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

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

Tanks in the Easter Offensive, 1972 by William E. Hiestand

Osprey Publishing always produces quality books. True to form, William E. Hiestand’s Tanks in the Easter Offensive, 1972: The Vietnam War’s Great Conventional Clash (Osprey, 48 pp. $19, paper; $9.99, Kindle) is a very nicely illustrated concise history of the use of armor by both during the North Vietnamese Army’s 1972 Easter Offensive. The book includes details on every type of tank and armored fighting vehicle used by both sides the during five-month offensive, including their characteristics and limitations.  

The role of armor is viewed from tactical and strategic perspectives, as Hiestand, a Pentagon military analyst, analyses successes and failures on the battlefield. When properly employed by competent officers, the South Vietnamese armored forces were effective, as they were during the 1970 incursion into Cambodia. On the other hand, when poorly led by incompetent commanders, the South Vietnamese armored vehicles were of little of no value on the battlefield.   

As for the North Vietnamese Army, its armor acquitted itself well, but the tactical successes often did not lead to operational success because the NVA leadership was often slow to react to changing situations on the ground.   

What makes the use of armor by the NVA especially interesting is that during the American War they rarely employed armor in South Vietnam, and then only the PT-76s—thinly armored amphibious tanks—that attacked lightly defended sites such as Special Forces camps in the Central Highlands.    

By the time of the North Vietnamese 1972 offensive its military had become much better armed and was learning how to use combined armed forces using Soviet military tactics. The North suffered horrendous losses during the offensive due in large measure to effective U.S. airstrikes which destroyed some 250 tanks and AFVs. 

One important lesson from the battle was the very successful use by both sides of anti-tank weapons. The North employed a new type —the Russian AT-3 Sagger.  he ARVN at Kontum used an experimental TOW ATGM (anti-tank wire guided missile), and destroyed 24 enemy tanks.  

South Vietnamese troops near Dong Ha, April 11, 1972. AP Photo/Nick Ut

At An Loc ARVN tank killer teams armed with M-72 LAWs (light anti-tank weapons) also took a toll on NVA armor. When ARVN leaders misused their armor in static defense postures, they became easy targets for Saggers and other anti-tank weapons. Today anti-tank missiles are playing a major role on the battlefield in Ukraine, with the destruction of Russian armor by Ukrainian fighters armed with American-made Javelin anti-tank missiles.

Tanks in the Eastern Offensive closes with an analysis of the long-term impact of anti-tank weapons, including the successful use of Saggers during the 1973 Arab-Israeli War.    

This book is informative and timely in explaining the use of armor during the Easter Offensive, and in illuminating lessons that are applicable on the current battlefield—plus, it’s a handy reference book on the subject.

–John Cirafici

The Erawan War, Vol. 2 by Ken Conboy

Ken Conboy’s The Erawan War, Vol. 2: A Paramilitary Campaign in Laos 1969-1974.  (Helion 78 pp., $29.95, paper) is an account of the largest CIA operation of the Cold War, in which the agency fielded an army numbering perhaps eight indigenous divisions. This second volume of a two-volume history, seamlessly follows the first one in describing the evolving nature of operations during the last five years of American involvement in Laos during the Vietnam War.   

Although Volume 2 can stand alone, it is immensely helpful to have read Vol. 1’s 1961-69 history. Like the first, Vol. 2 captures much of the secret war in Laos, including its complexity. It focuses on CIA-trained guerilla units recruited from the hill tribes of Vietnam and Thailand. In operations against North Vietnam’s heavily guarded and vital Ho Chi Minh Trail in eastern Laos teams penetrated defenses, destroyed supply-laden trucks, and gathered intelligence. Equally impressive, they conducted attacks inside North Vietnam itself.

Although in the greater scheme of things these missions were pinpricks, President Nixon pushed for them as a means of applying pressure on Hanoi. The real test, however, came when guerilla regiments found themselves pitted against regular North Vietnamese Army (PAVN) divisions. Many PAVN units, known for their aggressiveness in South Vietnam, were also fighting in Laos.

