Against All Tides by Marv Truhe

A riot broke out in the early-morning hours of October 13, 1972, aboard the USS Kitty Hawk, an aircraft carrier on combat patrol in the Gulf of Tonkin during the Vietnam War. Fighting fomented by racial tensions between white and Black sailors turned a section of the vessel into a battleground. Dozens of men were injured; three men had to be medevaced to on-shore medical facilities. The confrontations did not affect combat operations.

Capt. Marland Townsend had set the stage for the conflict that he classified as a “riot.” During his first five months as the ship’s new captain, Townsend had harshly punished Black sailors for behavior that he tolerated from whites.

Townsend’s zeal punishing Black sailors eventually infected multiple levels of command as the opinions of those who sided with Blacks were superseded or ignored. The Navy’s goal soon evolved into ending the entire matter hastily without further publicity. Navy leaders and government decision makers seemed to forget the tenet that everyone merits equal and fair treatment.    

Following the riot, Townsend attempted to try 24 Black sailors by captain’s mast, the Navy equivalent of an Article 15 in which he alone would determine their guilt and punishment. Only three men opted for a mast; two ended up in the ship’s brig for two months. The rest, who chose to be judged by court-martial, were forced to await their judgment in the Subic Bay Naval Base brig, occasionally in solitary confinement. No whites faced charges.

Lt. Marv Truhe, a former Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps lawyer at the time, has come up with a thorough account of the riot in Against All Tides: The Untold Story of the USS Kitty Hawk Race Riot  (Lawrence Hill, 320 pp. $28.99, hardcover; $11.49, Kindle). Truhe helped defend six Black Kitty Hawk sailors charged with rioting and assaulting white sailors.

Truhe analyzes Townsend’s actions, as well as the entire Navy command structure’s, at great length. He sets out each Black sailors’ situation in the riot, a factor disregarded by Townsend and others who treated them as a tightly unified group with no individual identity. If I listed all of the unfair procedures against the Blacks and their lawyers from start to finish of the case, this review would be ten-pages long.  

Working alongside other military, civilian, and NAACP defense lawyers, Truhe helped challenge the Navy for its one-sided investigation that charged only Black sailors and for the pretrial confinement of the accused in prison cells for months, an unprecedented action in the history of the modern Navy. He also writes about his own removal and possible court- martial as a defense counsel; the improper withholding of evidence by the government; and the dishonorable discharge of a Black sailor based on perjured testimony.

The book’s abundance of facts speaks for itself. Truhe fortifies his account by referencing his original case file, which includes interview notes with clients, witnesses, defendants, and fellow lawyers; dozens of tape recordings; official Kitty Hawk documents; and trial and hearing transcripts. “No publications or other accounts have captured the complete story,” he writes, “and too many have gotten it completely wrong.”

Lt. Truhe in 1972

After showing how government-supported racism grew, Truhe concedes that the outcome of the trials ultimately proved a vindication of sorts considering there were acquittals, dropped charges, and relatively lenient sentences. Plus, all of the defendants left the Navy with honorable discharges.

The most enlightening parts of Against All Tides are outtakes from legal arguments and courtroom cross examinations. They provide a touch of David versus Goliath, with low-ranking defense lawyers challenging high-ranking judges and admirals. The young lieutenants built great cases, but the big men often had the final word.

The Kitty Hawk conflict balanced out when, following the trials, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Elmo Zumwalt invited Navy officers “who do not view improved race relations as their critical duty right now to retire from the service.”

The book’s best message: “Those who are oblivious to their own prejudices are guilty of one of the more insidious forms of racism.”

Anyone interested in further pursuing this topic should look into, Gregory A. Freeman’s Troubled Water: Race, Mutiny, and Bravery on the USS Kitty Hawk (2010), a full-length book, and Laurel Habrock’s a 98-page paperback, Troubled Water: Race, Munity, and Bravery on the USS Kitty Hawk, published in 2021.

