Wesley Fishel and Vietnam by Joseph Morgan

“The world is our campus,” proclaimed John Hannah, the president of Michigan State University from 1941-69. During that time, Hannah transformed a sleepy, agricultural college into a world-class research university. The charismatic Hannah also was at the forefront of an important mid-20th century trend in American higher education: fusing academic research with public affairs through organized research units. A young Far East scholar, Wesley Fishel, was one of his stars.

A significant part of Joseph Morgan’s biography, Wesley Fishel and Vietnam: A Great and Tragic American Experiment (Lexington Books/Rowman and Littlefield, 252 pp., $100, hardcover; $45, Kindle), is an examination of America’s descent into the war in Vietnam. The book is well researched and accessible. An assistant professor of history at Iona College, Morgan’s previous book, The Vietnam Lobby: The American Friends of Vietnam, 1955-1975, examined that advocacy group—of which Fishel was an integral member—set up just after the end of the French Indochina War to help the newly formed government of South Vietnam become free and democratic.

If there was a casting call for the role of an academic who would play a prominent role in that endeavor as a close adviser to South Vietnam’s first president Ngo Dinh Diem, it likely would not have been Wesley Fishel. After graduating from Northwestern, the Cleveland native served as a Japanese-speaking Army intelligence officer during World War II. Following the war, Fishel earned a doctorate in political science from the University of Chicago, studying under the famed Hans Morgenthau. A chance 1950 meeting with Diem changed Fishel’s life.

While ostensibly an unlikely pairing, the two shared much in common—each lost a brother to war; were diminutive in size but large in brainpower; believed in using intellectual ideas to transform society; and were virulently anti-communist. In 1954 Fishel decided he would not merely be a pundit on foreign affairs, but would shape them. The next year, the U.S. government awarded MSU a $2-million contract to advise the nascent South Vietnamese government. Morgan posits that Fishel’s relationship with Diem was the deciding factor in Michigan State winning the contract.

Fishel relished his access to power and his role as a maker of public policy, to the extent that some were put off by his egotism. His closeness to Diem led to charges that the relationship clouded his judgment. Fishel also proved to be a poor administrator, leading to conflicts in the MSU advisory group, as well as with the U.S. government agencies. But Diem’s obstinacy worked in Fishel’s favor, as he remained one of the few Americans with whom the autocratic head of state would confide.

Despite their relationship, most of Fishel’s advice to Diem was ignored, and, as Diem concentrated power, he became even less willing to listen. When Fishel’s colleagues published a series of articles in 1961 denouncing Diem’s rule, the MSU contract was terminated. A disillusioned Fishel broke with Diem in 1962, and the next year was working with the State Department on possible Diem replacements.

Fishel and family in Saigon, 1956

After Diem was assassinated in 1963, Fishel continued to vigorously defend American intervention in Vietnam, becoming a lightning rod for protestors. In the late 1960s, Fishel went to Southern Illinois University to help create the Center for Vietnamese Studies, a project that ultimately failed for several reasons, one of which was that the controversial Fishel headed it. He died suddenly in 1977.

Morgan astutely observes that Wesley Fishel’s career mirrored America’s war in Vietnam: Both were filled at first with hopeful optimism, only to be waylaid by frustration and ultimately disaster.

Morgan’s assessment of Fishel in his conclusion—that he was largely inconsequential in forming policy, contributed little to scholarship, and abetted Diem in creating a dictatorship—is both harsh and not borne out by his own impressive research.

Nonetheless, this book is a thoughtful reflection on the role the U.S. academy played in the Cold War and of one’s man role at the outset of what would become a “tragic American experiment.”

–Daniel R. Hart

Richard Tregaskis by Ray E. Boomhower

Some Vietnam War veterans believe that you could count civilian war correspondents who supported the American war effort in Vietnam on one hand. Whether true or not, that group included AP photographer Eddie Adams and Peter Braestrup, the Washington Post’s Saigon bureau chief. And the novelist John Steinbeck wrote a series of positive dispatches on the war for Newsday in 1967 at the behest of President Lyndon Johnson.

Another prominent Vietnam War supporter was the famed World War II combat correspondent Richard Tregaskis, the subject of Ray E. Boomhower’s new biography, Richard Tregaskis: Reporting Under Fire from Guadalcanal to Vietnam (University of New Mexico Press/High Road Books, 356 pp; $34.95, hardcover; $19.22, Kindle).

