Forever Young Veterans by Diane Hight and K. Michael Ware

Forever Young Veterans: Stories of Sacrifice, Healing, & Hope (225 pp. Forever Young, Inc. ($23, hardcover; $15, paper; $9, Kindle) is a collection of 22 stories of men and women who served during World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars. They are written by a variety of people, most of them members of the Collierville Christian Writers Group in Tennessee.

Forever Young Veterans is a nonprofit organization helping veterans 65 and older by “returning them to the places where they fought, and bringing them the honor, healing, and hope they deserve.”

Three of the stories in the book come from Vietnam War veterans. Cecil Brunson completed 160 missions as a navigator in an F-4 fighter jet before being shot down near Hanoi in late 1972. He was captured and taken to the infamous Hoa Lo prison, the Hanoi Hilton. While there, he was beaten and placed in solitary confinement before being released with the other POWs in Hanoi in 1973.

Sonny Bradshaw enlisted in the Marines, arriving in Vietnam in August 1969. He was part of an artillery battalion assigned to build an LZ near Hue. Every two months his unit would move to another hill. On one occasion the base he was on came close to being overrun, resulting in hand-to-hand combat. Bradshaw battled the effects of PTSD for many years after returning home.

Skip Funk was a twenty-two-year-old Marine when he landed in Vietnam in September 1967. He was assigned to Khe Sanh with the job of writing casualty reports. He was there during the legendary 77-day siege in 1968.

One of the stories from World War II is about Charlie Henderson, a young African-American soldier from Mississippi. He made truck deliveries of supplies to Allied troops during the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium. For the rest of his life he remembered the great devastation of entire landscapes he saw during his time in Europe.

In a story from the Korean War we read about Betty Drewry Macyauski. From 1950-56 she worked for the U.S. Air Force’s Service Club providing cookies, donuts, and coffee to airmen. She served on bases in around the world nations, including a seven-month period in South Korea while the war “was still raging, and not far from her front door.”

The book includes a timeline of significant events for each war that will be helpful for many readers. I appreciated how these stories seemed to be told without exaggeration. That makes this a book I’m proud to recommend.

The book’s website is

–Bill McCloud

West Point Admiral by Michael W. Shelton

Empathy and selflessness are two indispensable qualities for a successful military officer. In reflecting on his extraordinary career, from the halls of the U.S. Military Academy and into the United States Navy, Rear Adm. Michael Shelton returns to these principles again and again in his memoir. West Point Admiral: Leadership Lessons from Four Decades of Military Service (Acclaim Press, 368 pp. $29.95). For him, any successful leader must respect those he commands, as well as those who command him.

As a boy, Mike Shelton was deeply inspired by the World War II experiences of his father, a career Navy man. Hoping to follow him, Shelton learned that he was not qualified to attend the U.S. Naval Academy because he didn’t have uncorrected 20/20 eyesight. Determined to serve—and knowing that a USMA graduate could apply to become an officer in any other service—Shelton applied to West Point and was accepted.

With stark clarity, Shelton, a life member of Vietnam Veterans of America, illustrates upper classmen’s efforts to get him and his fellow plebes to quit. With spirit, and even humor, Shelton grasped the purpose behind the harassment, which was to make him stronger and better. He became both.   

The art of military engineering is the bedrock on which the USMA was founded, and the field Shelton hoped to pursue. Yet when his grades weren’t high enough to qualify, his father persuaded him that the Navy could provide what the Army would not. So in the spring of 1967, Shelton became an ensign, and went to the Navy’s civil engineering corps officer school in San Diego as an aspiring Seabee.

The transition provided challenges great and small. After four years of studying the makeup of the Army, Shelton had a new service with its own quirks and protocols to get accustomed to. He continually encountered rigid formality among his peers which he felt was at odds with the dynamics necessary for any operation to succeed, let alone an engineering one.

Admiral Shelton

Too often, including during his two tours of duty in Vietnam in I Corps, he found enlisted men being subjects of disdain, although they had priceless abilities and experience. He vowed to give men under his command his full respect and to be lavish with praise.