The author’s website is marvtruhe.com

—Henry Zeybel

Going Downtown by Thomas McKelvey Cleaver

Thomas McKelvey Cleaver is an author and screenwriter. He also is a U.S. Navy Vietnam War veteran and a licensed pilot with a lifelong interest in all things aeronautic. All of the above give him a unique insight into the American air war in Vietnam.

Cleaver’s Going Downtown: The U.S. Air Force over Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, 1967-1975 (Osprey, 352 pp. $30, hardcover; $12.60, Kindle) is a compilation of pilot biographies and memoirs interspersed with analyses of political and military decisions about how the USAF and the North Vietnamese ran air operations during the war.

Using extensive research and interviews, Cleaver has combined seemingly mundane, behind-the-scenes events with bone-chilling battle scenes. For me, Going Downtown was one of those “can’t put it down” reads, although I did put it down periodically just to digest the mountains of information I was learning.

Many aircraft and pilots are showcased throughout Going Downtown. It was an unexpected delight to read many accounts of our former enemy pilots as well.

The American pilots faced several deadly factors: North Vietnamese air defenses, including MIGs, SAMs, and antiaircraft buns of all types; Rules of Engagement devised by men in the White House and Defense Department, many of whom had little or no military backgrounds; faulty aircraft armament which led to many air-to-air missiles malfunctioning or being too cumbersome to use in combat; and poor tactics, one of which forced all aircraft in a flight to jettison their bombs, abort an attack, and head for home as soon as an approaching MIG was sighted.

Cleaver says some strategists felt that the outcome of the USAF air campaign in Vietnam War demonstrated the limitations of air power, while many who actually fought felt that what happened demonstrated the results of imposing limitations on air power. Cleaver shows that at times the NVA maintained unquestionable air superiority, but when the Rules of Engagement were relaxed, the U.S. immediately took over the skies of North Vietnam.

I highly recommend Going Downtown to historians, action readers, and aviation buffs. It is a good companion to Cleaver’s The Tonkin Gulf Yacht Club: Naval Aviation in Vietnam, which was published in 2021.

–Bob Wartman

The Price of Loyalty by Andrew Johns

John Nance Garner, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s vice president from 1933-41, famously described his office as “not worth a bucket of warm piss.” To the engaging, optimistic, and dedicated Minnesota Senator Hubert H. Humphrey, a beguiling and tragic figure of the Cold War, being Lyndon Johnson’s vice president from 1965-69 proved to be worth even less than that.

For if that warm bucket is worthless, at least it does not cost anything. For Humphrey, being Johnson’s vice president cost him just about everything.

That is the argument set forth by the historian Andrew Johns in The Price of Loyalty: Humbert Humphrey’s Vietnam Conflict (Rowman and Littlefield, 186 pp., $48, hardcover; $45.50, Kindle). Johns, a professor of history at Brigham Young University, is one of the leading practitioners of the study of American Cold War foreign policy and the author or editor of six books, including Vietnam’s Second Front: Domestic Politics, the Republican Party, and the War. The Price of Loyalty is a meticulously researched, concise book.

In February 1965, just one month into the Johnson-Humphrey administration, Vice President Humphrey wrote LBJ a memorandum that set out his thoughts on why the new government should extricate itself from the burgeoning conflict in Vietnam. Though the topic was foreign policy, the memorandum was rooted in domestic politics, as Humphrey argued that 1965—following the ticket’s landslide triumph at the polls the previous November—would be the year in which there would be minimal political risk in withdrawing U.S. forces from Vietnam. 

Though the memo would prove to be sagacious and prescient, there were two big problems: Humphrey had been told not to write such policy memoranda and the policy Humphrey espoused was in conflict with Johnson and his chief advisers. After he read the memo Johnson exiled Humphrey from all the big debates on the Vietnam War. Considerably chastened, and in an effort to gain favor with the President, Humphrey became one of the leading spokesmen for LBJ’s Vietnam War policies.

