Eyes over the Delta by Hank Collins

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Hank Collins piloted Army fixed-wing O-1 Birddog aircraft in Vietnam during 1965-66, a period he calls “the defining year of my life.” He served as an adviser to an ARVN division.

In Eyes Over the Delta (Outskirts Press, 72 pp.; $19.95, hardcover), Collins records “historical fiction” from that era by combining real people and events with composite people and events. Assigned to the 221st Reconnaissance Airplane Company, he worked the area from Can Tho City south to the sea.

A 2007 reunion with men from the 221st motivated Collins to write and publish this short, thinly veiled memoir. In five vignettes that span a year, Collins describes combat flying, Vietnamese justice, war orphans, spontaneous friendship, and the power of prayer.

The stories deliver lessons in introspection with an undercurrent of goodness among people who practice Catholicism. Two stories that focus on flying are the highlights of the book.

Collins includes photographs and copies of letters in the book.

—Henry Zeybel

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The author in Vietnam

The Long Goodbye by Michael Archer

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The Long Goodbye: Khe Sanh Revisited (Hellgate Press, 367 pp., $21.95, paper; $9.99, Kindle) is an exceptional book on many counts. It is very well researched and generously documented. As it is largely autobiographical, the book conveys to the reader a significant you-are-there quality. Plus, there is an element of mystery to this story, which covers more than four decades

Author Michael Archer includes the de rigueur critique of the tactics used in the Vietnam War by rifle units during his phase of the war. But the central theme of the book is the philosophical issue of battlefield casualty recovery and to what extent it should be pursued. It is an unwritten policy in the U. S. military that every effort should be made to recover combat casualties from the battlefield. This policy is designed to promote comradery, morale, and mutual loyalty.

I believe the most important contribution this book makes to military literature is the standard it sets for loyalty and caring among fighting men and women embodied in the statement: “No soldier will be left behind” on the battlefield.

The author narrates a poignant story about his close friend Tom Mahoney, his close friend from high school. Archer and Mahoney joined the Marine Corps together. Both went to Vietnam where they faced combat and death. It is this experience that helped them develop maturity, responsibility and loyalty that lasts throughout their lives.

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Mike Archer

 

Mahoney was killed at Khe Sanh in 1968. Despite their best efforts, his fellow Marines were unable to recover his body. What followed was a long, earnestly pursued effort to bring him home. It involves many Marines, both those who made a career out of their military service and those who left active duty after the war.

Archer, in loving detail, tells of his and others’ efforts to recover the body of their deceased comrade. No one involved in this recovery task is left unaffected. These efforts include personal attempts at recovery as well as official government recovery attempts in which they participated.

Altogether these efforts have lasted more than forty-five years.

The author’s website is http://www.michaelarcher.net

—A. Robert Lamb

 

 

 

 

Fallen, Never Forgotten by Ronny Ymbras, Matt Ymbras, and Eric Revelto

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Fallen: Never Forgotten: Vietnam Memorials in the USA (RU Airborne, 268 pp., $34.95) is a large-format book put together by Ronny Ymbras, Matt Ymbras, and Eric Rovelto that devotes one chapter to a Vietnam veterans memorial in each state.

“We sought to choose the state memorial, a memorial closer to people’s hearts, or a new memorial,” Ronny Ymbras, who served with the 101st Airborne Division in the Vietnam War, writes in the book’s Foreword.

Each state’s page contains photos of a memorial or monument, along with a brief history, and an alphabetical listing of the names of those from that state who died in the Vietnam War.

The authors include iconic state memorials such as the unique and powerful Kentucky Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Frankfort, which contains a sundial that places a shadow on the name of each that state’s Vietnam War KIA on the anniversary of the death.  There’s also the eight-acre Vietnam Veterans Memorial of Oregon, also known as the “Garden of Solace,” located in an arboretum in Portland, which includes a 1,200-foot walking path surrounded by pine trees.

Not to mention the iconic Angel Fire memorial in Northern New Mexico and the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans Memorial and its Vietnam Era Museum & Educational Center in Holmdel.

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The “Garden of Solace” Oregon Vietnam Veterans Memorial

There also are lesser-known memorials, including the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Lasdon Park in Westchester County, New York. Using that memorial in the book, Ronny Ymbras says, “is personal for me. I was there for its dedication, carried the 101st chapter flag in the parade and honored three guys I went to school and played ball with. May they rest in peace, Pete Mitchell, Peter Bushey, and Jeff Dodge.

Altogether, this coffee-table book is a top-quality tribute to American service personnel –living and dead—who served in the Vietnam War.

For more info and to order, go to fallenneverforgotten.com

—Marc Leepson

Fate Unknown by Galen G. Mitchell

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Fate Unknown: Reflections of a Combat Tour (Labuela, 420 pp., $19.95, paper: $5.99, Kindle) pays tribute to the men of A Company of the 1/327th in the 101st Airborne Division during their deployment to Vietnam in 1965-66. The book follows the unit—called “Abu Company”—from its arrival by ship at Cam Ranh Bay to An Khe, and then through operations around Phan Rang, Tuy Hoa, and Dak To.

