The Band Never Played for Us by Ronald G. Goddard

When you first open The Band Never Played for Us: The Vietnam War as Seen by a Marine Rifleman in 1967 (Lulu, 425 pp. $31.49, hardcover; $19.99, paper: $7.99, e book), turn to the chapter titled “Battle at Phu Oc.” It culminates all that came before.

Ronald G. Goddard, who was nineteen when the battle took place, examines that day with frightening clarity. Thirty-one Marines were killed in action and 118 wounded. The order that sent Marines into battle at Phu Oc was “the stupidest tactics I had ever seen for the terrain we were in,” Goddard says.

“There were almost no enemy soldiers visible even though they were all around me. I did not see any recognizable NVA soldiers today; except the shadowy figures I saw running deep in the jungle. I saw muzzle flashes, hands, arms, but I never saw a face or anything that looked like a human being. No one was out in the open.”

Based on his experiences as a squad leader in the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment from March to October 1967, Goddard concludes: “The problem every American infantry leader had in Vietnam, from a battalion commander to a fire team leader, was that we didn’t know the terrain as well as the enemy, and we never knew what we were getting into until we were in it.”

Wounded three times, Goddard saw more than enough action to validate his opinion. He understood that Marines were both “the hunter and the hunted,” and recognized the “fine line between aggressively pursuing the enemy and getting yourself sucked into an ambush.”

The core of his book describes and analyzes on-the-ground warfare in Vietnam based on Goddard’s experiences and day-by-day accounts of his squad’s activities. Even a reader familiar with Vietnam War infantry operations should find interest in Goddard’s efforts to devise tactics to protect his men and to outwit the NVA. He brings to life what he learned firsthand.

Throughout the book, Goddard’s honesty pleased me, especially when he went off on a “Fuck it all” tangent. Otherwise, he is a life-long, truly proud and dedicated Marine.

The final pages of The Band Never Played for Us contain several maps of his operating areas along with photographs of Marines in Vietnam.

The author’s website is

—Henry Zeybel