That conviction grew stronger when he encountered complex problems and his men routinely solved them.

Over the next 34 years Shelton participated in naval construction projects all over the world in peace and war. One striking example was Operation New Life in 1975, when – in seventeen days – Seabees on the island of Guam converted an old Japanese airbase into a camp that eventually housed more than 50,000 Vietnamese refugees.

Retiring as a Rear Admiral in 2001 with unshakable faith in his men, in West Point Admiral, Mike Shelton offers his wisdom to anyone smart enough to follow it:

“The resourcefulness of the senior enlisted in all services is what makes the military work, and officers of all ranks who interfere with this equipoise do so at their own peril.”

Well said, Admiral.  

The book’s website is

–Mike McLaughlin

The Healing Box by Paul Reed

Paul Reed enlisted in the Army in 1966 at age 19. He was sent to South Vietnam in early 1968 as part of the 173rd Airborne Brigade. He spent most of his tour in the Kontum area. Upon returning to the States, Reed had a very difficult emotional adjustment, which ruined a couple of marriages and separated him from his son. His life changed when his mother gave him a box that had been in her attic for twenty years.

His memoir, The Healing Box: When Flowers Again Bloom in the Killing Fields (Trilogy Christian Publishing, 286 pp. $29.99, paper; $12.99, Kindle), opens with a road rage incident that emphasizes Reed’s anger management problems caused by PTSD. It then flashes back to him in Vietnam where Reed focuses on his involvement in a battle to take Hill 1064, a Hamburger Hill-type engagement.

Reed was a mortar man and showed no remorse in raining death on the heads of the enemy troops. The loss of friends fueled his hatred for what he saw as the sub-humans he was fighting against. During the fighting Reed and his comrades ran across a deserted NVA base camp where he found a backpack that contained a journal. He mailed the journal to his parents and it ended up in their attic. 

One day, during a low point in his life, his mother brought the box down from the attic and encouraged him to read the journal. Reed had it translated and was surprised to learn that the man who wrote it, Nguyen Van Nghia, was a human being much like himself. Poems (which are included in the book) that Nghia wrote to his wife touched Reed’s hardened heart. He attributes the rediscovery of the journal as a prodding from God to turn his life around, and he decided to return it so that he and his former enemy they could heal their emotional wounds together.

In the book, Reed alternates between first-person chapters about his experiences and chapters chronicling Nghia’s life. Both character’s life stories are interesting, but most readers will find Nghia’s more fascinating, partly because of Reed’s outside the box (pun intended) coverage of his former enemy.

I have read many Vietnam War memoirs. Reed’s story, sadly, is not unique. However, American readers don’t often encounter the lives of North Vietnamese soldiers. Their stories’ parallel arcs come together nicely in the second half of the book as the men meet.

Although Reed has a theme of God touching his life through his relationship with Nghia, he is not trying to convert readers. The book likely will open readers’ eyes to the fact that NVA soldiers like Nghia were not unlike most American troops.

Nghia was a patriotic man doing his duty for his country. The hardships he had to overcome to get back to his loved ones are inspiring. Ironically, his horrible experiences in the war can be compared to Reed’s problems after the war. 

Another theme of the book is forgiveness. Reed writes about the negative reaction of some veterans to his changed attitude toward the enemy. The book is his way of trying to get those veterans to reconsider their feelings.

As he puts it: “Just as the war had to be fought as savagely as necessary to win, so the peace had to be lived with enduring gentleness, love, and respect for the former enemy.”   

The book‘s website is

–Kevin Hardy

An Army Lawyer’s Military Journey by George Allison

In detailing his Vietnam War tour of duty in his memoir, An Army Lawyer’s Military Journey: Unique Experiences in a Viet Nam Combat Zone (Carson Street Publishing, $20, paper) George Allison addresses a profound question: What is the nature of military law, and how is it upheld? His book provides insights into the principles and practice of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and how it applies to all service members, particularly those in Vietnam during Allison’s tour duty.

