Vietnam Combat: Firefights and Writing History by Robin Bartlett

It should come as no surprise that a graduate of Claremont McKenna College with a BA in Comparative Literature and who eventually made a career in publishing should write a well-written and deeply researched memoir of his six-year military career. Nor should it be a surprise—except to some of the clannish West Pointers with whom he went through Ft. Benning Jump School and Basic Officer Infantry Course—that Robin Bartlett, an ROTC liberal arts major, was an effective, brave, and committed infantry platoon leader who saw substantial combat in the Vietnam War.

Bartlett’s Vietnam Combat: Firefights and Writing History (Casemate, 299 pp. $37.95, hardcover; $15.99, Kindle) includes photographs and drawings, a military glossary, a personal timeline, a bibliography, an index, and a list of veterans organizations—although I wish he had included the Jewish War Veterans of the USA, America’s oldest active VSO.  Also, Bartlett includes to great effect many of the alternative-reality letters he wrote home from Vietnam to family and friends.

Bartlett made the drastic change from being a party planner at Ft. Bragg to being an infantry platoon leader in 1968 when he joined the 1st Battalion, 5th Regiment of the First Cavalry Division in I Corps. When he did, he recognized that his expected life span was less than 90 days. 

Of the five new platoon leaders introduced to the battalion commander to replace five who had been killed in action, Bartlett was the only one who survived his tour of duty. He writes about the fatigue, intense heat, rain, mud, death, blood, firefights, deprivation, sweat, heat stroke, dehydration, and despair that he and his men experienced during frequent four-to-six-week forays into the boonies. Some humorous events, including an exploding shit barrel and the misadventures of a hard-luck private, and some positive things, such as a Christmas party at a Catholic orphanage, lighten the book’s tone.

Bartlett completed his time in the war with five months in II Corps working in the little-known Military History Detachment at Division HQ (“You fight it, We write it”). One of his main tasks was to write a history of a particular battalion engagement that had gone wrong. That was no easy task as the battalion commander and the S-3 refused to speak to him.

Without casting blame, his draft report criticized certain operation events at command level. But Bartlett’s superior made him change the report’s title (“Battle of Parrot’s Beak”), as well as his conclusion so as to blame the heroic on-the-ground company commander who was clearly not at fault. The brass protects its own when the losers get to rewrite history.

Bartlett in-country

Bartlett is frank in his assessment of the Vietnam War (“brave solders and bad politics”) and his resulting PTSD. He says writing this book was cathartic. Although he writes that his Vietnam War service was meaningless and a waste, the reader may conclude otherwise. 

Robin Bartlett exhibited courage, performed his jobs well, cared for those who served under him, and developed leadership and organizational skills. His brother, father, and grandfather, all of whom graduated from West Point, should be proud of him.

When greeting Vietnam War veterans, “Welcome home” is the Bartlett phrase uses. I have decided to do the same rather than the trite, “Thank you for your service.”

Bartlett’s website is

— Harvey Weiner

Red Clay Ashes by Julie Tulba

Red Clay Ashes (343 pp. $16.99, paper; $2.99, Kindle) is a novel set in the Vietnam War. Author Julie Tulba was inspired to write it after a trip to Vietnam. The plot focuses on the role of female Vietnam War correspondents. The main character is based on Anne Morrissey Merrick, who married a male journalist and raised a child in Saigon until America withdrew its combat troops in 1973.

The book opens in Saigon in 1975. As the communist forces close in, Hazel Baxter is evacuated, but not with her husband. The novel then jumps to 2005. Hazel’s daughter Bee is dealing with the death of her mother, whom she knows little about. She makes a trip to visit a friend of her mother, Suzanne, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. She shocks Bee with the story of her mother when she was a freelancer in Vietnam starting in 1967. 

The novel has two tracks—Hazel’s and Bee’s. Hazel’s story makes up about eighty percent of the book. This gives Tulba the opportunity to highlight female journalists and to hit some interesting topics.

