Introducing his book of thirteen and a half months of memories about his time in the Vietnam War, Neal E. Morgan writes: “This story revolves around the perspective of a payroll clerk doing a mundane job in insane circumstances. If you are expecting an action-packed battlefield diary or intense account of heroic exploits, you will have to look elsewhere.”
Morgan goes on to temper his warning by saying, “We were all in harm’s way.” A somewhat innocent draftee, Neal Morgan learned to hate the war back then and still does so today.
Morgan, a member of Vientam Veterans of America, writes that he spent “7 days a week in the ‘office’ for 8 to 12 hours” at Di An, the headquarters of the Big Red One, the 1st Infantry Division. When outside the office, he experienced “a lifetime of memories” as he writes in Shot At & Missed: Vietnam October 1967 to November 1968 (CreateSpace, 294 pp. $12.95, paper; $4.99, Kindle).
Morgan’s tour exposed him to the rigors of grunt life starting with the Tet Offensive when admin personnel manned the base perimeter (but remained unscathed) while, within their sight, Saigon and an ARVN camp went up in smoke.
He offers an insightful thesis on his love-hate relationship with guard duty based on unpredictable dangers inherent in a relatively routine task. He validates his emotions by recalling a morning base perimeter sweep as the point man who confronted two NVA soldiers, practically face to face. He also describes his one mission as a door gunner on a UH-1.
Morgan tells equally good stories about unusual actions such as a Rome plow leveling a town’s black market and red-light district, and a lightning strike that detonated every hard-wire device around him—including “foo gas” [fougasse] cannons.
Adding to the lore of Vietnam War oddities, he describes thirty fellow REMFs who, in response to Tet, formed a volunteer search-and-destroy team—”The Admin Badmen.” They trained during off-duty hours and eventually conducted night patrols, but never engaged in a firefight.
“I thought they were nuts,” Morgan says, “but admired their courage and dedication.”
Morgan intersperses entertaining stories with accounts of day-by-day routines that include detailed explanations of things that are now common Vietnam War knowledge, such as Claymore mines, C-rations, pink malaria pills, and ao dai dresses. That writing slows the pace of the book.
He adds historical perspective with chapters about Vietnamese history from 500,000 B.C. to 1975. In his epilogue, Morgan says he is “not a historian,” and excuses himself for including “names, events, and references [that] are exaggerated or incorrect, [because] none of those things were the real goal of this work.”
Morgan says that his “real purpose” was “a need to reveal the sad history that dragged America down a spiraling path into the painful and deadly bedlam that resulted in the Vietnam War.”
All things considered, Neal Morgan presents an interesting view of his involvement in the war as a twenty-two-year-old. His sincerity and his message’s relevance are unquestionable. Plus, he knows how to tell a story. His focus and organization, however, blur at times.
Still, Shot At & Missed is his first book, and as he says, “This chronicle was simply something I needed to do for and by myself.”