Johns sketches Humphrey’s metamorphosis from “apostate to apostle” on the Vietnam War, from a skeptic in 1964, that is, to a hawk in 1966. This transformation is the central thesis of the book, as Johns attempts to understand why Humphrey, after having his advice rejected and suffering personal humiliation at the hands of Johnson, would attach himself so closely to the President and his war policies. Johns contends that Humphrey ignored his own principles out of a combination of political expediency, ambition, and allegiance.

When Lyndon Johnson decided not to run for re-election in 1968, Hubert Humphrey became the Democratic Party frontrunner for the nomination, but during the campaign he struggled to convey a coherent political strategy on Vietnam. Johnson was of no help to his beleaguered Vice President, believing Richard Nixon would be a better successor.

Johns describes Johnson’s behavior toward Humphrey as part of the “Johnson treatment,” LBJ’s proclivity to humiliate his subordinates. But Johnson did not treat his inherited staff that way, underscoring that the “treatment” may have had more to do with Humphrey’s willingness to take the abuse.

Johns also posits that it is a “great irony” that Humphrey struggled so mightily with the war, when two other liberal anticommunist Democrats, Kennedy and Johnson, escalated the war and sent in the first U.S. combat troops. Earlier in the book, Johns astutely notes that these two impulses, liberalism and anticommunism, created a disconnect when the they conflicted. It was not ironic, but endemic.

President Johnson and Vice President Humphrey in 1968

In his conclusion, Johns, in an effort to provide a foil to Humphrey, makes a case for Pete McCloskey, a liberal Republican first elected to Congress in 1967, being an exemplar of placing principle over politics. But that is an iffy comparison. Though an admirable politician, McCloskey never wavered about his position on the war after being elected as an antiwar candidate. McCloskey was also one of 435 Representatives, so–unlike Humphrey–he had little risk of overexpressing his views and no practical responsibility in shaping foreign policy.

Johns’ work is an overdue, a significant addition to the historiography of the Vietnam War, and one that elucidates a relevant lesson for contemporary politics on the struggle over virtue and loyalty. Only someone as skilled as Andrew Johns could have written such an accessible and compelling book in such a succinct manner.

“Dump the Hump?” Perhaps, but first read the book.

–Daniel R. Hart

Ghostriders 1976-1995 by William Walter

Retired USAF Chief Master Sgt. William Walter’s second book on the 16th Special Operations Squadron’s AC-130 Spectre gunship operations describes a masterpiece on American military intervention—for good and bad. Ghostriders 1976-1995: “Invictus” Combat History of the AC-130 Spectre Gunship: Iran, El Salvador, Grenada, Panama, Iraq, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Somalia (Knox Press, 491 pp. $36.62, hardcover; $14.99 Kindle) covers two decades of the squadron’s involvement in worldwide military operations in the post-Vietnam War years. It picks up where Walter’s previous volume, Ghostriders 1968-1975, left off.

Walter served for 30 years in the U.S. Air Force—28 of them as an aerial gunner with Spectre. He deployed on every operation in the nations listed in the title.

The accounts in Ghostriders 1976-1995 refreshed a wealth of memories for me and filled gaps in my knowledge of foreign affairs. The book is thought provoking. It awed and angered me as I read about the use and misuse of gunships, as well as other special operation forces. Readers will find material here that can help them learn more about U.S. interventions in other nations during the closing years of the twentieth century. My pulse vacillated between, “Thank God for that,” and “What an enlightening nightmare!”

His book goes beyond the front-line actions of the men of Spectre. Through the eyes of AC-130 crewmembers and their commanders, Walker provides insights into secret political and military maneuverings that led to these post-Vietnam-War foreign involvements. Spectre filled a Big Brother role in most of the operations. The planes primarily operated under the principle of restrained aggression.

The normal pattern of gunship operations involved secrecy. Planners worked in isolation. Crewmen learned nothing about their tasks until arriving near the site of an operation. They worked under rules far beyond the norm: For the 1980 rescue of 53 hostages held in Iran, for example, a gunship crew was designated to stay on site until reaching fuel minimums; it then landed, destroyed the aircraft, and exited the area on another aircraft. After the rescue in Iran failed, commanders ordered those involved to sign nondisclosure agreements.