Hazel uses her press credentials to go on a patrol, visit a military hospital, participate in a psyop mission, ride in a tank to rescue a family, explore a VC tunnel, and expose the mistreatment of prisoners in South Vietnam’s Con Son prison. Meanwhile, she has a relationship with a veteran male journalist. All of this is news to Bee.

Tulba did her homework. She includes a bibliography, which is unusual for a novel. She is interested in shining a light on a war she feels is ignored in American History classes. And in highlighting female war correspondents.

Hazel and Suzanne risk their lives breaking a glass ceiling. Vietnam was the first American war in which journalists could go anywhere and watch anything. Tulba having Hazel take advantage of that allows her to give readers a taste of the seamier side of the war. That includes plunking Hazel in Hue during the 1968 Tet Offensive where she is wounded and sees death and destruction up close.

Hazel does it partly for the adrenalin rush. She also puts her job ahead of her family.  However, Tulba avoids the stereotype of war correspondents being hard partiers. Instead, Tulba trods a less-traveled path by implying that journalists can have PTSD. This explains Hazel’s poor parenting.

Julie Tulba

There is a definite feminist vibe. The novel is antiwar, but it is not overdone. The book has no significant Vietnamese characters, so we do not get much on the effects of the war on civilians. 

Instead, we get a reporter’s view, which includes the lying and exaggerating at the “5 O’Clock Follies” official military press briefings. Hazel sees and writes about the failure of the Americans winning the “hearts and minds” of the South Vietnamese people and about the devastation cause by spraying Agent Orange.

I enjoyed Red Clay Ashes. It is part romance, part mystery, and part history. While the romance is straight out of a rom-com without the com, overall the novel is well-written and Tulba’s attention to history is commendable.

Just don’t read it as a parenting guide.   

Julie Tulba’s website is

–Kevin Hardy

Without Honor: Defeat in Vietnam and Cambodia by Arnold R. Isaacs

Because January 27, 2023, marks the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Paris Peace Accords, it is appropriate that an updated version of Arnold Isaacs’ groundbreaking 1983 book, Without Honor: Defeat in Vietnam and Cambodia: (McFarland, 446 pp. $49.95, paperback), has just been published in an updated edition.

This well-written and exhaustively researched book chronicles in great detail the last three years of the Vietnam War, particularly the political machinations leading to the 1975 collapse of South Vietnam. It was lived and written by Isaacs, an American journalist who was there almost the entire three years. The book, therefore, has the feel of being written by someone who experienced it, as opposed to someone who just merely read about it. There are lengthy chapters on the wars in Laos and Cambodia that provide comprehensive information on those events that few remember.

Isaacs severely criticizes a great number of the political decisions leading to the end of the war, calling them “callous, cynical and wrong,” but admits that by 1972 there were no good choices for the United States to make—only a choice of evils. He is particularly scornful of Graham Martin, the last U.S. ambassador to South Vietnam. 

Martin, who didn’t speak Vietnamese or venture out of Saigon, was indecisive and unrealistic, and made decisions that may have cost lives. However, Isaacs, who covered the war for the Baltimore Sun, praises the final evacuation as well-executed despite the Ambassador’s delays and lack of preparation.

Isaacs notes that America’s allies, including the South Vietnamese, were cut out of the negotiations of the Paris Peace Accords. This is also what the United States later did to its Afghanistan allies and is one reason he decided to republish the book. 

The haunting echoes of end of the Vietnam War were heard and repeated in Iraq and Afghanistan. At least, Isaacs writes, the evacuation in Vietnam was successful, compared to the evacuation of American personnel from Afghanistan.

The book’s title, Without Honor, may stick in the craw of those who served in the Vietnam War, their friends, families, and survivors, but Isaacs is referring here only to America’s promise to millions of Vietnamese who depended on U.S. protection against a ruthless and determined enemy.  Abandoning our Vietnam War effort was an act of betrayal for which the overwhelming majority of Americans who did not serve—including our leaders and their critics—share the responsibility.