Tregaskis, a fierce anti-communist, wanted “a firsthand, eyewitness look,” he said, “at the strange, off-beat, new-style war in which we find ourselves engaged in the miserable little jungle country called Vietnam, which our nation’s leaders have decided is pivotal and critical in our Asian struggle with Communism.”

Though he had been in Vietnam before—on assignment for True magazine in 1948, during which he covered the battles between the French and Viet Minh forces, and in 1957, during the Diem regime–Tregaskis got a third chance in 1962. His aim was to do research for a book to be titled Vietnam Diary, following in the tradition of his best-selling World War II book, Guadalcanal Diary.

While Tregaskis’ endeavors in Vietnam take up a small portion of his book, Boomhower does a very good job comparing the differences between war coverage during the Vietnam War and in World War II. The most famous WWII war correspondents were, most famously, Scripps Howard News correspondent Ernie Pyle, Stars and Stripes reporter Andy Rooney, and radio correspondent Edward R. Murrow. None of those journalists would have dared to criticize the American efforts during World War II.

Vietnam War reportage was very different. And Tregaskis didn’t like it, once telling New York Times correspondent David Halberstam, “If I were doing what you are doing, I’d be ashamed of myself.”

For his part, Halberstam “believed it was his job and the responsibility of other journalists in Vietnam to report on the news, positive or negative,” Boomhower notes. “We were finding out stuff we didn’t want to find out. We wanted the Americans to win,” Halberstam said.

The civilian press corps soon understood, though, that MACV wanted only good news from the press and, “any other interpretation was defeatist and irresponsible.”

Tregaskis in Vietnam

Tregaskis’ spent much of his time in Vietnam in 1962 close to the action, as he did during World War II, flying on sixty assault missions on a variety of helicopters. Falling back on his memories of covering WW II, of Vietnam he wrote, “There was no one big D-Day; every day is D-Day and the front is everywhere.” No doubt the civilian press corps with which he was at odds and he could all agree on that.

Richard Tregaskis: Reporting Under Fire from Guadalcanal to Vietnam would make an excellent addition to the libraries of students of World War II and the Vietnam War.

–Marc Phillip Yablonka is the author of Vietnam Bao Chi: Warriors of Word and Film

Close Up on War by Mary Cronk Farrell 

The first time I interviewed the renowned French photojournalist Catherine Leroy for Stars and Stripes in 1997 she said, “When I photographed war, it went from dying soldiers to dead civilians. In the wars of one little world against another, one sees the senseless violence. It should be about being alive.”

Leroy’s stirring images, many of which appeared in Life and Look magazines, are alive in Mary Cronk Farrell’s new biography, Close-up on War: The Story of Pioneering Photojournalist Catherine Leroy in Vietnam (Amulet Books/Abrams, 320 pp. $22.99, hardcover; $9.99, Kindle).

In this biography for young adults Farrell tells the story of how Leroy had little to no photographic experience—little more than snapping photos of her cats in her Paris apartment—when she arrived in Saigon in 1966 with a one-way ticket, $100, and a Leica camera. Her dream was to capture images like the ones she saw back home in Paris Match magazine.  

Her first stop was the Associated Press. “When Catherine walked into the AP office, the men all stopped work and turned to look at her,” Farrell writes. “She pulled herself up to her full height, not quite five feet, took a breath, and asked for Horst Faas.”

Faas, the famed AP war photojournalist, later said that Leroy was “a timid, skinny, very fragile-looking young girl who certainly didn’t look like a press photographer as we were used to arriving for assignment in Vietnam. She looked very young, had a nice pigtail on the back of her head. She came in, introduced herself as a photographer from Paris, and I looked her over like everybody else had in the office, and said, ‘My god, here comes another one.’”

Faas asked the young Frenchwoman if she had experience. Leroy lied and said she did. He then reached into his bottom drawer, she remembered later, and plonked three rolls of black-and-white film in front of her. “If you can get anything I can use,” he said, “I’ll pay you fifteen dollars a picture.”

Catherine Leroy had definitely infiltrated a man’s world in Saigon, and many male journalists resented her presence. Not the soldiers and Marines she photographed, however.

“When I got to Vietnam, I spoke three words of English. I slept in the same shitholes as the GIs,” Leroy told me in 1997. And, as Farrell recounts, she also managed to talk her way into parachuting into combat during Operation Junction City, in early 1967 with the 173rd Airborne Brigade.