His military service began early when at sixteen Allison joined the Army National Guard in Nevada. On finishing high school, he enrolled at the University of Nevada, Reno and entered its Army’s ROTC program. In 1963 he graduated from the University of California’s Hastings College of Law, passed the Nevada bar exam, and went on active duty with OCS training at Fort Benning. The following year he attended the JAG School on the grounds at the University of Virginia.  

The bedrock of Army discipline is the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Adopted by the Second Continental Congress in 1775, the UCMJ deals with crimes unique to the military, such as what happens when personnel disobey orders or when they flee in the face of the enemy.

Allison details the composition of an Army court-martial. In Vietnam, it included a jury of five officers; a senior officer for a judge; attorneys for prosecution and defense; a court reporter; and a process of Appellate Review in which a designated officer may approve a guilty verdict or mitigate a sentence. Interestingly, Allison notes that the Miranda Rights statement read to arrested suspects was put into military law enforcement practice years before the Supreme Court adopted it into American criminal law.

In 1966, Allison transferred with the Army’s 4th Infantry Division to the Central Highlands of Vietnam where they established a base just outside Pleiku. Once there, he and his fellow attorneys quickly settled into their routine. It was hardly dull, as much of their time was spent preparing for trials. The JAG officers often traveled to meet with soldiers accused of crimes and to gather witness testimony and other evidence. Reviews and trials were frequently held in the field, sometimes at outposts within range of enemy fire. It was not uncommon for Allison to prosecute or defend soldiers while sitting on the ground.

George Allison

While several courts-martial were routine – such as for soldiers arrested for drunk and disorderly conduct – others were much more sobering. One trial was for a soldier charged with killing his commanding officer after being ordered to carry a mortar round when already burdened with an M60 machine gun.

Other courts-martial included two sergeants accused of raping a Vietnamese woman and a G.I. who allegedly set a sergeant’s tent on fire. Perhaps most disturbing, Allison describes what happened when two men played Russian roulette until the revolver’s single round went off.

George Allison completed his Vietnam War tour in 1967 and returned to civilian life in Nevada where he founded a successful law firm. Reflecting five decades after his service in the war, Allison writes: “It struck me that relating my entire military journey, which spanned many years and had a profound effect on shaping my life, might be a good way of describing that feeling of pride in some kind of interesting manner.”

He succeeded. This account is an illuminating one and well worth the read.

–Mike McLaughlin

Immigrant Warrior by Henrik O. Lunde

In his autobiography, Immigrant Warrior: A Challenging Life in War and Peace (Casemate, 402 pp. $39.95, hardcover; $17.49, Kindle) retired U.S. Army Col. Henrik O. Lunde concentrates on his three tours in the Vietnam War, two as an infantry leader and one as a diplomat.

His recollections include a depth of detail seldom found in war memoirs. They’re mainly based on the field notebooks he kept while in-country, unit reports, history books and other secondary sources related to operations he led, and letters to his wife Florence.

In his introduction, Lunde says that throughout his military career several superiors told him that he needed to blow his own horn more often. He didn’t back then, but quoting the motto of John Adams, “Toot your own horn lest the same never be tooted,” Lunde tells his side of the war as he remembers it in this book.

During his first Vietnam War tour in 1966-67 with the 1st Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division Lunde commanded a company that conducted nearly continuous search-and-destroy missions. He obsessed over improving the fighting capabilities of his men, and tirelessly worked alongside them on long missions filled with skirmishes against the North Vietnamese Army’s 95th Regiment.

Describing a venture into Trung Luong Valley near Dong Tre, Lunde admits to making tactical mistakes that separated his company in a major encounter. Despite the poor initial maneuvers, the U.S. troops controlled the fight. The event created a still-unresolved case regarding who said what and who did what. Its impetus came from disagreements between Lunde and his executive officer, 1st Lt. Phil Mock.

Historians, including Brig. Gen. S.L.A Marshall, joined the dispute through books and articles. Citing official records, maps, and his notes, Lunde disassembles the conclusions of Marshall and others who portrayed him as a weak leader. He conclusively shows that the engagement was a “devastating defeat” for the NVA.