Arnold Isaacs

Isaacs has little criticism of individual American troops, virtually all of whom did serve with honor. The American military did not lose the war. He writes about an encounter just before Saigon surrendered to the Communists in 1975 to illustrate that point.

U.S. Army Col. Harry Summers, who was serving on the American negoiating team as the war drew to an end, said to a North Vietnamese liaison officer, “You know, you never defeated us on the battlefield.” 

The Communist officer considered for a moment.  “That may be so,” he replied, “but it is also irrelevant.”

Without Honor should be required reading for any American politician contemplating the issues of war, particularly American involvement in a war in Asia.

Isaacs’ website is

–Harvey Weiner

Life Dust by Pam Webber

Life Dust (She Writes Press, 312 pp. $17.95, paper; $9.49, Kindle) is a novel telling the story of a young couple separated for a year due to the war in Vietnam. Author Pam Webber is a nurse practitioner who is married to a Vietnam War veteran. This is her third novel.

It’s the spring of 1971 and the book’s protagonist, Nettie, a nursing intern, unfortunately stumbles across two high-level hospital employees engaged in sex. Though she stays silent about it, they decide to make her life hell.

Nettie is engaged to Andy, a freshly minted U.S. Army lieutenant on his way to Vietnam. Andy hopes he is prepared “to lead men I’ve never met, in a country I’ve never seen, in a war no one seems sure about.” He carries a small New Testament with Nettie’s picture tucked inside.  

Andy begins to build a good reputation during his first days in-country when he’s told, “You notice a lot for a new lieutenant. You have good instincts.” Some of the guys he serves with have names like Doc and The Philosopher, and I’m not sure why the character whose real name is John Wayne would even need a nickname, but at least it’s Cowboy.

The book’s title derives from a reference to the unit’s translator, a French/Vietnamese man who Vietnamese people refer to as “life dust,” signifying someone left behind and frequently abandoned.

Back home Nettie worries about Andy. As an intern, she is a part-time student and part-time hospital employee. She bonds with a patient, an older man dealing with congestive heart failure. She also begins doing volunteer work for an organization working to bring attention to the plight of Vietnam War MIAs and POWs.

Andy’s men spend long stretches in the bush. Once after returning to their base after months deep in the jungle they are berated by an officer for their “filthy” appearance. Meanwhile Nettie is at home fighting false charges brought against her as she tries to keep her job at the hospital.

Toward the end of the story Webber unfortunately includes a passage that enforces the myth of returning troops being spat at by demonstrators—and on the East Coast at that.

Overall, though, Webber’s novel is a good one. She has a very smooth writing style and has put in a significant amount of Vietnam War research. Her knowledge of military equipment and information is truly impressive.

Though the story doesn’t break any new ground, many readers will find it to be a captivating one.   

Pam Webber’s website is

–Bill McCloud

In Country by Forrest R. Lindsey

The simple fact is that Forrest R. Lindsey’s memoir— In Country: My Memories of Vietnam and After (Dorrance, 198 pp. $47, hardover; $36, paper; $34, Kindle)—is a confession. In it, Lindsey chronicles his transformation from a nearsighted, skinny 20-year-old to a dispassionate killer.

Lindsey tells his history with little interference from his ego. He mainly presents facts to the reader, and the most telling is: “I had picked up the habit of shooting whoever I hit after they went down, usually a burst of three rounds, just to make sure he stayed down.”

By the time that habit was ingrained, he had come to believe that death wasn’t that frightening and that “when you’re dead, you’re dead.”

A 1965 enlistee in the U.S. Marine Corps, Lindsey arrived in Phu Bai in January 1966 and progressed from an accident-prone 5-ton truck driver to an OJT artilleryman, a gunner, and then a scout with an Artillery Forward Observer Team as part of  Echo Company of the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines. He extended his 13-month tour to move up to the scout level where, along with directing supporting artillery, he became a rifleman.

