During the Vietnam War, Robert B. Haseman strove to do the right thing straight from the get-go. He gave up his college deferment and enlisted in the Marine Corps. He completed boot camp, advanced infantry training, sniper school, Platoon Leader Class, and even Army Ranger school.
Then as a second lieutenant, he joined Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines and became an infantry platoon commander in Quang Tri Provence near Dong Ha. During his 1969 six-month tour, his “company suffered 21 dead and at least 54 wounded,” Haseman writes in The Sun Sets on Vietnam: The Firebase War (Lulu, 176 pp.; $10.99, paper; $7.49, Kindle).
Haseman and his men “spent most of [their] time defending permanent combat bases, usually called firebases,” he says, and “conducting field operations in the mountainous jungle between the spread-out firebases. The strategy required most of the regiment’s troops just to occupy the firebase. It discouraged, but failed to prevent, the NVA from passing through the jungle on their way south or from attacking our firebases.”
Haseman saw that defensive strategy as “much less effective [than] the more traditional ‘attack strategy’ that is usually employed in war.”
While “accurate memories of events” remain clear in his mind, he writes, some names and conversations “faded from memory.” Therefore, he occasionally fictionalizes characters and combines events. In two instances, he uses information from John S. Brown’s The Vietnam War: An Almanac to expand stories about being overrun by sappers and taking heavy losses.
The book’s distinction is Haseman’s dedication to following lessons he learned in training. He spells out good and bad decisions, second guessing himself forty-six years after events took place. For example, based on his “recent Ranger School training,” he relates a wondrous tale of building three rafts from sticks and ponchos so that his six-man team could float home from a patrol—at night, under a nearly full moon. Enough said.
Haseman also claims to have been “one of the very few platoon commanders” who employed firing the Final Protection Line “at several prearranged times each night” to “keep the troops awake, alert, and well-practiced.”
The book closes with Haseman’s twenty-four page analysis of “Why we were there [in Vietnam].” A self-professed “amateur historian,” he combines military experience and years of studying the war to conclude that “U.S. policy toward Vietnam was always flawed.” Welcome to the crowd, Robert.
Nonetheless, he says, “At least I can say that when my country called, I tried to help.”
Haseman’s writing style is direct and he does not linger over details that are common knowledge. He credits Tim O’Brien’s famed novel, The Things They Carried, for inspiring him to produce this memoir. An average reader should finish Haseman’s book in one enjoyable afternoon.