you see in war movies. The lives of Marines were often literally on the line.
As it is an all wars, in the Vietnam War it was a matter of kill or be killed. Along with his clear way of describing events, the author quite ably intersperses his emotional reactions to deadly situations. Greenberg had this reader looking over the gun sights at the head of an unsuspecting Vietcong, his first kill.
Large battles took place while he was in Vietnam, but Greenburg focuses on smaller actions. As a member of a recon unit, it was more important to see and not be seen rather than to engage the enemy. Hiding several feet from the enemy was not an uncommon experience. Greenberg enables the reader to sense some of the heart-stopping tension in such situations.
Casualties, including deaths, were handled in a somewhat matter-of-fact manner. The author lets the reader know that to stay alive meant to keep one’s wits, even in the face of sudden horror.
Thanks to the author’s great descriptive writing, the reader will experience some of the apprehension many American troops felt as their time in Vietnam came to an end. Too often, that is when a fatal experience occurred. The evac helicopter that came to finally take the author out of the battle zone ended up bursting into a ball of flame while trying to land just yards from Greenberg’s bunker.
Twelve months after he arrived in Vietnam, Rick Greenberg left the war a permanently changed man. Like so many other veterans of the Vietnam War, he had discovered that one does not fight so much for God and country but for the survival of himself and his buddies.
After reading of Greenberg’s experiences in the war, I know a part of me has been changed.
For anyone desiring to read an good adventure story and share insights into the minds of men in combat, I would strongly recommend Silent Heroes. It is not a book for the squeamish or for those who want to read about heroes blasting away and charging the enemy.
It is about something much more meaningful than that: an appreciation of thousands of silent heroes.
Greenberg’s website is rickgreenbergauthor.com