Likewise, America’s 1983 response to fears of a Fidel Castro-inspired communist takeover of El Salvador prompted gunship surveillance of the rebels—an operation that our government denied existed. The survey missions lasted for nearly seven years without firing a shot, Walter says.

During the first Persian Gulf War Spectre crews had to rely on “nothing but their wits, training, and luck to prevent them from being blown out of the sky.”

Political compromises turned Spectre into a police vehicle mostly for show in Somalia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Following its initial intervention in a trouble spot, Spectre’s duty devolved into surveillance that tracked the bad guys without the authority to confront them. This exclusion from combat resulted in otherwise avoidable losses due to lack of firepower support.

Walter has his stuff together. I hope he would write a third volume about AC-130s. The A-models that flew in Vietnam have evolved into H, U, W, and J-models. Each improvement increased firepower and broadened search ability—and perhaps other secret changes—to make the plane a perfect close support aircraft.

Walter ends the book with this line: “The story of Spectre continues to build under a cloak of darkness, even today.”

—Henry Zeybel

Ghostriders 1968-1975 by William Walter

Retired Chief Master Sgt. William Walter has written the book that many of us have been waiting for since the last century: Ghostriders 1968-1975: “Mors de Caelis” Combat History of the AC-130 Spectre Gunship, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia (Knox Press, 352 pp. $35, hardcover; $14.99, Kindle). In it, Walter describes a six-year battle matching the U.S. Air Force’s 16th Special Operations Squadron against the North Vietnamese Army’s 591st Anti-Aircraft Regiment. The two units clashed in Laos above the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

Comprised of AC-130 Spectre gunships, the 16th SOS destroyed trucks and other vehicles along the Trail, while the 591st tried to shoot down the gunships. The 16th dominated the arena, but in the end, the 591st deployed a sufficient array of weapons to drive the gunships from the theater.

After crewing as a Spectre gunner from 1978-2005, Walter spent more than a decade researching this book. He recreates the multi-year battle based on information from USAF records, archives, and 16th post-strike combat reports; as well as interviews with former 16th crewmembers; and NVA commanders’ writings and other publications. In portraying turning points of combat, Walter provides nearly night-by-night accounts of the ploys and counter ploys employed by the gunships and by the NVA defenses. Anti-aircraft fire intensified in proportion to the number of trucks destroyed or damaged.

Walter tells his stories from crewmen’s viewpoints, and they overflow with authenticity. His narrative grows more off-beat and captivating as firepower and accuracy balanced out between the two sides. He shows us why and how Spectre crews performed over the Trail and shows how the enemy truck drivers reacted on the ground. He compares the responses of American and North Vietnamese combatants to the thinking of their higher-level decision makers.

Encounters over the Trail often became a take-your-best-shot situation. For the first five years of the battle, gunships took frequent survivable hits, but trucks suffered large numbers of fatalities. Drivers became demoralized and frightened by the gunships’ ability to locate them, a mentality that enemy leaders found difficult to deal with. Often, the mere presence of a gunship overhead caused drivers to stop, shut down their engines, abandon their vehicles, or do whatever else might save them from discovery.  Consequently, transportation of men and materiel ceased for the duration of a gunship’s overfly.

During the final year of battle, Trail defenses grew more prolific and powerful with the introduction of  85- and 100-mm guns, along with SA-2 and SA-7 missiles. The improved defensive structure forced gunships to fly higher and higher, thereby reducing the effectiveness and accuracy of their weapons. The NVA shot down four gunships, causing tactical changes that curtailed truck hunting. Spectre’s main task then became night protection of Saigon and, after the war ended in 1973, close air support for Cambodians fighting the Khmer Rouge.  

At length, Walter sorts out a controversy regarding the lethality of a gunship’s weapons. Studies showed that AC-130 practices for close air support, interdiction, command and control, and search and rescue developed through on-the-job training—meaning in combat.

