In Vietnam 365: Our Tour Through Hell (Acclaim Press, 224 pp., $26.95, hardcover) Karen Angelucci presents a complex narrative based on the Vietnam War tour of former Army Spec 5 David J. McCormack, who served in Vietnam in 1970-71. Angelucci identifies his unit as “the Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 5th Battalion, 2nd Artillery Automatic Self Weapons group located on Duster Compound, attached to 30th ARVN Rangers and a Navy Seal A-Team of 5th Special Forces.”
Angelucci presents the Vietnam War story of McCormack, a “greenline” guard and master mechanic. In Vietnam he acquired the sobriquet “Billy the Kid,” by which he became widely known both to allied leaders and—according to the book—to vengeful, high-ranking members of the NVA and VC.
This honorary title was bestowed on him due to his legendary coolness and lethality in several encounters with the enemy during his time in III Corps.
Angelucci also describes McCormack’s repeated confrontations with those who outranked him. She writes that NCOs and officers usually backed down in deference to his incredible courage and in-country experience.
In one chapter he karate punches a sleazy chief warrant officer in the nose, then intentionally runs his Jeep over the guy, breaking his kneecap and smashing his foot. In the next chapter McCormack punches a Long Binh Hospital nurse in the chest, knocking her to the floor.
Despite these and other assaults and threats of time in Leavenworth or worse, McCormack always escaped serious punishment. Angelucci writes that he even outsmarted the CIA when agents sent him on a suicidal decoy mission.
She says he also worked with a Vietnamese spy in Cu Chi who informed him of enemy movements in the area. When the spy was captured by the enemy, she identified him to her torturers.
Before leaving for The World, McCormack was debriefed by a friendly master sergeant, who told him: “Moscow, Peking, and Hanoi had [sic] each put up five hundred dollars for your young ass dead or alive. Go home and crawl in a hole and pull the hole in after you. There, no doubt, will be a Soviet Special Forces operative inserted into the U.S. to kill you.”
Readers might raise an eyebrow at some of these tales, but still find the narrative rings true in several of its specifics, primarily those concerning military vehicles and weaponry.
McCormack, who became an auto mechanics instructor in a technical college after serving in Vietnam, offers intricate details of his work as an in-country mechanic. For example:
“So I thought, ‘These military vehicles are literally ‘de-tuned.’ I took string and measured around the crankshaft pulley. I used a tape measure and calculated eighteen degrees before top dead center. That was the factor specification for the ’61 Corvette fuel injection that was what I used on my ’57 Chevy I called the ‘Grey Ghost’; it ran best changing gears at full power shift at 7,200 revolutions back on the street.”
In another passage, he and a fellow Southerner discuss at length and with sentimentality the specifications of their cars back home. It is a believable and poignant moment of escape from the grinding craziness of the war into which these “good old boys” have both been thrust.
McCormack seems to have an unusual story to tell. Perhaps a direct autobiography or a better-documented account would have been more effective in telling it.
The book includes McCormack’s own in-country photographs and several excellent photos taken by Robert W. Griffin during the war.
One final note: Angelucci quotes McCormack who quotes an Army dog handler who claims he would put black gunpowder into the raw meat of his “German Shepard hunting dogs.” Then, according to the handler, the dogs, now super-aggressive and with a taste for human flesh, would be set loose to slaughter the enemy.
During this period this reviewer served in III Corps with a unit that had guard dog handlers. He never heard of this bizarre practice.
Is this another in a long and still-growing list of Vietnam War myths?