Fury by Joe Myles

Joe Myles wrote Fury: A Soldier’s Journey (Salt Water Media, 174 pp. $19.95, paper) to record his military experiences for his sons and grandchildren. In the book Myles describes his life as an infantryman with the Big Red One, the U.S. Army’s 1st Infantry Division, in the Vietnam War during his 1968-69 tour of duty. He also uses the book to teach his offspring lessons from experiences far beyond ordinary life.           

For example, after witnessing several members of his platoon die in combat, Myles says that he stopped dwelling on the loss of life. “I don’t feel I had become insensitive,” he writes. “I just shut down in some way, just to be able to cope. Our wonderful minds have a way of protecting us by putting us on automatic pilot to allow us to continue to function.”

As a draftee a year out of high school, Myles rapidly adapted to the Army’s demands. He demonstrated leadership skills and facility with weapons in infantry AIT and the accelerated NCO candidate course (AKA “Shake ‘n Bake School) at Fort Benning’s Infantry School, and during his brief duty as a drill instructor at Fort Polk. After less than a year on active duty, Myles was promoted to Staff Sergeant, E-6.          

How Joe Myles accomplished that feat is a marvelous story that takes up the first half of the book.           

Old timers resented his rapid rise through the ranks and questioned his abilities, which he more than adequately repeatedly proved to them while conducting search-and-destroy missions from Lai Khe Base Camp in South Vietnam. Assigned to a brigade woefully undermanned because of casualties, Myles was chosen to lead a platoon, a position normally filled by a lieutenant. Employing tactics he learned at Fort Benning made him more than the equal of OCS graduates. When a replacement lieutenant arrived, Myles’ company commander assigned him elsewhere and Myles kept his platoon leader slot.

Eventually, a glut of new lieutenants reduced Myles to the position of platoon sergeant. Soon after, however, the company commander called on him to pick a squad and lead a difficult rescue mission, a success for which Myles received a Bronze Star.                         

His strangest encounter occurred after his point men got lost in a rainstorm. His unit then walked into a firefight with NVA troops—at their Cambodian R&R camp. “We couldn’t report the battle results,” Myles says, “because we were out of country.”

After being hit by an RPG during an attack on Hill 178, his company commander’s last words appointed Myles to lead the company, which Myles did until his men reached the plateau and a lieutenant colonel replaced him. That’s when Myles suffered a horrendous chest wound. He survived and returned to his unit with four months left to serve in Vietnam. 

Myles’ accounts of combat make interesting reading because he experienced the Vietnam War from both the level of a grunt and that of a commander. Regardless of his leadership status or the task, Myles took part in everything his men did.

Despite an offer to remain on active duty with a choice between a commission as a second lieutenant or a promotion to Sergeant First Class, E-7—which would have made him the youngest SFC in the Army—Myles decided to accepted a discharge after arriving home in July 1969.

Big Red One troops in Vietnam

His final lesson to his offspring appears in an epilogue, and compares life to a roller-coaster ride.  As Myles puts it: “When you’re at the top of your game and taking a dive toward the bottom, throw your arms up above your head and enjoy the ride, because you won’t be at the bottom long.”

The book closes with twelve pages of color photographs. Their arrangement triggered flashbacks to the book’s major episodes, making them a perfect conclusion to the memoir of an exceptional warrior. 

—Henry Zeybel