Ghostriders‘ short final chapter records the 16th SOS’s role in the recovery of the U.S.S. Mayaguez in 1975. On that mission, Spectre flew 15 support missions during three days of utter confusion, its final combat role in Southeast Asia.

An AC-130 Spectre Gunship in action in Vietnam

The book is user friendly. In a brief Forward, Walter clearly explains the birth and evolution of the AC-130 structure, manning, and basic maneuvers. He tailored the book to ensure that a reader understands exactly what is taking place at all times by adding an event chronology, glossary, references, and index.

“Either by design or by chance,” Walter says, “the AC-130 earned a unique position in military history.” 

I operated sensors for Spectre during 1970-71 and found Walter’s accounts to be complete in every way. I believe a person unfamiliar with the aircraft will be spellbound by the facts Walter has accumulated. The book took me back to familiar places and taught me things I had not known.

Knox Press recently published Ghostriders 1976-1995: “Invictus” Combat History of the AC-130 Spectre Gunship, Iran, El Salvador, Grenada, Panama, Iraq, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Somalia,”  Walter’s sequel to Ghostriders 1968-1975. The second book covers U.S. actions in areas less familiar to the public than those in the highly reported war in Vietnam.

—Henry Zeybel

Hispanic Medal of Honor Recipients & Jewish Medal of Honor Recipients by Michael Lee Lanning

Lee Lanning is a prolific author and retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel who served in Vietnam as a platoon leader and rifle company commander with the 199th Light Infantry Brigade. His latest books—Hispanic Medal of Honor Recipients: American Heroes (Texas A&M University Press, 304 pp., $29.95) and Jewish Medal of Honor Recipients: American Heroes (Texas A&M, 247 pp., $29.95)—are companion pieces in every sense of the term. In them, Lanning writes about a select group of American servicemen, members of one of the country’s most exclusive and honored organizations.

Of the more than 40 million men and women who have served in the military since the formation of the Continental Army in 1775, the Medal of Honor—which was first awarded during the Civil War—has been bestowed on only 3,525. “It is the highest award for bravery given by the U.S .Armed Forces for combat against enemy forces,” Lanning writes. “It is awarded to those who distinguish themselves by gallantry and intrepidity beyond the call of duty at the risk of their own lives.”

All too often the award is bestowed posthumously. Of the MOH awardees, at least 17 were Jewish; 60 were Hispanic.

These books follow a similar pattern and complement each other. Lanning begins both with a brief description of the MOH—its history, significance, and exclusivity.

What follows is a rendition of the MOH citation for each recipient and a brief synopsis of the valorous actions the recipients performed in battle. Lanning also provides the background story for each individual; and for the living recipients, a description of their lives today.

Twenty-two Hispanic Vietnam War troops—including Army Master Sgt. Roy Benavidez and Army Spec. 4 Alfred Rascon—and two Jewish men–Army Col. Jack Jacobs and USAF Sgt. John Levitow—received the MOH. Lanning notes that newly presented information and records could mean that those numbers will increase.

These are good books filled with well-presented and informative stories.

–Tom Werzyn

F3D/EF-10 Skyknight Units of the Korean and Vietnam Wars by Joe Copalman

Joe Copalman is an expert on aviation history. F3D/EF-10 Skyknight Units of the Korean and Vietnam Wars (Osprey, 96 pp. $24, paper; $9.99, Kindle), his first work for Osprey, is a thorough rundown of an aircraft that was hitherto unfamiliar to me. Along with accounts of its role in two wars, Copalman includes views of the Skynight’s activities throughout the Cold War. Jim Laurier provides the book’s artwork, the usual first-class Osprey combination of drawings and photographs.

The Douglas F3D Skyknight was in action with the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps as a night fighter jet from 1950-70. A pilot and radar operator manned the plane. Copalman calls the aircraft “the most unsung hero of its two major wars.”