“Grunts had their own uniquely dangerous war,”  he says. They “were always active. Every single day was spent out in the field and patrolling, looking for the enemy.” Lindsey was amazed to learn that all of his fellow grunts had been wounded—many as many as three times, which automatically qualified them to go home—but they self-doctored minor wounds so they could stay with the unit.

Ignoring regulations, Lindsey continued to use an M-14 rifle after American forces converted to the M-16. More than once, Marines looked to him for the riflery magic their weapons could not provide.

Lindsey took part in 19 operations before being wounded in May 1967. He writes about a Marine attack on a suspected Viet Cong battalion headquarters that easily qualified as a walk through hell. “I won’t describe what I saw,” he says, after watching an overhead 155-mm-howitzer-round booby-trap kill a dozen Marines and wound many more.

He is less hesitant to discuss his own wound—a “comminuted fracture” from a bullet that pulverized his thigh bone into a cloud of fragments. Surgeons put him in a full body cast and saved his leg. His two years in a hospital were nearly as horrid as his time in combat except that the new enemy consisted of Navy and Air Force nurses who outranked enlisted men and haughitly ignored their needs.

Discharged from the Marine Corps when his four-year enlistment ended, Lindsey finished rehabilitating his leg, went through post-traumatic stress, enrolled in college, married, divorced, and drank too much. In 1973, the Marine Corps invited him back and commissioned him as a lieutenant. After becoming an artillery battalion commander and serving a total of 27 years, Lindsey retired as a lieutenant colonel in 1996.

He says he has no regrets for his actions in the Vietnam War, and feels strong compassion for wounded and dead Marines. “The Marine Corps exists to kill people or to be killed in the process of killing people,” he says.

Although In Country initially offers the standard war memori litany of arriving in Nam, eating C-rations, and taking cold showers, Lindsey’s recollections about his three jobs and medical treatment presented surprises and facts that were new to me.

Forest Lindsey’s experiences went well beyond what most Vietnam War veterans encountered.

—Henry Zeybel

My Year in Vietnam by Phillip Elkins

If I had to choose one word to best describe Phillip Elkins’ My Year in Vietnam: How I Managed to Survive: June 1966 to June 1967 (Senior Felipe Press, 374 pp. $20, paper; $9.99, Kindle), it would be “ambivalent.” The book qualifies as a war memoir, as well as a tell-all tale about military life, a love story, a study in psychology, a tour guide, soft-core pornography, and an indictment of whomever or whatever the reader prefers.

Elkins, AKA “Senor Felipe,” pours out attitude, insight, and humor in abundance. He can describe taking a piss in a style that simultaneously educates, repulses, and amuses. He has perfected the mood and voice of a 19-year-old, unhappy draftee who lacks goals beyond the moment.

This is Elkins’ second book about his Army years. His first, Running from the Fire, tells of his growing up in East L.A. and training as an Army medic. A third, Coming Home from Vietnam, is in the works. Presently, he hosts the “L.A. Sounds with Sr. Felipe” show on KZFR-FM in Chico, California.

During the first half of his year in Vietnam Elkins served under the pseudonymous Sgt. Ulysses Sidell, who the men considered as more dangerous that the Viet Cong. They operated from Bien Hoa’s 3rd Surgical Hospital in the 1st Preventive Medicine Unit attached to 56th Med.

Their mission centered on reducing infectious diseases, water problems, food spoilage, mosquitoes, rats, and fleas. Sidell sent his men on unproductive cross-country trips to remote sites in the Viet Cong-controlled countryside. When the unit went to Dak To, the VC overran their compound.

Elkins’ descriptions of combat and post-battle scenes contain an uninhibited nakedness of emotions that are gut-wrenching. He does not dwell on gore; he makes concrete observations about death and moves on.  