The CIA out of necessity recruited increasing numbers of Lao tribesmen and Thai volunteers, and formed new battalions to fight in the rapidly expanding war. President Nixon was so pleased by their successes that he conveyed his admiration directly to the Thai prime minister. But the CIA-led paramilitary campaign could not stop the PAVNs steady advance.

Thai battalions became essential to operations in the Plaine des Jarres region, trying to stall advances made by the PAVN. It is evident that the large-scale war in Laos was in many ways as important as the war in Vietnam.  

The book details the significant amount of combat airlift flown by USAF helicopters in Laos. USAF Combat Controllers and Forward Air Controllers also played an important role supporting operations there. U.S. military assets based in Thailand and South Vietnam were crucial to successes on the battlefield, in particular when U.S. Air Force and Navy aircraft conducted airstrikes.

Hmong fighters in Laos with an American military adviser

Conboy’s Erawan War books reveal the tragedy of this story: that men and boys recruited from the hill tribes by the CIA struggled against an enemy with seemingly unlimited manpower and weaponry. It’s to their credit that these irregular forces frequently working with Thai special forces, infantry, and artillery were able to resist for so long against the advancing PAVN and its Pathet Lao allies. The tragedy was that with the end of all American involvement in the conflict the hill tribes were left to fend for themselves and suffer the consequences at the hands of vindictive Pathet Lao and North Vietnamese.

This concise, heavily illustrated book contains much information about a part of the Vietnam War that little known to the American public. The two volumes are a necessary read in order to truly understand the immensity of America’s involvement in the Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War.

–John Cirafici

The Vietnam War 1956-75 by Andrew Wiest

Andrew Wiest’s The Vietnam War, 1956-1975 (Osprey, 144 pp. $20, paper; $9.99, Kindle) is a great book. I recommend it to anyone seeking an overview of the Vietnam War and the era during which it took place. This concise very readable book was first published in 2002 and has been updated by the author. Reading it reminds the reader that the era was a trying time domestically in the United States as the struggle for social change reached a critical moment.  

Vietnam War veterans will be pleased to find that this book is an honest and accurate account of their war. However, we Vietnam veterans are a clear minority in today’s America, and the war is half a century behind us. Consequently, the desired readership should be the generations who have come after us and have no memories of the war.  

For them in particular I believe that Andrew Wiest—a history professor and the founding director of the Dale Center for the Study of War & Society at the University of Southern Mississippi—captures all the important factors of a complicated conflict and its impact throughout the world. Beyond the often brutal battles and the high number of casualties, the reader learns how costly, in the long term, the war was for Vietnam’s environment, its economy, and its people. The same factors also have had a crippling impact on Cambodia and Laos.   

Wiest is the author of two Vietnam War books, Vietnam’s Forgotten Army and The Boys of ’67. The Vietnam War includes a section on how returning American veterans suffered in many ways in a society indifferent—if not hostile—to their service, which further exacerbated problems once known as the Vietnam Syndrome. Interestingly, as the book mentions, this was also true for Australian Vietnam War veterans when they returned to their country where the war was very unpopular. 

Wiest explains why many Americans came to distrust their government as a consequence of the war when it became clear that from the beginning the American public had been misled and lied to. Additionally, Wiest shows how the conflict had a deeply negative impact on the U.S. military in the years after the war, particularly the U.S. Army. As many of us serving in the aftermath of the war experienced, the Army in the mid 1970s was broken and in need of significant repair.  

All of this and more is covered in this outstanding book; it is well worth reading and sharing with younger generations.

–John Cirafici

Those Left Behind by Jack McCabe

Vietnam War veteran Jack McCabe is a good writer and determined investigator. In 2016, he heard about the crash of a CH-47A Chinook helicopter named “Love Craft” on July 10, 1970, near Cu Chi in which two crew members and seven passengers lost their lives. The survivors and the families of those who perished, he later learned, felt the effects for the rest of their lives.

That story and its aftermath fill the pages of McCabe’s new book, Those Left Behind (366 pp. $19.99, paper; $6.99, Kindle), which is based on extensive interviews with the survivors and the wives, girlfriends, and friends of men who died, as well as archival research.