Catherine Leroy getting ready to jump during Operation Junction City

One of the highlights of Farrell’s book is the fact that it also tells the story of the Vietnam War through Cathy Leroy’s story. An additional endearing highlight of the book is the fact that it is graced with English translations of many letters Leroy wrote home to her mother.

One example, from before the jump with the 173rd and before she was briefly captured in Hue by North Vietnamese Army troops when she was covering the 1968 Tet Offensive:

Chère Maman, Talking about Saigon now. A very pleasant town that you would like. People are insouciant and smiling. Many Americans in civil dress. All this doesn’t give the impression of being in a country at war. You can write to me at the Continental [hotel], I go there every day to pick up my post. Love, Cath’.”

Of course, Vietnam was a country deep at war—a war that Catherine Leroy (who died in 2006) brilliantly captured. Those images and her story are also captured superbly in Close-up on War.

The author’s website is marycronkfarrell.net

–Marc Phillip Yablonka

The reviewer is a military journalist whose latest book is Vietnam Bao Chi: Warriors of Word and Film:

America’s National Treasures by Rodney L. Kelley

In America’s National Treasure: Biographical Sketches of the United States Military Personnel Killed in Action on the Deadliest Day of the Vietnam War—January 31, 1968 (262 pp. $15, hardcover; $10, paper, $7, Kindle) retired U.S. Army Col. Rodney Kelly has produced a tribute to the 247 American servicemen who died in Vietnam on that bloody day—the first day of the 1968 Tet Offensive. American losses that day were the highest in any twenty-four hour period during the Vietnam War.

Kelley served in 1970 in Cambodia and later as MACV senior advisor for a Mobile Advisory Team in Phu Yen Province in South Vietnam. His military career stretched from 1969-99.

America’s National Treasure honors 12 airmen, 164 soldiers, 59 Marines, and 12 sailors. Each man’s life story is set down on a single page and each story captures something important and interesting about the man’s life. There also is a photograph and comments from family and friends for each entry. I applaud the effort that Kelley put into gathering the men’s biographies. Each one tells a story of innocence and dedication; altogether, they America’s citizens at their very best.

Five Security Policemen at Tan Son Nhut and Bien Hoa were among the twelve Air Force personnel who died that day. They were the first line of defense confronting a surprise attack by overwhelming numbers of North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong troops. Their actions delayed the enemy until additional units responded to defend the airfields they defended. I was in-country during Tet, and turning the pages of Kelley’s book brought back memories of how much Air Force members at all levels admired the valiant response of the Security Police. One of those men, Reginald Victor Maisey, Jr., received the Air Force Cross for his courage under fire that day.

Seven corpsmen stood out from among the twelve Navy casualties. They selflessly gave their lives caring for Marines locked in battle at Hue. The reflexive spontaneity of their responses also became a topic of great admiration among my peers. Navy Cross recipient Daniel Benedict Henry was one a corpsmen casualties. Only one of the men was older than twenty-three.

The youngest Army and Marine men bore the brunt of casualties suffered on that day in battles throughout South Vietnam. Forty of the fifty-nine marines were killed in action, generally by small arms fire, lost their lives in Hue. The majority were nineteen years old.

Turning the pages of the book and reading the biographies turned into a distinct lesson in humility. The section devoted to the 164 Army casualties seemed endless. Most were nineteen- or twenty-years-old and many had been in the service less than a year, rushed through training and sent to battle.

Most died while fighting in small groups overrun by enemy forces of superior size. They experienced everything (arguably more) that happened to men from other services, including ambushes, helicopter shoot downs, and death by friendly fire. The vast majority were shot by small arms or shattered by mortar shells or rockets.

Half a century after the event, reading about so many deaths in such a short time offers a lesson in self-sacrifice. Even opponents of the Vietnam War should be impressed by the devotion of so many young men to their nation, right or wrong. With America’s National Treasure, Rodney Kelley has produced a guide for future employment of forces if the right people read it.  

A story of boyhood friends—Owen Garnet, 20, and William Goldberg, 21—typifies the core of the book. One enlisted in the Army while the other was drafted. Their Army service numbers were sequential. Owen Garnet died at Long Binh on the first day of Tet; nine days later, Billy Goldberg was killed in action in the Mekong Delta.

They were buried in Miami on the same day.