The author, retired Army 1st Sgt. Galen G. Mitchell, led an Abu weapons squad that spent eight months in the field. One of the more fully trained men in Abu, Mitchell had enlisted at age seventeen in 1961. He shipped home early from Vietnam after being shot in the face.

The book’s subtitle labels these stories as “Reflections,” and that is exactly what Mitchell provides. He pulls no punches analyzing combat and life in the field. The accounts of frequent encounters with the NVA provide a flow of facts and opinions about the learning curve of the Screaming Eagles, one of the first infantry units sent to Vietnam. He relates the behavior of men in his platoon to how their actions provided lessons for others.

Proud of his fellow warriors, Mitchell immortalizes them in chapter after chapter: Sgt. John T. Humphries, RTO Raymond T. “Rocky” Ryan, Pfc. Manual F. Fernandez, Staff Sgt. Billy R. “One Zero” Robbins, Pfc. Jimmie Lee Stacy, Lt. Eugene R. New, Pfc. James D. Wilson Sr., Pfc. Blair “T-Bird” Funderburk, Staff Sgt. Milton E. McQueeney, Spec.4 Reuben L. “Sweet Daddy Grace” Garnett Jr., and many more.

The strength of Mitchell’s memoir is his ability to personalize these men, both survivors and those killed in action. He respects his fellow soldiers without reservation.

“I can truly say that throughout my career, the best unit I ever served with was Abu,” he writes. In 1971 Mitchell served a second tour in Vietnam with the 173rd Airborne Brigade.

Mitchell’s experience of platoon-level combat more than qualifies him as an expert on the subject. Two chapters I found especially informative were “Collateral Damage” and “Gut Check,” which contain Mitchell’s deepest insights into casualties and leadership. He repeatedly lauds support fire provided by artillery and air power, from helicopter gunship strafing to B-52 carpet-bombing.

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101st Airborne troopers in Vietnam

The last third of the book concentrates on his unit’s battle near My Phu, where Mitchell was wounded, and another near Dak To, which took place after his medical evacuation. He makes a sound case in faulting his Brigade Commander, Maj. David H. Hackworth, for the high American casualty count in both engagements. He chastises Hackworth for favoritism, a dearth of camaraderie, and, more so, for a lack of tactical savvy.

Mitchell also strongly criticizes Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara for mismanagement of the war, particularly the heartless treatment of men in Project 100,000 after the fighting stopped.

Although the book focuses on the men of Abu, Mitchell briefly mentions his childhood and his long Army and civilian careers. He devotes a chapter to explaining the origin and tradition of the Abu mascot.

Many photographs distributed throughout the book greatly enhance the text.

—Henry Zeybel

A Battalion of Angels by Mike Burns

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Mike Burns’ A Battalion of Angels (Mira Digital Publications, 131 pp., $12.99, paper) is an anthology of the stories of thirteen Vietnam War veterans centering on how their lives were saved in combat through Divine Intervention. These essays vividly describe helicopters flying into hot landing zones, dropping in combat units and evacuating casualties; soldiers patrolling in thick jungles that hide snipers and booby traps; and Marines walking into enemy ambushes. These are tales of how premonitions, early detections of attack, and last-minute battle plan revisions spared lives.

William Whitmore is the subject of the first chapter. More than half way through his tour of duty with the 101st Airborne the Bronze Star recipient was in an intense firefight. “While firing and moving, Bill felt a hand on his back that pushed him hard to the ground,” Burns writes. “To this day, Bill considers the hand and push as divine intervention, or more precisely, the hand of God”

This brief volume is well organized with chapter titles bearing the veteran’s name and time of service in-country, including evidence of the influence of a deity or a surrogate. In addition, there are remarkable battlefield accounts uniquely recording actions that are historically valuable alongside personal paths leading to the spiritual encounter.

Readers may identify with dates and locations as I did with the entry submitted by Raymond Jobin. His Vietnam War service dates correspond to my own, August 1969 to August 1970.  We had the same Commanding General, Maj. Gen. John A.B. Dillard.

Jobin was offered a position on Gen. Dillard’s staff, but was uncharacteristically uncertain about whether to accept it. Perhaps God influenced his late-night decision to turn down the offer. Seven months later Gen. Dillard and nine staff members died when their chopper was shot down.

The final story introduces Navy Corpsman Kurt Turner, who served on the hospital ship U.S.S. Repose in the South China Sea. Turner and other Corpsmen typically carried wounded Marines from helicopters to triage, placing each patient on a gurney. One time this routine duty was nearly deadly. A Marine on the gurney had a live grenade hidden in a gauze leg bandage. When the grenade was safely removed Turner looked for an ambulator Marine who spotted the live explosive and told the Corpsmen about it. But that Marine was no where to be found.

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“Kurt is very comfortable in his belief that the Marine was actually a guardian angel, whose name in life was James E. Williams, Jr.,” Burns writes.

I strongly recommend A Battalion of Angels. Mike Burns made contact with ten of the thirteen veterans in the book through the free ads he placed in the “Locator” column in The VVA Veteran magazine. Because of that he is donating some of the book’s profits to Vietnam Veterans of America.

—Curt Nelson