Heart of Gray by Richard W. Enners

 
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Richard W. Enners’ Heart of Gray: Lt. Raymond “Iggy Enners: Courage and Sacrifice of a West Point Graduate in Vietnam (Acclaim Press, 256 pp., $26.95) is a shining tribute to the author’s older brother. The book commemorates a life of honor and achievement, from junior high school to the Vietnam War, where Raymond Enners died. It is clear from the beginning that he was a team player who always left ego behind to make sure his team did well.

Richard Enners tells how early experiences built Ray’s character and led to his leadership abilities. He uses lacrosse and his brother’s expertise in the game as an example of the Ray’s natural-born talents. As a young boy in an important game, for example, Ray had a chance to score a goal but instead passed the ball to a teammate so he could reach a personal milestone. “Ray certainly had the guts, but was not interested in the glory,” his brother writes.

Such leadership carried through to the Vietnam War in which Ray served after graduating from the U.S. Military Academy. His brother—also an Academy graduate—discusses Ray’s life at West Point, from drills to dinner.

Raymond Enners went to Vietnam in 1968 where he used “influence, not authority, to lead his teammates,” Richard Enners writes. 1st Lt. Ray Enners led his unit, Alpha Co., in the Americal Division’s 1/20th Inf. Regiment of the 11th Infantry Brigade with courage and friendship. His men never suffered low morale, thanks primarily to his leadership.

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Richard Enners

Even Ray’s death on September 18, 1968, in a vicious firefight with the NVA near Ha Thanh showed his lack of selfishness, as well as his courage and humanity. He died in a rice paddy as he saved others. For this, he received the Distinguished Service Cross for dedication, bravery, and valor.

Heart of Gray is filled with extraordinary detail from Ray’s entire life. The fight in which Ray fought and died is described so well that the reader can easily envision the action. Even his R&R is chronicled in detail. There also are testimonies from former classmates, war buddies, and friends, all glowing with respect and admiration for Raymond Enners.

—Loana Hoylman

 

 

Company of Heroes by Eric Poole

Eric Poole’s Company of Heroes: A Forgotten Medal of Honor and Bravo Company’s War in Vietnam, which Henry Zeybel reviewed on these pages when it was published in hardcover last year, is now out in paperback (Osprey, 320 pp., $15).

The book tells the story of Spec 4 Leslie H. Sabo, Jr. of Bravo Company in the 3rd Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, Sabo received the Medal of Honor posthumously after nearly single-handedly fighting off a large enemy attack during the 1970 Cambodian incursion.

“I believe that too many Vietnam War grunts never received the honors they earned. That is why books such as Company of Heroes are important,” Zeybel wrote in his review.

“They chronicle people and events on the verge of disappearing.”

—Marc Leepson

No Strings Attached by John W. Carlson

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John Bultman enlisted in the Marine Corps and arrived in Vietnam at age nineteen in 1967. He spent thirteen months as a courier for the First Marine Air Wing at Da Nang. He also helped defend the base perimeter as a rifleman during the 1968 Tet Offensive. Bultman’s courier runs to outlying posts by helicopter, Jeep, light aircraft, and river patrol boat exposed him to “war’s dreadful brutality,” he says. The sight of dead bodies, “especially women and children,” created his “most horrible memories.”

Later in life, Bultman talked fervently about the Marine Corps to John W. Carlson, a drinking buddy and a feature writer for The Star Press in Muncie, Indiana. Fascinated by what he heard, Carlson has written a book about Bultman’s life called No Strings Attached: John Bultman’s War as a Marine in Vietnam, and Its Aftermath (CreateSpace, 78 pp. $10. paper).

This short book provides a lucid image of Bultman’s personality, depicting his weaknesses as well as strengths. Best of all, Carlson shows that Bultman has a sense of humor about the world in general and an ability to laugh at himself when appropriate.

As the subtitle suggests, Bultman’s war experiences fill only half of the book. The “Aftermath” focuses on Bultman’s playing the banjo and battling PTSD.

After the war, John Bultman bummed around on beaches near San Diego, worked with Vietnam Veterans Against War, returned to college but dropped out, and then discovered and taught himself how to play the banjo. Love of music led him to the love of his life—Janan—who played the piano, flute, and mandolin. They married, had two daughters, and enjoyed success in the music business until PTSD overwhelmed him.

Bultman’s years of treatment for PTSD included two months as an in-patient at a VA hospital. Survivor guilt haunted him.

267x267-2d1fdaa5-3bb0-474e-8476f194863d8de0“When John describes his treatment, it takes on the aura of sweaty, physical effort,” Carlson writes, “’Oh, shit,’ he recalled. ‘It was hard, hard, hard work. My life changed dramatically,’ he said, though he noted his treatment wasn’t exactly a panacea. ‘I was not as angry.’ Still, even in the face of success, he doesn’t take such good news, such progress, for granted. He admitted, ‘I’ve never met a Vietnam vet that wasn’t grumpy. Every day, it’s always something. It’s just that now the level is different, of course.'”

