The A Shau Valley of Death by James Horne

Former Army Sgt. James Horne’s The A Shau Valley of Death (213 pp., paper), a truly cathartic book, is a tribute to his fellow 101st Airborne Division’s Sky Soldiers. Horne writes briefly about his Army stateside training, including NCO Shake and Bake school at Fort Benning, then dives into the story of his deployment into the A Shau Valley as a squad leader with B Company of the 101’s 2nd/506th in Vietnam in 1968-69.

He introduces us to the members of his squad and company, and notes their comings and goings from the unit as the daily grind of patrols and ambushes takes its inevitable toll on men and equipment. In constructing this book Horne operated mainly from memory, although he researched his unit’s daily and after-action-reports, which are available on line.

Victor Hugo, deep within Les Miserables, has a chapter titled, “Cemeteries Take What is Given Them.” All too often, self-published books can be similarly referred to. James Horne’s book—and his story—would have benefited hugely from some editing and proofing. What’s more, the book’s changing font sizes and photo placements serve to confuse and jar the reader, distracting from the story line. And the references to information that can be found on web, which come within lines of text, further tend to fragment his book.

I say this only to point to the fact that Jim Horne’s tribute could have been much greater and grander if he’d had some literary help and guidance.

Still, this is a good memoir full of love, respect, and tenderness for long-ago former comrades.

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—Tom Werzyn