—Henry Zeybel

Honor through Sacrifice by Robert E. Lofthouse

The question, “Where does America get such gallant men?” resonates repeatedly in Honor through Sacrifice: The Story of One of America’s Greatest Military Leaders (Koehler Books, 206 pp. $25.95, hardcover; $16.95, paper; $7.99, Kindle) by Robert E. Lofthouse. The answer focuses on Gordon Lippman, who fought in more than twenty battles in eleven campaigns in a twenty-two-year military career extending from World War II to the Vietnam War.

At the age of eighteen in March 1943 Lippman quit high school and enlisted in the Army. By the time he completed advanced training, Lippmann had been promoted to staff sergeant based on his leadership qualities.

In 1944, as a member of the 517th Parachute Regimental Combat Team, Lippmann saw action in Italy and, soon afterward, parachuted behind German lines into Southern France, a surprise operation that sent the German Army fleeing from the coastal region. Continually advancing northward, the 517th eventually fought in the Battle of the Bulge.

Lofthouse presents a great amount of historical detail in addition to telling the story of his first cousin’s life. After describing the turmoil of the pivotal Battle of the Bulge, for example, he analyzes events twenty-one miles north of Bastogne that Lippman took part in. For his leadership and daring under fire during the Battle of the Bulge, Gordon Lippman earned a battlefield commission to second lieutenant at the age of twenty.

In his account of cousin’s actions in the Korean War Lofthouse follows the same historical pattern, but tells more about the man who led the all-Black 24th Infantry Regiment platoon. Although Lippman unhesitatingly risked his own life, he always kept his men’s survival in mind. In Korea, he received a Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star, Purple Heart, and a promotion to captain. Following the war, Lippman advanced through the ranks. As a lieutenant colonel, he joined the 3rd Brigade of the 1st Infantry Division at Lai Khe inside the Iron Triangle in 1965.

Lofthouse writes that political machinations led to the U.S. military failure in the Vietnam War. “Civilian control of the military does have its consequences,” he writes, noting that “the U.S. military had long been schooled in offensive warfare and was very good at it. Regardless of political policies, U.S. commanders were institutionally and psychologically unsuited to a defensive mission, which is what was called for in Vietnam by successive presidential administrations of Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson.” 

In this “caldron of contention,” Gordon Lippman served mainly as a staff officer, although he occasionally joined troops in the field. Once, he even took a turn as a door gunner on a helicopter. He also was a believer in hearts-and-mind programs, especially helping school-age children.

Lt. Col. Lippman

On the night of December 11, 1965, following dinner with his fellow officers, Lippman announced that he was going to check on “the boys.” He donned his web gear, left the quarters, and was shot. A helicopter immediately medevacked him to Saigon, but he died during the night.

In concluding Honor through Sacrifice, Lofthouse examines Lippman’s legacy, along with those of other military heroes. He also includes “Memories from the Family,” a collection of remembrances about his cousin from the people closest to him.

Between wars, Lippman lived a model life. Following his strong Roman Catholic principles, he and his wife adopted three children. He earned bachelor and master’s degrees and wrote articles about leadership, a few of which Lofthouse summarizes in the book.

Honor through Sacrifice rightfully lauds the life of an exceptional citizen-soldier and simultaneously offers history lessons about American involvement in World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars.

I lived through those years and knew a lot about much of what Lofthouse writes in the book about those wars. On the other hand, he delved into minutia that reached a new and revelatory depth for me.

I highly recommend the book for anyone interested in infantry combat.

—Henry Zeybel

JFK: Coming of Age in the American Century by Fredrik Logevall

“To pour money, materiel, and men into the jungles of Indochina without at least a remote prospect of victory would be dangerously futile and self-destructive.” What American leader said it and when?

It wasn’t Sen. George McGovern, the World War II veteran who opposed the Vietnam War beginning in the early 1960s. Nor was it Sen. Eugene McCarthy, who ran on a strong antiwar platform in the 1968 Presidential campaign. And it wasn’t retired Lt. Gen. James Gavin or the architect of the containment doctrine, George Kennan, who spoke out against the war during the 1966 Senate Fulbright hearings.

The speaker, in fact, was Sen. John F. Kennedy, and the year was 1954. The young Democratic senator from Massachusetts was reacting to the Eisenhower Administration’s support of France during the First Indochina War, which had been doing on since 1945. The remarks were given in April as Viet Minh forces be sieged the French garrison at Dien Bien Phu and the French frantically pleaded with the Americans to save them from an impending disaster. Eisenhower, whose administration underwrote the majority of French war, ultimately decided not to intervene militarily. In May the French were routed.