Naturally, the men despised Sgt. Sidell. Elkins played a major role as spokesman for his fellow draftees. They sent protest letters to their commander and—surprise—Sgt. Sidell was reassigned.

At this point the story makes a U-turn. Under a new commander, Elkins found a broadminded friend. Because Elkins knew his job and did it well, the new lieutenant gave him almost unlimited freedom and Elkins took advantage of it.      

Elkins at An Khe, Christmas 1966

He continued to meet his obligations as a traveling preventative medicine lecturer and trained new troops to emulate his humorous, sex-centered, and highly effective manner of educating the masses on how to avoid sexually transmitted diseases.

Parallel with that throughout the second half of the book, Elkins does little more than frantically pursue women, day after day in Saigon and during R&R in Bangkok. The story becomes a sexual romp with a lineup of beautiful women with whom he falls in love. He promises the moon to each of them—after all, he was 19 years old.

Elkins repeatedly shatters today’s standards about sex and race. He warns the reader that he uses “some harsh words, some derogatory terms, and some graphic scenes.” He used them, he says, because he wanted his book to be “as realistic as possible.” He delivers in every department.

Phil Elkins loathed the Army. It stole a year of his life for no productive purpose, he believes. The book’s outrageousness shows, however, that despite the system, he followed his self-centered lifestyle, which makes his Vietnam War story one of a kind.

—Henry Zeybel

Fort Bragg to Hué by James M. Dorn

What is it with all these lawyers who, having served in the Vietnam War, after retiring from the bar, write a war memoir and not one about their lengthy legal careers. My theory is that their short war experiences are more memorable than their decades-long practice of law. 

One of the latest such war memoirs is Fort Bragg to Hué: A Paratrooper with the 82nd and 173rd Airborne in Vietnam, 1968-1970 (McFarland, 234 pp. $29.95, hardcover; $13.49, Kindle) by retired Army Maj. James M. Dorn. In this highly readable and lucid book, Dorn chronicles his two-year Vietnam War tour of duty, during which he served in three of the war’s four Corps—all except IV Corps in the Mekong Delta.

2nd Lt. Dorn and his 82nd Airborne unit—the Third Brigade—were sent to Vietnam on an emergency deployment in February 1968. He began as a Public Information Officer running a small brigade newspaper and added Post Exchange Officer to his portfolio. After five months, he was transferred and, as an XO, commanded his battalion’s defense perimeter at night for nine months. Then he was transferred to Saigon for five months to lead a platoon defending the U.S. Embassy. 

Dorn found his niche and his love as a platoon leader. Then he was transferred to the 173rd, where, for four months, he was in command of a recon platoon. After yet another transfer, he commanded another infantry platoon for six months. Then, after turning down an offer to be a staff XO, he ran squad-size patrols as a platoon leader in the pacification program. 

Dorn spent his final months in-country as an Assistant Operations Officer at battalion HQ.  He describes all those assignments in great detail.

A 173rd Trooper in-country

The strength of the book is how Dorn conveys the boredom, fatigue, mud, rain, leeches, and the endless and exhausting days humping the boonies on patrol without contact with the enemy. He pulls no punches in his criticism of some of the decisions made by superiors, several of which led to unnecessary casualties. He was relentless in his work ethic and preparation for operations and for the safety of his men. He was creative when necessary and—when deserved—praises his superior officers.

Dorn had limited contact with the Vietnamese people, but, after politely refusing to use nuoc mam (fermented fish) sauce at the one meal he had with a Vietnamese family, I hope he has since acquired a taste for it.

Dorn recounts a USO show in which he first thought the veteran actor and World War II veteran Tom Tully was a “wino.” In the book, he belatedly offers an apology and hopes that Tully will accept. Alas, Tully, who was nominated for an Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for his role in The Caine Mutiny, cannot accept because he died in 1982. 