In Korea, twelve F3Ds Skyknights (nicknamed “Nightmares”) replaced the F4U-5N Corsair and F7F Tigercat in August 1952. Copalman describes missions of crews inexperienced in combat against both Korean and Chinese aircraft and high caliber antiaircraft fire. The pilots developed complicated maneuvers and struck ground targets of opportunity. Lacking formal training in tactics, they learned by doing.

With detailed accounts of air warfare, Copalman explains Nightmares’ difficulties tryin to avoid becoming bait for MiGs and searchlight traps, as well as the rigors of escorting outdated B-29s. The Nightmare pilots were pragmatic and understood that their jamming was effective when tracking AAA began firing erratically as their aircraft broke enemy radar locks. The Nightmares’ confrontations with slow-moving North Korean “Bedcheck Charlie” biplanes steal the Korean War show.

Two years after the Korean War, the F3D upgraded to the F3D-2Q, re-labeled the EF-10B in 1962. In the Cold War the plane performed photographic and electronic surveillance against Soviet-designed radar in North Vietnam, China, and the Soviet Far East. The EF-10Bs and MiGs looked each other over, but never fought.

The Vietnam War required a full-scale array of new tactics by EF-10B crews. They deployed as squadron VMCJ-1 to Da Nang in April 1965 and operated over South and North Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. Copalman offers a full picture of the squadron’s actions during five years in-country. Renaming the aircraft “Whale” and “Super Whale,” crewmen again basically learned the best tactics for themselves through on-the-job training.

The men’s primary task was hunting and jamming North Vietnamese ground-controlled interception sites electronically or with chaff to outwit surface-to-air missile launch teams. In support of fighter-bombers, EF-10B crews were the first on target and last to leave. Overloaded with jammers and carrying maximum fuel, Whale pilots could barely get airborne and often shut down an engine to save fuel and lengthen their time over targets.

Whale and enemy SAM crews both developed new tactics. SAM crews tended to improve slightly faster because Soviet technical advisers helped them; at the same time, Pentagon rules restricted EF-10B attacks on SAM sites for fear of killing Russian advisers and escalating the war.

EF-10Bs escorted Navy A3Ds on straight-and-level, slow-speed bombing missions that one Skyknight pilot likened to World War B-17 raids on Germany. Every day offered a new experience.  

Copalman describes almost unimaginable highlights of the EF-10B’s flying from aircraft carriers. More than likely, he could write an entire book about the uniqueness of that potentially self-destructive practice.

I enjoyed F3D/EF-10. Like every Osprey book, its research uncovered new facts about warfare—in this case, the work of an aircraft unfamiliar to me. Heroics also are part of the drama.

Copalman portrays the resilience of American flyers by showing how they had to learn for themselves the best ways to execute their mission.

They relearned old lessons that hadn’t been passed down by people in similar dilemmas. Copalman clearly shows that the pilots came up with tactics that helped others more than themselves.

–Henry Zeybel

Vietnam War Refugees in Guam by Nghia M. Vo

When most of us hear the term “Boat People,” we think of South Vietnamese refugees escaping to the United States after the communist takeover in 1975. Nghia M. Vo’s Vietnam War Refugees in Guam: A History of Operation New Life, (McFarland, 203 pp., $35, paper; $16.49, Kindle), focuses on a what happened to more than 110,000 people who fled Vietnam and reached the island of Guam that year.

Vo is a researcher who specializes in Vietnamese history and Vietnamese-American culture. He has written several books and many articles on those subjects. His 2021 book, The ARVN and the Fight for South Vietnam, is interesting, intriguing, and very educational. His new book also contains a heavyweight history lesson.

Vietnam War Refugees in Vietnam, which deals mainly with Operation New Life, covers three general areas: The final days of the American war in Vietnam; the flight of tens of thousands of South Vietnamese to Guam and other staging areas; and the reception they had when landing in the U.S.A. and began trying to assimilate into American culture.