We first meet these men as children turning into adults from the time they leave high school and shortly thereafter enter the military. They know they are going to end up fighting in a war, more than likely as infantrymen.

Facing a second tour, Elroy Simmons answers his wife Barbara’s questions, “Why are you going? Why do you have to go?” by saying, “I just have to go,” and walking away. He kisses his five-year-old daughter goodbye and tells her, “See you when I get back.” She replies, “You’re not coming back.” That exchange reflects the mood of the entire book and every thought in it rings true.

McCabe—a life member of Vietnam Veterans of America who served two tours with the Army’s 1st Aviation Brigade in Vietnam in 1970-72—shifts from telling one man’s story to another’s with short accounts of their lives, including their tours in Vietnam. The grunts who perished, who served in the 14th Infantry Regiment, came to realize that there was no way they were going to change things in Vietnam, so their focus shifted to taking care of each other—and coming home alive.

Midway through the book, three men who are part of a helicopter crew join the story. By then it is July 9, 1970, and the reader has developed a relationship with the seven enlisted men who would climb aboard as passengers on “Love Craft” the next day.

McCabe describes the destruction of the helicopter with grim detail in a chapter titled “Inferno.” The aircraft carried twenty men and had just been refueled to capacity. North Vietnamese soldiers attacked it with a barrage of rocket-propelled grenades. Nine Americans were killed, and the survivors suffered severe injuries.

2nd Platoon, D Company, 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, Cu Chi, 1970

The second half of the book focuses on what happed after the crash with the dead and wounded. McCabe discusses every step in the process of treating casualties during the Vietnam War. His details transcend anything I have read about the casualty system.

He covers multiple duties expected to be carried out with precision: mortuary activities related to identifying remains of shattered and burned bodies; evacuation of the critically injured to Japan for stabilizing treatment; casualty notification of next of kin (“probably one of the most difficult assignments in the service,” McCabe says); transportation home; funerals; returning to duty; and living with loss. In doing so, McCabe fills over a hundred pages with respect, sadness, and grief.

Those Left Behind bluntly reminds the reader of the high price of war paid by combatants and those dear to them on the battlefield and afterward. The book should be on library shelves in every American high school—even in Texas where I live.

McCabe’s website is jackmccabe.net

—Henry Zeybel

Humane by Samuel Moyn

“War is hell,” Union Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman famously said. “The crueler it is, the sooner it will be over.” But in the twenty-first century, technology has enabled some aspects of war to be far less infernal.

In Humane: How the United States Abandoned Peace and Reinvented War (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 416 pp. $30, hardcover; $20, paper; $14.99, Kindle) Samuel Moyn argues that today’s forms of warfare, which do not involve indiscriminate killing of civilians and noncombatants, is paradoxically not a sign of human progress, but a guise for the continuation of endless war.

Because war is waged under the auspices of legalese and casualties are limited—in Sherman’s words, less cruel—there is no resultant significant public response to America’s actions, and therefore no incentive for policymakers to stop waging war.

Moyn, a Yale Law School and history professor, has written extensively on human rights, most recently in Not Enough: Human Rights in an Unequal World (2018). His new, accessible tome of scholarly merit is divided into eight sequential chapters. Though the book curiously lacks a bibliography, Moyn’s work is supported by 47 pages of notes and a useful timeline.

Moyn starts and ends his book by looking at Leo Tolstoy, the Russian novelist (War and Peace, et al.) who disdained armed conflict and believed that efforts such as the Red Cross trying to make war more humane would only make war more likely. Tolstoy is an unlikely bedfellow to a diverse group of military leaders,including the Prussian theorist Carl von Clausewitz, Gen. Sherman, and U.S. Air Force Gen. Curtis LeMay, who believed in total war and the complete destruction of the enemy.

Tolstoy yearned for peace, while Clausewitz and his ilk aimed for victory. But all believed that war should be brutal enough to prevent its reoccurrence. Moyn does not advocate brutality as Tolstoy did, but deems Tolstoy’s stance as prescient: American war has reached a level of efficiency, and even safety, that may be waged at virtually any time and in any place.