While on that Vietnam USO tour, Tully contracted a filarial worm, which ultimately led to the amputation of his left leg, as well as to pleuritis, deafness and serious debilitation, and alll but ended his acting career.

One can never imagine the story behind the person who pops out of a chopper for a USO show.

–Harvey Weiner

Henry by Donald J. Yost

Don Yost served as an infantryman and combat correspondent in Vietnam during his 1968-69 tour of duty with the Americal Division’s 11th Infantry Brigade. Since then, he has worked with veterans dealing with PTSD and in 1995 wrote Blessings: Transforming My Vietnam Experiences.  A long-time member of Vietnam Veterans of America, Yost is a Senior Lecturer in English at Montgomery County Community College in Pennsylvania. 

The first third of Yost’s latest book—Henry: A Sequel to Stephen Crane’s the Red Badge of Courage (Covenant Books, 192 pp. $24.95, paper; $9.49, ebook)—recaps Crane’s famous fictional Civil War veteran Henry Fleming’s experiences at the Battle of Chancellorsville. Yost also flashes back to flesh out Henry’s life as a farm boy who left his widowed mother to enlist in the Union Army.

Although Yost adds to Henry’s story, the first nine chapters are mainly dedicated to the recap. Chapter 10 begins with Yost’s imagining of what happened to Henry after the battle.  It turns out he and Billy Wilson moved on to fight at Gettysburg, where they faced Pickett’s Charge at Cemetery Ridge. Henry was wounded and his war ended. The rest of the book covers his readjustment to rural life as a severely disabled veteran.

First, let me give kudos to Yost for writing this book. A sequel to one of the most revered novels in American literature? That took some guts. But somebody needed to do it as Crane leaves us wondering what Henry’s future will be. 

Yost’s conjecture is realistic. In a sense, we learn what returning to civilian life was probably like for many Civil War veterans who came from farm families. Even with Henry back, the Fleming family has a hard time. One theme of the book is the communal nature of rural America at that time, along with the religious foundation that helped people get through hard times. 

Religion did not play a large role in Red Badge, but it does here. A clergyman is a major character. He nudges Henry back to his faith. Yost also explores war guilt and PTSD, a concept sometimes known then as “Soldier’s Heart.”  He also gets a runaway slave family into the mix. Drummer boys and Dorothea Dix, the pioneering mental health advocate, get shout-outs. 

Don Yost is a good writer. This book is an easy read, partly because he does not try to replicate the dialect used by Crane. Some of the characters, though, tend to be comfortably clichéd: the saintly reverend, the helpful neighbors, the loving mother, the disabled veteran who worries he doesn’t fit in anymore, and the girl he left behind. 

I believe that few people will read this book who have not read Crane’s, so the first nine chapters may not have been necessary. I would have preferred to have seen Henry’s future as a soldier explored more.

I also have a problem with Crane’s Henry having a quick transformation from coward to hero in one day. I wanted Yost to take him through the rest of the war and see which version of Henry was the real one. 

This is not to say that the focus on Henry coming home was a bad decision. It just seems to me we could have had both. The home front chapters are heart-warming. I recommend reading this book while sitting in front of a fire.   

–Kevin Hardy

Zigzag Men by Larry Sherrer

Zigzag Men (Brass Books, 273 pp. $14.95, paper; $2.99, ebook) by Larry Sherrer is an enjoyable, darkly humorous novel of the Vietnam War, focusing on a group of helicopter pilots battling an inefficient, inept military system every bit as much they’re fighing the enemy. In fact, the “villain in this novel,” Sherrer tell us, “is a dysfunctional army.”

Larry Sherrer, a member of Vietnam Veterans of America, served as a scout helicopter pilot in the Vietnam War. He flew out of Quan Loi Base Camp near An Loc in South Vietnam in 1971, the same location and time in which the novel takes place.