Lunde’s voluntary second tour in Vietnam as a Major took place in 1968-69. He calls it a year “which I came to view as my worst in Vietnam.” Assigned as S-3 to the 9th Division at Bear Cat, he felt overlooked because he had sought a command position.

He oversaw 57 men who merely gathered “a myriad of statistic reports.” As often as possible, Lunde hitched a ride on the C&C helicopter and he tells stories about those flights and rescues. After two months, Lunde became the 2/39 Infantry XO at Rach Kien and assumed responsibility for security duties of the village. The endless turmoil he coped with during that assignment is one of the most interesting parts of the book.

Following his time as XO, Lunde moved to Pleiku as Deputy G-3 Adviser with II ARVN Corps, primarily a paperwork job. However, the nationwide 1969 NVA offensive exposed him to two months of rocket and mortar attacks before he returned to the U.S.

In his final trip to Vietnam in 1973-74, Lunde served as a chief negotiator with the U.S. delegation to the Four Party Joint Military Commission, a unit designed to find military personnel and foreign civilians missing in action after the American POWs had been freed.

Lunde’s group facilitated the return of remains of KIAs, particularly those who died in captivity. He lived in Saigon, traveled to Hanoi, and dealt mainly with North Vietnamese negotiators. At times, their meetings resembled the Paris Peace talks. After bringing home the remains of 23 Americans, Lunde’s job ended.

Col. Lunde

Spoiler Alert: Although promoted to full colonel, Lunde finished his 25 years of service without getting the upper-level infantry leadership role he strongly desired.

The title Immigrant Warrior derives from Lunde’s birth in Norway in 1936. His family lived through the German occupation during World War II. His recitation of his family background and life in Norway could stand alone as a book. Lunde came to the United States in 1951. He excelled at school, especially ROTC, receiving his Army commission in 1958.

Immigrant Warrior lives up to Lunde’s declaration about tooting his own horn. He succeeds by reliving an occasional sour note while playing an otherwise heartfelt melody.

—Henry Zeybel

A Thousand Chances by Dan Hickman     

Retired U.S. Army Gen. Dan Hickman opens his book, A Thousand Chances: A Memoir of Life and Death in the Air Cavalry during the Pivotal Year of the Vietnam War (Palm Wars Publications, 343 pp. $14.95, paper; $5.95, Kindle), with a sobering thought: Why did “they” send us there to fight and possibly die if they never intended to win?

This story of one man’s experiences in a senseless war mirrors many other Americans’ experiences in Vietnam. From the very first pages I felt a strong sense of camaraderie with Hickman as I read about how he dealt with many unknowns while he traveled the steep learning curve of surviving a war during his 1968-69 tour of duty. 

As the title indicates, in a war you face death many times without knowing when your luck will run out. It can come from any direction and sometimes for the dumbest reason.  

Dan Hickman, a life member of Vietnam Veterans of America, humbly lets the reader in on the dumb things did as a helicopter pilot with the 3rd Battalion of the 17th Air Cavalry in seemingly endless combat and just barely survived the consequences. That he recalls those close calls so vividly fifty years later is one indication that he is still haunted by them.  

I remember experiencing moments similar to what he describes as day-to-day life in the Vietnam War—from the chaotic response to incoming to questionable protocols that came down from above that needlessly placed my life on the line.   

Reflecting on that, Hickman aptly cites a quote from Catch-22 that says it all: “The enemy is anyone who is going to get you killed, no matter which side he is on.”   

Reading his characterization of his platoon as a Band of Brothers, I thought back to being with my unit and it totally resonated. I especially felt that way when he quoted Col. John P. Geraci, who commanded a brigade Hickman supported. Geraci had been my battalion commander. To this day he is held in high regard by the battalion’s veterans. 

Gen. Hickman

After reading Hickman’s accounts of his combat missions in the most difficult of conditions and of his surviving close calls again and again, I imagine that he came home feeling like a survivor. He served in the Army National Guard after coming home from Vietnam. He was recalled to active duty in 2003 and went on to command a reinforced Armor Brigade in the Iraq War.