For the most part, the citizens of Guam accepted and welcomed the beleaguered Vietnamese refugees with open arms. The Guamanians volunteered their time, skills and excess goods (food, clothing, toys, and more) to these strangers from a foreign country.

Vo writes very clearly and definitively about individual North and South Vietnamese people and Americans, revealing their motivations, strengths, and weaknesses. The book teems with charts that offer a clear picture of the daunting tasks faced by American military personnel and aid workers—and by the refugees themselves.

Vo lists three types of general loss: casual (property, wealth), relationship (family, friends), and country (freedom and independence). With the communist takeover of their country in 1975, the South Vietnamese experienced all three of these losses.

I highly recommend Vietnam War Refugees in Guam.

–Bob Wartman

SOG: A Photo History of the Secret Wars by John L. Plaster

What could be more blandly benign than an organization called the Studies and Observation Group? As anyone familiar with the history of the American war in Vietnam knows, though, SOG, which came into being in January 1964, did much, much more than just study and observe. SOG was a top-secret, multi-unit, special warfare MACV operation that mounted countless undercover missions into North and South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.

That included disrupting enemy activities primarily along the Ho Chi Minh Trail; undertaking prisoner snatches and other types of rescue operations; and mounting psychological ops. SOG teams were made up of U.S. Army Special Forces, Navy SEALs, Air Force Special Warfare Units, South Vietnamese Special Forces, and Montagnard volunteers.

SOG was “the only U.S. military organization [in the Vietnam War] operating throughout Southeast Asia with its own aircraft, raiding forces, recon units and naval arm,” retired Army Maj. John Plaster writes in SOG: A Photo History of the Secret Wars (Casemate, 456 pp., $49.95), a revised and updated examination of SOG with more than 700 photos, maps, charts, and sidebars.

First published in 2000, the book is a companion photo history to Plaster’s SOG: The Secret Wars of America’s Commandos in Vietnam, but could very well stand on its own as a history of SOG. Plaster—who served three years with SOG, leading intelligence-gathering recon teams behind enemy lines in Laos and Cambodia—writes about many operations and the men who took part in them, a group that includes eight Medal of Honor recipients.

Although Plaster doesn’t include footnotes or a bibliography, he has his facts straight throughout the book, including in his accounts of operations such as the Son Tay prison raid and Bright Light rescue missions of downed American flyers in enemy territory in North and South Vietnam. 

–Marc Leepson

U.S. Vehicles & Heavy Weapons of the Vietnam War by David Doyle

Rich in photographs and information, David Doyle’s U.S. Vehicles and Heavy Weapons of the Vietnam War (Pen & Sword, 238 pp. $36.95, hardcover; $16.99, Kindle) covers virtually every American vehicle and towed weapon used in the Vietnam War—from the little half-ton M-274 Mule to the M-48 Medium Tank.    

For those who served in the Vietnam War era, looking at the photographs in this book is a nostalgic journey. Reading Doyle’s description of the instability of the M-151 MUTT (AKA, Jeep) brought back scary moments when I served in Vietnam and the Jeep I was reading in nearly flipped over. For post-Vietnam War veterans, the book just may be an eye opener to see how much military equipment such as the Humvee and M-1 Main Battle Tanks have changed.

Beyond the approximately two hundred photos of vehicles and weapons—from ambulances to cargo, firefighting trucks to self-propelled artillery, and much more—the book includes extensive charts and tables on each piece in which Doyle lists details on electrical systems, turning radii, dimensions, and more. There is probably not a single question about the equipment that this book does not answer.

Here and there interesting facts appear that may surprise many readers. I, for instance, had either forgotten or never knew that some military vehicles built by Continental Motors contained multi-fuel engines that could run on gasoline, diesel, or jet fuel.

This informative and interesting book is a great reference for anything that moved on wheels or tracks during the Vietnam War, including amphibious vehicles. For what might have been a dry subject, David Doyle, an accomplished military vehicle expert, has much to tell the reader about the Vietnam War—from the driver’s seat.

–John Cirafici