Warrant Officers Eldon Zigman and “Roach” Surr arrive together in-country, having been friends since flight school. Zigman, who is almost too tall to be a helicopter pilot, quickly develops a bad attitude about the Army and the war. Roach is almost not tall enough and didn’t like the Army from the get-go. The only thing he hates more than lifers is the Army itself.

Both men were draftees. Now they’re entrusted with flying quarter million-dollar helicopters at a time when there is an appalling attrition rate for chopper pilots.

Flying as scout pilots out of Quan Loi, the two men see plenty of air action. Zigman is convinced the system is going to kill him, but he feels powerless to change it. He’s constantly making lists of ways he might die and separating them into categories.

A few pilots are considered to be jinxed because they always seem to find trouble. Sherrer writes about men who don’t want to be promoted into additional responsibilities and others who have concerns about the quality of aircraft maintenance. In one scene, a pilot battles to control a helicopter that suddenly loses its hydraulics. In another, a pilot loses his memory after his helicopter is hit. Another has an out-of-body experience in reaction to combat.

Humor is often an important way people in the military deal with stressful situations. Using humor in writing about the experience can be an effective technique. I’m keeping Zigzag Men in my library to reread again. Highly recommended.   

–Bill McCloud

A Tour of Chuong Thien Province by John Raschke

John Raschke’s A Tour of Chuong Thien Province: A U.S. Army Lieutenant with MACV Advisory Team 73 in the Mekong Delta,1969-1970 (McFarland, 238 pp. $29.95, paperback) tells the remarkable story of a young second lieutenant’s 10-and-half month tour as part of a MACV advisory team in one of the most dangerous—if not the most dangerous–provinces of the 44 in South Vietnam. Raschke, a life member of Vietnam Veterans of America, grew up on an Illinois farm, was one of ten children in a house with no indoor plumbing, and educated in a one-room schoolhouse. 

His book is well written and is as much a history as a war memoir. Considering that Rascke kept a diary only of his combat operations and that he waited almost fifty years to begin the book, the level of detail and recall in it is extraordinary. It is supported by substantial research, endnotes, a glossary, a “what happened to them” section, and an index. 

The contribution of this book to Vietnam War military history is Raschke’s documentation of the role of U.S. military advisers to the South Vietnamese. Each adviser had a separate role from other members of his 50-person advisory team and each role required training, initiative, and judgment. John Raschke had all of these qualities, well beyond his years. I know—I was his hooch mate. 

Raschke was the engineer adviser, but when he realized his more experienced Vietnamese engineer counterpart didn’t often need his advice, he made himself useful to the Team and the war effort by volunteering to take part in many combat operations. He was so effective in the latter role that the Province Senior Advisor officially switched Raschke’s duty position for a month so that he could qualify for the Combat Infantryman Badge, his proudest decoration and one he richly deserved.

Among Raschke’s many combat operations was his heroic rescue under intense enemy fire of a fellow Team member who had been shot six times, including a bullet in his heart and one in his head. He miraculously survived and Rascke (and I) visited him a few days later in the Can Tho hospital. A mason jar with six bullets inside sat at his bedside.

The book emphasizes the warm relationship between the American Team members and the South Vietnamese. To the Team, they were not “gooks” or “slopes” or “the other,” but rather close friends and equals. They were combat buddies.

John Raschke spent decades trying to locate members of the Team, including those who were members when he was not there. The Team existed for nine years. The book discusses the seven reunions Raschke has organized since 2009, their cathartic and healing aspects, and the new and renewed friendships that have resulted. 

The first reunion in 2009 included the first meeting between Raschke and the soldier he rescued from the rice paddy since we saw him in the Can Tho hospital 40 years earlier.

In Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, the fictional narrator recreates his youth as filtered through his subsequent life experiences and accumulated wisdom. In a sense, John Raschke does the same in this book, but with a humility and a modesty that Proust’s narrator lacked.

Looking back, Raschke understates what he did, and that makes the book even more compelling.

–Harvey Weiner