That was not the first time a John Kennedy had shown interest in Indochina. In 1951, then Rep. Kennedy went on a fact-finding mission to the Middle East and Asia that included a prominent stop in Vietnam. The news of the trip would burnish his foreign policy bona fides, effectively enhancing Kennedy’s credentials his successful run for the United States Senate the following year.

By 1956, Kennedy had changed his tune. He characterized the U.S. as South Vietnam’s “godparents,” and promised to defend that nation from a communist insurgency. “Vietnam represents the cornerstone of the Free World in Southeast Asia, the keystone to the arch, the finger in the dike,” Kennedy proclaimed in the keynote speech he gave to the American Friends of Vietnam, a group created in 1955 to promote and defend democracy in the nascent country of South Vietnam. Kennedy was a charter member.

In JFK: Coming of Age in the American Century, 1917-1956 (Random House, 816 pp., $40, hardcover; $20, paper; $14.99, Kindle) Frederik Logevall’s magisterial slice-of-life biography of John F. Kennedy, the Pulitzer-Prize-winning historian searches for answers to this paradox and the other complexities of the thirty-fifth president of the United States.

Though the historiography on Kennedy is voluminous, Logevall’s work is the first to fully contextualize Kennedy in his times in this massive book that divided into 22 accessible chapters and supported by 65 pages of endnotes. Logevall, perhaps the foremost scholar of the American war Vietnam, is a professor of history and international affairs at Harvard University. His previous books include Choosing War: The Lost Chance for Peace and the Escalation of the War in Vietnam (1999) and Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America’s Vietnam (2012), which won the Pulitzer Prize.

This first volume of a planned two-volume exploration of Kennedy’s life spans JFK’s first thirty-nine years, ending with his unsuccessful run in 1956 for the Democratic nomination for Vice President. That loss was ultimately a win for Kennedy, though, as it propelled him to prominence as a national political figure and solidified his decision to run for President in 1960.

Despite his domineering father, Logevall’s Kennedy is more independent, and—despite his well-documented womanizing—more earnest than he has been depicted in other historians. Logevall does not avoid the many deficits in Kennedy’s character—he was a poor friend, exploitative in many of his relationships, and too often favored his public image over his character—but he does tread lightly over two incidents in Kennedy’s life that would come to define the young politician: the disputed authorship of his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Profiles in Courage, and his failure to vote for the censure of Sen. Joseph McCarthy in December 1954.

Kennedy’s early commentary on the war in Vietnam and private doubts belying his public rhetoric produce a complicated picture that would inform his war policies after he was elected President. But this will have to wait for Logevall’s much-anticipated second volume.

I, for one, can’t wait.

–Daniel R. Hart

Kapaun’s Battle by Jeff Gress

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Kapaun’s Battle (3rd Coast Books, 239 pp. $17.95, paper; $5.99, Kindle) is the inspiring story of the final year of the life of Emil Kapaun, a man of God who became the most decorated chaplain in U.S military history.

When the North Korean People’s Army invaded South Korea in the summer of 1950, United Nation forces, mainly from the U.S., moved in to aid the South Koreans. Among them was Father Kapaun, 34, who had served as a Catholic chaplain in World War II and rejoined the Army to go to Korea because, he said, he had “orders from God.” Upon his arrival “No one but the generals understand why we’re here,” Kapaun said.

In early action he had his helmet knocked off by rifle fire and later he was blown off his feet by a mortar round. Another time a bullet split Kapaun’s pipe in two while was holding it. He taped it back together. One soldier called him “the most fearless chaplain I’ve ever seen.” He always seemed to be surprised to be complimented for his bravery.

Father Kapaun was with the troops as they moved across the border into North Korea, frequently using the hood of a Jeep as an altar. He was also with them when China entered the war with human wave attacks that broke through the American lines. Kapaun was seen dragging wounded men to cover again and again during the assault, constantly moving among them, treating the wounded, and praying over them. He was in a command post when it was overrun by the Chinese.

Gress, a screenwriter, pulls no punches when describing deaths on the battlefield. Much of it involved hand-to hand-fighting, which Gress characterizes as “hell on earth.”

As the Chinese moved south, nearly a thousand captured Americans were marched north. Those who couldn’t keep up were shot. As the POWs marched, Kapaun prayed just loud enough for the men around him to hear.