Hickman writes that North Vietnamese units did not begin coming south until Viet Cong units were decimated during Tet 1968. Although the NVA did increase the movement of troops southward to fill the decimated ranks after Tet, the 1st Cavalry had fought North Vietnamese regiments as early as 1965 in the Battle of the Ia Drang Valley and U.S. forces battled their divisions during the Siege of Khe Sanh in early 1968.   

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this nicely written memoir and highly recommend it.

— John Cirafici

Getting Out of Saigon by Ralph White

Getting out of Saigon: How a 27-Year-Old American Banker Saved 113 Vietnamese Civilians (Simon & Schuster, 320 pp. $28.99) is a gripping memoir by Ralph White, who arrived in Saigon in April 1975 to work at the Chase Manhattan Bank’s branch in the then capital of South Vietnam. The book focuses on White’s attempt to get his Vietnamese employees and their families out of Vietnam during the last eleven days of the war.

This story would make an excellent novel, if it were not true. And Hollywood should make it into a movie, but only if they don’t change the compelling and entertaining facts White presents in the book. Getting out of Saigon teems with great characters and is written with sardonic wit. Yet, it has a constant tension about whether or not White’s mission will succeed. Reading it, I heard echoes of Catch‑22 absurdities and Schindler’s List throughout.

Stupidity at the highest levels of the American Embassy and at one of the world’s largest banks is the groundwork of this book. Chase Manhattan was the only bank to close its Hong Kong branch during the Korean War and had to put up with snickers from the other Hong Kong banks afterward/ That’s why the company refused to close its Saigon branch when every other bank in Saigon had done so—as if the two situations, 25 years apart, were the same. It thereby placed its Vietnamese employees at mortal risk.

To save them, the bank sent in Ralph White, young low-level, inexperienced employee. In contrast, in an effort to kill them, the North Vietnamese sent in the very experienced Gen. Van Tien Dung and his North Vietnamese Army. 

What’s more, U.S. Ambassador Graham Martin and Deputy Chief Wolfgang Lehmann, the two highest American officers in the embassy, were the only two Americans who thought Saigon would hold out and refused to allow any evacuation until it was too late. White calls them the “delusionists” who fiddled while Saigon burned and likely cost the lives of many Vietnamese people.

White, though, displayed great initiative, judgment, creativity, and chutzpah in saving his Vietnamese employees and their families. He admits to having a lot of dumb luck, but he really made his own luck. He and others had to work around the two delusionists, as well as the South Vietnamese government which forbad the evacuation of its citizens. Chase wanted only to save its key employees, but White was determined to evacuate all of them and their families – a total of 113 people.

Ralph White

The characters he encountered are novel-worthy. Ralph White was attracted to and evacuated a prostitute. He was helped by a Viet Cong commander who needed a Plan B. He interacted with the Ambassador and eventually with David Rockefeller, the Chairman and CEO of Chase Manhattan.

He worked with a remarkable array of Americans who helped him. White, a banker, exchanged his U.S. dollars into Vietnamese currency through an Indian black market moneychanger who set up shop under his window.

Each chapter covers a separate day. Unfortunately, thereis no “where are they now” as White has lost contact with his evacuees. I would love to learn what happened to some of the characters featured in the book. ‘

And I would love to know which one of the three beautiful Vietnamese tellers anonymously seduced him in the Philippines as a “thank you” for rescuing them. 

I suspect that the Ralph White would also like to know. 

–Harvey Weiner

Ever Vigilant by Michael J. Hebert

Anyone who has read a Vietnam War memoir written by a draftee will discover a lot of familiar material in Ever Vigilant: Tales of the Vietnam War (CreateSpace, 322 pp. $19.95, paper: $5.99, Kindle) by Michael J. Hebert. But writing about what it was like to leave home as a teenager, endure ego-shattering training, arrive in a war zone, fear death, and engage in combat is forgivable because going through all those life-changing events invokes similar dramatic psychological reactions in most men.

Hebert, a life member of Vietnam Veterans of America, tells tales about all of the above and does so in an easily readable style filled with free-flowing memories and humor. Plus, he worked a job well outside the ordinary. Determined to avoid an infantry assignment, teenage draftee Hebert signed up for a third year of duty to get his choice of advanced training. Then, when all of the schools he wanted had no openings, he ended up as a watercraft operator trainee.