Moyn does not place the origins of easy on the World War II atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagaski nor on the September 11 attacks, but rather on the Vietnam War. He argues that the daily, televised violence; the use of chemical defoliants; and, in particular, the horror of the My Lai massacre forced American military policymakers to rethink their strategy of unrestrained warfare.

But it is difficult to prove this causation. Far from being unrestrained, American troops in Vietnam often were confused by contradictory rules of engagement. What’s more, My Lai sharply divided the American public, and Moyn discounts the importance of the draft in the mobilization of opposition to the war.

Moyn is correct that war has changed. Military engagements have been legalized to the extent that American leaders must consider humanitarian and international law before acting. Moyn decries this because he believes it has desensitized the American public.
The main problem, then, becomes government lawyers who have enabled the proliferation of war. This focus on legalism, however, overestimates its importance.

Professor Moyn

What’s more, Moyn neglects other factors that are more significant in the evolving norms of military restraint: the use of technology and specialized military units and the very nature of war involving non-state actors rather than nation-states.

Moyn’s conclusion is vexing. He says that the worst thing about war is not physical violence, but the assertion of American hegemony, claiming that “humane war is another version of the slavery of our times.” Since war cannot be abolished, Moyn takes the Tolstoian view that any effort to make it more humane is meaningless, and only becomes an inducement for further American domination.

Though Moyn chides President Obama for expanding America’s drone wars, he also calls him “brilliant, eloquent, and extraordinary,” an apt description of Moyn’s book. But as Obama’s eloquence could not mask his contradictory actions, all of Moyn’s erudition provides a provocative, yet flawed, thesis.

–Daniel R. Hart

U.S. Navy Special Warfare Units in Korea and Vietnam by Eugene Liptak

Eugene Liptak’s U.S. Navy Special Warfare Units in Korea and Vietnam: UDTs and SEALS, 1950-1973 (Osprey, 64 pp. $20, paper; $9.99, Kindle) is a well-illustrated, concise look at Navy Special Ops in the two wars fought by the U.S. following World War II.  

The first two chapters focus on UDT (Underwater Demolitions Team) operations during the Korean War. Those small units conducted missions that had been refined during the Second World War: beach reconnaissance and demolition of obstructions and marking underwater mines and other potential landing craft obstacles. 

The UDT frogmen also found themselves undergoing highly dangerous Korean War missions inserting agents and guerillas behind enemy lines. Adding to the risks of landing on enemy beaches, the lightly armed teams were minimally able to defend themselves. There also were unusual missions that included destroying fishing nets.

Why were we destroying and capturing Korean fishing nets and sampans? Simply put, the nets were destroyed to curtail fish as a source of food for the North Koreans.

In the Vietnam War UDT units supported U.S. Marine amphibious assaults on Vietnamese beaches that attacked Viet Cong enclaves. As always, frogmen were the first to hit the beaches to evaluate approaches and mark safe channels. They also fought VC in the vicinity.

UDTs in the Vietnam War operated independently and in support of a new concept in U.S. Navy Special Warfare ops: SEAL (SEa, Air and Land) teams. Military historian Liptak discusses the primary UDT and SEAL missions in Vietnam, including intelligence gathering, senior enemy official abductions, and night ambushes.The primary areas of responsibility were the Mekong Delta and the Rung Sat Special Zone, a difficult region of thick mangrove thick swamps east of Saigon. 

Other SEALs led paramilitary forces of indigenous anti-communists organized into Provincial Reconnaissance Units.They conducted missions similar to those of Operation Phoenix that targeted Viet Cong troops and sympathizers throughout South Vietnam. Another task was rescuing prisoners of war and downed airmen.

A SEAL Team in country ready to move out on an operation

This book discusses the SEAL teams’ weapons, such as the Stoner 63A1 squad automatic rifle and the Swedish K submachine gun, as well as the vessels used for water transport, and SEAL platoon and squad organization.

This abbreviated overview of UDT and SEAL operations provides an informed, interesting, and fact-filled account of their work in two wars. It should be read.

–John Cirafici