Eventually Kapaun and the other POWs were put in camps where dead bodies were stacked up by the hundreds. During the winter of 1950-51, one of the coldest on record, the POWs slept “with their cold feet clamped in the armpits of others,” Gress writes.

During their captivity Kapaun constantly prayed and comforted the men. He also actively stole food for them, and once tried to dig a grave, though he only had dog tags and sticks to do it with. In the spring of 1951 he defiantly gave an Easter service.

Father Emil Kapaun died in captivity in May 1951 and was buried in a mass grave. He was awarded the Purple Heart, a Bronze Star, a Legion of Merit Award, and decades later, was posthumously given the Medal of Honor by President Barack Obama.

Kapaun’s Battle is a well-written book about a courageous, selfless man who is being considered for canonization by the Roman Catholic Church. It was an honor to read it.

The book’s publisher, Ron Mumford, served with the Americal Division’s 6/11th Artillery in 1970.

–Bill McCloud

Under the Cover of Light by Carole Engle Avriett

Carole Engel Avriett’s Under the Cover of Light: The Extraordinary Story of USAF COL Thomas “Jerry” Curtis’s 7 1/2 -Year Captivity in North Vietnam (Tyndale House, 320 pp. $24.99, hardcover; $15.99 paper; $11.99, Kindle) is, as the subtitle notes, the story of Cpt. Curtis’s POW experience in North Vietnam after the rescue helicopter he was piloting was shot down on September 20, 1965.

During that long period, Curtis was moved thirteen times. He was released on February, 12, 1973, a member of the first group of POWs to ride home in a C-141 Starlifter, AKA the “Hanoi Taxi.” He was a member of the group known in the camps as the “old heads,” the men who’d been there the longest.

Avriett, a journalist who specializes in religious themes, has constructed a very interesting book, detailing the saga of Curtis’ capture and imprisonment by the North Vietnamese. The story appears to have been developed entirely from Curtis’s memory and memorabilia, as there are no references, resources, or any other research items listed in the book. If that’s the case, Curtis has a prodigious memory.

We are taken into the solitary and communal cells and into the darkness that pervaded most of the places Curtis was held. Avriett explains the famed 25-position matrix tap-code—how it was initially developed in World War I, and it was used to communicate clandestinely in POW camps ever since.

The title of the book refers to Curtis’ deeply held religious faith. Frequently, prayer was the only thing he had available to turn to for solace and to muster the courage and strength to carry on.

Avriett details some of Curtis’ prayers and his conversations with God about his predicament. We see him asking for answers and strength and praying for the comfort of his fellow prisoners. Upon his repatriation, Curtis retired from the Air Force as a colonel.

This is a straightforward story without political rants or agendas. Curtis also speaks candidly, through the author, about conversations and disagreements with his wife about his re-entry into his family, including matters of child discipline, household chores, and things his wife had to do to keep the family going in his absence.

This is a good read; a well-constructed and edited presentation book.                                    

–Tom Werzyn

Finally, Home by William R. Winders

William Winders’ Finally, Home (243 pp. $40, paper) is an amalgam of personal interviews and material gleened from reference materials. The interviews are mainly with Vietnam War veteran and former POW Dan Hefel, the subject of this very good book.

On Dec. 4, 1968, Daniel H. Hefel drove from his home near Buena Vista, Iowa, to the U.S. Army recruiting office in Dubuque and enlisted. In April 1969 PFC Hefel found himself in South Vietnam at Camp Sally as a 101st Airborne Division riflemen toting an M79 grenade launcher. For the next few months he took part in many large and small-scale actions from the A Shau Valley to the DMZ. Neither the NVA nor the VC could slow Hefel down, but a mosquito disabled him for a few weeks with a dose of malaria.

During this down time, Dan Hefel applied for and got permission to transfer to a 101st Aviation platoon as a Huey door gunner. He soon began flying missions manning an M60 machinegun.

On February 5, 1970, his chopper crashed near the A Shau Valley. The pilot died. Hefel and two other crew members survived, only to be captured by the NVA. They were transported to Hanoi and thrown in POW camps.

In Finally, Home, Dan Hefel recalls his POW experiences, which included recovering from a broken back and other crash injuries and dealing with torture, loneliness, and mental anguish. At one point, the prison doctor performed an emergency appendectomy on him without anesthesia.  After being held for three-plus years, on March 27, 1973, Hefel, along with 590 fellow American POWs, was released.

