Charlie Rangers at War by Darrel Gibson

In Charlie Rangers at War: An Infantry Soldier’s Journal, Vietnam (CreateSpace, 310 pp. $12, paper; $5.40, Kindle), Darrel Gibson provides a gripping account of his own Vietnam War experiences, as well as those of many fellow infantrymen. As an RTO in the Army’s 1st Infantry Division’s 1/16th Infantry (and later with the 9th Infantry Division’s 5/60th), Gibson was well placed to observe events, which he documented daily in a pocket notebook he kept wrapped in plastic.  

These notes are the foundation for this book nearly fifty years later, which Robert Cooper, his former platoon and company commander, helped Gibson put together. In 2017, Cooper was very ill, yet he worked tirelessly with Gibson through long, heavily detailed conversations by phone to craft this compelling history.

Gibson volunteered for the draft in January 1968, leaving his native Kansas City, Missouri, for six months of training, then arrived in Vietnam the following summer. 

Among the book’s many assets, a few deserve mention. First, by offering his own recollections and those of Cooper’s, Gibson adds those of other men from his platoon. Each man recounts his own experiences of the same action. When Gibson puts them together, they become a layered image of how, step by step, each action was fought. There are vivid details of the acrid smell of burnt gunpowder, the sight of enemy rocket-propelled grenades streaking close to the ground toward the Americans, and the near impossibility for the men to hear each other—let alone coordinate movements—as the lead is flying.

Then there are the descriptions of American tunnel rats who descended into the VC’s massive network of heavily reinforced and supplied tunnels. Filled with weapons and ammunition and supplies of nearly every kind, the tunnels also contained medical and maintenance facilities. These detailed accounts drive home the massive challenges American troops faced against a highly motivated enemy.

At the end of each chapter Gibson provides detailed accounts of the men in his unit who were killed in action. From the start, he drives home the point that each was more than a statistic—that his loss created a void in the world that could never be filled. 

–Mike McLaughlin