To me, these four quotes quietly explain that PTSD is a lifelong problem. Along the way, a VA doctor declared Bultman one hundred percent disabled by the disorder.

Carlson’s No Strings Attached is what it is. Basically, he adds another witness to confirm the severe damage incurred by young minds exposed to traumatic situations.

—Henry Zeybel

Tragedy at Chu Lai by David Venditta

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David Venditta’s Tragedy at Chu Lai: Reconstructing a Deadly Grenade Accident in a U.S. Army Classroom in Vietnam, July 10, 1969 (McFarland, 212 pp., $29.95, paper; $17.99, Kindle) is the story of the author’s hunt to find out exactly what caused the death of his cousin, U.S. Army Warrant Officer Nicky Venditti.

David Venditta, a retired journalist, conducted a twenty-one-year investigation, wading through official misinformation and uncovering hitherto unknown facts. The two men were cousins, but the spelling of their last names differs because part of the family reverted to the original spelling—Venditti—that officials at Ellis Island had altered two generations earlier.

In 1969, The Daily Local News of West Chester, Pennsylvania, attributed Nicky Venditti’s death to “wounds suffered in action about a week after he arrived in the war zone.” The assumption was that “a rocket got him,” David Venditta says. In 1994, curiosity led him to contact the newly organized Friends of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and ask about his cousin’s death. The Friends told him the death was listed as a “non-hostile” casualty. That motivated David Venditta to try to find out exactly what happened.

The book’s first half recreates Nicky Venditti’s life through childhood, elementary and high school, military training as a helicopter pilot, and arrival in Vietnam. The last half reveals his cousin’s extensive research into the matter from the time he contacted the Friends in 1994 until he wrote the book in 2015.

The author learned that an “instructor unknowingly discharged a live grenade” during classroom instruction and that was what killed Nicky and two other soldiers. Slowly but methodically, David Venditta looked through paperwork from virtually every available government source and interviewed one hundred thirty people from all levels of command, as well as friends of those who died.

Most significantly, the author learned that no meaningful investigation or conclusive report had resulted from the incident. Repeatedly finding the Army remiss in its approach to the three deaths, David Venditta tried to find a guilty party worthy of punishment. Eventually he found and interviewed the instructor who had detonated the grenade. His confrontation and conversations with the man constitute the climax of the book.

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The author, a pic of his cousin, and his pilot helmet

Guilt for what happened is never clearly established. The possibility of sabotage existed. David’s relations with the instructor provide an excellent psychological study about the acceptance of responsibilities related to war. “What if?” and “Stuff Happens” influenced the thinking of both men.

When I finished reading the book, I had mixed feelings about David’s investigation and his conclusions.

I intend to pass the book on to my brother-in-law, who (like David Venditti and unlike myself) did not serve in the military. I look forward to hearing his opinion. To me, many of the author’s questions are unanswerable—perhaps even unnecessary. But I’m still thinking about them.

David Venditta’s encounters with military personnel and military procedures steered him toward another project, interviewing more than a hundred veterans of both World Wars, the Cold War, and the Korean and Vietnam Wars. He published accounts of these men in another book, War Stories:  In Their Own Words.

—Henry Zeybel

Looking Back by Sarah Sherman McGrail

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Sarah Sherman McGrail’s two-volume set, Looking Back: A History of Boothbay Region’s Veterans during the Korean and Vietnam Wars (Cozy Harbor Press; 562 pp., Vol. I; 586 pp., Vol. II. $24.95 each) Volumes I & II), is a treasure chest of well-organized and carefully researched, alphabetized biographical sketches of more than two hundred  veterans from Maine’s Boothbay area. The books provide many unique personal wartime experiences.

“The men and women in these pages are our relatives, spouses, and neighbors,” McGrail writes. “They matured, learned about responsibility and respect, suffered trauma, and witnessed death.”

The veterans include Army draftee Ambrose “Sonny” Artzer, a cook who was responsible for feeding two hundred men daily and then pulling perimeter guard duty at his An Khe base in Vietnam. “The military food he prepared consisted of dehydrated milk, powdered food, including franks and beans, spaghetti and meatballs, peaches and fruit cocktail, Sonny’s favorites,” McGrail writes.

In the year Artzer left An Khe, Army dog handler George Blackman arrived. “The lives of the men were dependent upon an obedient, mean dog,” the author notes. “Blackman’s canine commands included, “sit, stay, down, come, as well as watch him, get him, and kill.”

Details like these abound. Many of the entries deal with the heat, humidity, monsoons, and the smells and dangerous creatures in Vietnam. Army Infantryman Ernest Carver, for example, encountered pit vipers, wild pigs, red deer, rats, mosquitoes, monkeys, elephants, and tigers. “The leeches were terrible,” the author notes. “During the rainy season, or monsoon season, Ernie said it was impossible to keep dry.”