Arriving in-country in 1969, Hebert joined the 458th Transportation Company attached to the 18th Military Police Brigade of the 92nd MP Battalion and became the coxswain of the River Patrol Boat Magic Christian. That was a job that his water operator school did not prepare him for, and Hebert had to learn how to drive the boat on-the-job in combat.

After he did, his war experience took on a deeper dimension. Stationed at Vung Ro Bay, his unit had two RPBs that protected cargo ships unloading “bombs, napalm, bullets, weapons, fuel, and just about all the other tools of war” for transportation on tractor-trailer trucks or through pipelines to Tuy Hoa AFB and Phu Hiep Army camp.

Viet Cong sappers with underwater explosives were the main threat against the ships. Other VC forces attacked the base “frequently but not fervently with machine-gun fire, mortars, and rocket-propelled grenades, most of the time on Friday nights,” Hebert says.

The 458th didn’t have any officers when Hebert was there. Most of the men were E-4s serving under an NCOIC; a warrant officer commanded the base.  

“Young soldier are, by the very nature of their youth, relatively stupid and naïve,” Hebert says. “This was the case when the U.S. Army placed four 18- and 19-year-olds on a high-speed boat outfitted with three .50-caliber machine guns, a Honeywell grenade launcher that fires 250 grenades a minute, an M-79 grenade launcher, four M-16 rifles, a 12-gauge shotgun, four .45-caliber pistols, and a bottomless supply of ammunition.”

Not to mention that the boat “skipped across the water at speeds in excess of 30 knots.”    

Hebert quickly began to love firing weapons. “There is nothing—absolutely nothing—like the raucous thunder of a .50-caliber machine gun,” he says. On the other hand, he suffered breathlessness, a pounding heart, and an uncontrollable, twitching left leg as part of his initial combat action.

At sea, the RPBs interdicted targets with maximum force. “The youthful crews enjoyed making things explode,” Hebert says.

Mike Hebert

Ever Vigilant has a good number of combat scenes, but much of the book describes the off-duty diversions of Hebert and his buddies, a tightly-knit group.

“When there were no ships in port and if the Viet Cong weren’t attacking, there wasn’t very much for us to do,” Hebert says. So the men devised their own off-duty activities. Their all-in-good-fun behavior reminded me of college fraternity brothers. In a climax to Hebert’s year in Vietnam, treacherous weather challenged him as much as the VC did.

Readers should find it easy to identify with Hebert’s philosophy of service. Perhaps his point of view came from his father, “a career NCO who fought in the Pacific during World War II, then in Korea, and two tours of Vietnam.”

In the Vietnam War Mike Hebert more than lived up to his heritage.

Hebert’s website is

—Henry Zeybel

Lima-3 and the Mustang Grunt by Frank McCarthy

Lima-3 and the Mustang Grunt (FriesenPress, 300 pp. $35.99, hardcover; $17.53, paper; $8.99, Kindle) is a Marine Corps love story that chronicles Frank McCarthy’s military career through his medical evacuation after being twice wounded in the Vietnam War as a platoon leader in L Company of the 3rd Battalion, 26th Marine Regiment. McCarthy’s first tour with Lima-3 from late 1966 to early 1967 took place in in I Corps in Thua Thien Province (Hué, Phu Bai, Khe Sanh), which was among the most dangerous sections of the country.

McCarthy says that he began the book intending to write about himself for his descendants, but expanded it to focus on his young Marines. He researched battalion command chronologies, which didn’t always agree with his recollections of what happened.

It would have been helpful if he included footnotes, as well as an index, a timeline, and a glossary, even though McCarthy defines terms the first time they are used. That said, his unquestioning love of his men and the Marine Corps needed no references. His pride in the Corps is also evidenced by his favorable comparison of Marine Vietnam War combat statistics with those of the other services and even with those of the Marines during World War II.

Readers, including some Vietnam War veterans, will find some of McCarthy’s war stories jarring. That includes his account of the troop ship he came over on being hit with a devastating 80-hour typhoon. And the account of one of his men who had a leech crawl inside his penis with cringeworthy consequences. 