A year after returning to the U.S., Hefel was declared disabled due to his combat injuries and retired from the Army as a staff sergeant. He returned to Iowa, reunited with his family and friends, got married, raised a family, and is now living the American Dream on his Harley.

Finally, Home is a very good book, loaded with pictures, maps, and drawings. I recommend reading Sgt. Dan Hefel’s story.

—Bob Wartman

The book is available from Winders’ newspaper, The Dubuque Leader, 1527 Central Ave., Dubuque, IA 52001.

From Hell to Hollywood by Hal Buell

One would be hard pressed to find a journalist, Vietnam War veteran, or Baby Boomer who does not know the work of the Vietnamese-born war photographer, Nick Ut, especially his Pulitzer Prize-winning photo of Kim Phuc, known as “the Napalm Girl.”

Fellow photojournalist Hal Buell’s new book, From Hell to Hollywood: The Incredible Journey of AP Photographer Nick Ut (Associated Press, 216 pp. $35, paper; $11.49, Kindle), younger generations can learn about what a profound impact his photography had on an entire generation—whether they served in Vietnam, reported and photographed the war, or protested it at home.

The book contains 198 pages of photographs Nick Ut shot for the Associated Press in Vietnam from 1965 until he retired from the AP in 2017. There are many stirring photos he shot during the war, in which he was wounded twice.

What makes From Hell to Hollywood even better is Hal Buell’s fine prose, which details Nick Ut’s guarded entry into photography after his older brother, Huynh Thanh My, a well-known actor, CBS cameraman, then AP photographer, was killed photographing an ARVN operation near Can Tho in 1965. He’d been wounded and was killed by Viet Cong soldiers after they overran the battlefield.

“In that moment, the worlds of Huynh Cong (Nick) Ut and Arlette, My’s wife, collapsed. She was now a 21-year-old widow with a 5-month-old daughter,” Buell writes. “He was now a teenager whose mentor, the central foundation of his life, was taken away.”

Nick Ut’s sister-in-law pleaded with AP photo bureau chief Horst Faas to put him to work because his family needed a new bread winner. He was only 16 years old. Faas resisted at first; didn’t want to be responsible for the demise of two people in one family. But Faas relented and put the young man to work in the Saigon bureau’s darkroom.

It was there that Nick Ut became fascinated with the entire photographic process, and soon yearned to go out in the field as his brother had done. AP correspondent Peter Arnett helped make that happen and Nick Ut soon was doing what his brother had done in Vietnam and in Cambodia.

The photo he took for which he remains best known to this day was an image of then 9-year-old Phan Thi Kim Phuc as she was running down a road, naked, after her village was napalmed by a South Vietnamese Air Force plane on June 8, 1972. I interviewed Nick Ut about that fateful day for News Photographer Magazine in 2006.

“I saw a little girl running,” he told me. “She had torn off all her clothes. She was yelling, `Nóng quá! Nóng quá!’ [Too hot! Too hot!]. Her body was burned so badly. I didn’t want her to die, so I poured cold water on her.”

He didn’t know that cold water actually spread the napalm gel, exacerbating her pain.

“Then I borrowed a poncho from an ARVN 25th Division soldier because I did not want her to be naked,” he said. “She kept saying, `Chắc con sắp chết! Chắc con sắp chết!’ [I think I’m dying! I think I’m dying!].”

Ut said that Kim Phuc was in shock when he and other AP staffers got her to a hospital in Cu Chi. ARVN soldiers were mostly milling about. In a fit of exasperation, he showed his media pass and screamed: “If she dies, I will tell the story of this hospital.” Thanks to Nick Ut, Kim Phuc did not die.

In exacting, masterful prose Hal Buell tells the story of a photojournalist extraordinaire who went from capturing the horrors of war for the Associated Press to photos of American baseball (as foreign to him as cricket is to Americans), and countless movie stars.

According to Buell, when Nick Ut retired in 2017, he was constantly asked what he would do with his life now. His response? “I will always take pictures. Taking pictures is my doctor, my medicine. My life.”

From Hell to Hollywood will appeal to Vietnam War veterans, journalists, journalism students, and Baby Boomers.

–Marc Phillip Yablonka

Yablonka’s books include Vietnam Bao Chi: Warriors of Word and Film, profiles of 35 American military journalists who plied their trade during the Vietnam War.