Richard Benner enlisted in the Army in 1947 and served two tours in Vietnam, first as part of a Civil Affairs Team with the 521st Medical Intelligence Unit, the only outfit so dedicated in Vietnam. Near Qui Nhon there was a leper colony “and its inhabitants were relocated to a camp” because of their highly contagious disease, Benner said. “To their credit, the lepers painted their shacks different bright colors and Dick said they looked very nice.”

Volume II opens with the globe-hopping, thirty-year Navy career Seaman Harmon Roscoe Maddocks. He served in Vietnam with the 571st River Division as a Patrol Boat River (PBR) Captain aboard a Brown Water Navy vessel in the Mekong Delta. Wounded in action, Ross received two Bronze Stars while wearing the black beret of the “River Rats.”

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Sarah Sherman McGrail

One interesting story pre-dates the official American involvement in Vietnam. Harold Seavey, Jr. enlisted in the Air Force in 1951. One year later he was assigned to the 1600th Medical Group at Westover Air Force Base in Massachusetts as a Medical Service Apprentice. In that capacity Seavey participated in the evacuation of French troops from their war in Indochina.

In addition to the first-person accounts, these volumes also include addenda on subjects such as the history of the POW/MIA bracelet, song lyrics, photo albums, and poems.

—Curt Nelson

 

Legend by Eric Blehm

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Eric Blehm’s Legend: A Harrowing Story from the Vietnam War of One Green Beret’s Heroic Mission To Rescue a Special Forces Team Caught Behind Enemy Lines,  a well-received account of Army Master Sgt. Roy P. Benavidez’s life, is now out in paperback (Crown, 288 pp., $16).

On February 24, 1981, President Ronald Reagan presented the Medal of Honor to Benavidez for his extraordinary courage under fire in dense jungle during a clandestine May 2, 1968, mission in Cambodia. Benavidez, on his second Vietnam War tour of duty, was honored for what he did after a twelve-man 5th Special Forces recon team found itself penned in by hundreds of NVA troops.

As we noted in our review in the print edition of The VVA Veteran, the heart of the book is Blehm’s fine account of the battle action. He fleshes out the narrative with a short sketch of Roy Benavidez’s life before he joined the Army, and weaves in a solid accounting of Vietnam War historical background. The result is a readable, meaty narrative that tells the complete story of one of the most notable Medal of Honor recipients of the Vietnam War.

—Marc Leepson

By Honor Bound by Tom Norris and Mike Thornton with Dick Couch

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If you get your hands on a copy of By Honor Bound (St. Martin’s Press, 288 pp., $26.99; $12.99, Kindle), skip the blurbs on the book’s jacket as well as the Forward, Preface, Introduction, and Epigraph. The book’s subtitle—Two Navy SEALs, The Medal of Honor, and a Story of Extraordinary Courage—provides all the background you need.

Start reading on the first page—”Part 1: Bat 21″–in which prolific author (and former SEAL) Dick Couch tells the story of Tom Norris and Mike Thornton so completely and seamlessly that if you are the least bit militarily inclined, he will instantly capture your full attention. His narration unreels with mounting suspense.

I was continually dazzled by the selfless dedication of Norris and Thornton, both of whom received the Medal of Honor for carrying out rescue and reconnaissance missions behind North Vietnamese Army lines near the Cam Lo bridge and inside the Demilitarized Zone in 1972.

Couch took me into the SEAL world and I simply could not stop reading. In one sitting, I finished the book’s first 170 pages, which describe Norris and Thornton’s heroic efforts. The magnitude of their dilemmas and feats left me teary-eyed and speechless, incapable of reading the best passages aloud to my wife.

Their operational principle was “Hope for the best but plan for the worst.” They encountered the worst of the worst. I won’t say more about what happened because I might lessen the impact for readers of the surprise, awe, and admiration produced by their actions. It is better to hear the facts from Couch.

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Dick Couch

Yes, other people have written about these men, but never with so much depth and detail. Norris and Thornton told their stories to Couch, and he expanded them with interviews from eyewitnesses and his own expertise as a SEAL veteran of the Vietnam War. Couch also flawlessly interweaves history lessons relevant to their heroic actions.

By Honor Bound is his twenty-second book related to military activities, eleven nonfiction and eleven fiction.

The last part of the book describes the post-war lives of Thornton and Norris, which include Navy and FBI adventures almost as fascinating as their earlier experiences. These accounts also include eyewitness testimony.

In a final tribute to Norris and Thornton, Couch says, “Not only were they incredibly heroic during these events, but they were almost superhuman—even by Navy SEAL metrics.”

If you read this book, I predict that you will agree.

—Henry Zeybel