And the dehumanizing actions perpetrated on him during Parris Island boot camp, some of which would be subject to criminal prosecution now—or even then, if known. There also was the propensity of the new M-16 rifles to jam in combat, which cost many American lives in the war. And, of course, the horrible weather, fatigue, intense and sustained combat, ever-present booby traps, and the constant stress inflicted on McCarthy and his men, who averaged 18 years of age. 

That you can’t use insect repellent to deter the brigades of malaria-carrying, insanity-inflicting, persistently buzzing mosquitoes for fear that the enemy could smell it does not seem far fetched since McCarthy contends he could actually smell the enemy.

Frank McCarthy and his Marines in-country

I have two nitpicks. First, McCarthy refers three times to the Medal of Honor as the “Congressional Medal of Honor.” This is a common misconception because the MOH is presented by the President “in the name of the United States Congress,” but it is one a career Marine should not make, since it is a purely a military, not a congressional, award.

Secondly, McCarthy calls Vietnam civilians “the Indigenous population.” The use of that expression slightly diminishes those people because it omits their nationality. McCarthy clearly did not intend any disrespect and he indicates that his guilt for killing enemy troops persists to this day.

How can a decent man and a good Catholic who became a godfather to one of his sergeants at the latter’s conversion to Catholicism in Vietnam kill another human being (even in war) and not be affected?  The answer is, he cannot, even after being subject to dehumanizing treatment at Parris Island.         

–Harvey Weiner                         

Dustoff by Arnold Hughbrook Sampson, Jr.

Arnold Sampson, Jr., takes an exploratory journey into the past in Dustoff: More than Met the Eye, Reflections of a Vietnam Medevac Pilot (BookBaby, 200 pp. $19.69, paper). This war memoir is exceptional because, in examining his role as a UH1-H medevac (Dustoff) helicopter pilot in the Vietnam War, Sampson admits to not remembering significant portions of what he did.

As he puts it: “Time has sopped up and blotted out some of the observations I thought I would never forget.” The events Sampson does remember add up to an in-depth appraisal of the ups and downs (pun intended) of a Vietnam War Dustoff pilot.  

Sampson, a life member of Vietnam Veterans of America, joined the 68th Medical Detachment (Helicopter Ambulance) in 1969, six months after the unit deployed to Chu Lai. As a newbie lieutenant and one of only a few commissioned officers in the unit, all of the non-combat administrative duties were dumped on him. He still flew missions, but it took seven months for him to reach an aircraft commander’s seat.

Flying in the Vietnam War proved to be both exceptionally rewarding and extremely dangerous, Sampson says. He tells stories about situations for which he had no training or inadequate information. He learned from mistakes that often began as creative ideas but failed in practicality, and continually calls himself to task for them.

His conflicted feelings about extreme situations such as rescuing a fellow pilot who accidentally shot himself did not finally resolve themselves until decades later. His acts of kindness such as doctoring a badly injured Vietnamese child who died practically in his arms took a heavy emotional toll. That child’s death still haunts his dreams.   

Sampson creates a nightmare of terror with his accounts of days of flying through rain, clouds, and zero visibility during the monsoon season. For a time, all aircraft were grounded except for Dustoff choppers. In the midst of that chaos, an extraordinary close call caused his crewmen to face him down with a mini-mutiny; Sampson merely walked away from them and the war continued. During that period, his crew saved lives on every mission.

A loner who did not drink or hang out at the club, Sampson was not particularly sociable. His overall view of the 68th is a group of skillful but self-centered warrant officers who did nothing but fly. Sampson’s piloting skill and willingness to help others improve their abilities earned him respect.

He challenges the necessity for the war and criticizes its execution. In closing, he honors the dead and recognizes the post-war suffering of survivors.

Arnold Sampson writes in an enjoyable, conversational style. Although many of his stories emphasize his shortcomings, the fact is that he flew 878 combat missions that evacuated 2,200 people, saving the lives of hundreds of them. 

—Henry Zeybel