The Erawan War by Ken Conboy

The events that Ken Convoy covers in The Erawan War: Volume 1: The CIA Paramilitary Campaign in Laos, 1961-1969 (Helion & Company, 64 pp. $29.95, paper) take place at a time when the Domino Theory was a key factor in American national security policy. That theory, which President Eisenhower first explained publicly in 1954, held that a communist takeover of one nation would inexorably lead to communist takeovers in nearby countries, which would “fall” like dominoes.

In 1961 the Southeast Asian Kingdom of Laos was seen as a key nation under threat from communism as it bordered two communist countries, China and North Vietnam, as well as noncommunist Thailand, South Vietnam, and Cambodia. Consequently, the Eisenhower Administration placed remote, landlocked Laos squarely on the Cold War chessboard.  

To thwart a communist insurgency in Laos the United States in 1961 became clandestinely involved in its largest-ever paramilitary covert operation (code-named Erawan) amid a civil war between Lao factions including the communist Pathet Lao. Convoy’s concise, heavily illustrated book—nicely supported throughout by photographs and maps—describes the CIA’s efforts to reverse the advances that the Pathet Lao and its ally, the North Vietnamese Army (PAVN), made throughout much of northern and central Laos.  

Similarly, important missions were conducted to counter the PAVN’s use of the Ðuong Trường Sơn (known to Americans as the Ho Chi Minh Trail) in eastern and southern Laos, and the Sihanouk Trail in Cambodia, which the communists used to move troops and supplies into South Vietnam.    

Demonstrating incredible initiative, a handful of CIA field officers, working with Thai Special Forces, successfully imbedded themselves in Lao tribes, including the Hmong, and built a formidable fighting force to counter the North Vietnamese and the Pathet Lao.     

Equally impressive were the efforts to maintain trail-watching teams that collected intelligence on PAVN movements and assessed the effectiveness of the U.S. bombing campaign.    

One of the most audacious operations—Codename Fox—inserted teams into the People’s Republic of China to tap phone lines. Another trained a team of Nung—Chinese tribesmen from Vietnam—to conduct direct action ops against the PAVN on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The CIA operations in Laos also included superb air support provided by Air America and BirdAir, and a secret U.S. bombing campaign that began in 1964.  

The story of CIA operations in Laos, one of America’s longest-running Cold War engagements, as Convoy recounts it in this book, is a fascinating one.

However, I found it odd that U.S. Army Special Forces, although not central to this story, were barely mentioned even though they conducted parallel operations in Laos from 1959-62. Although this book is clearly about the CIA in Laos, you can’t give the complete picture without mentioning in some detail the Green Berets’ Operation White Star.   

Otherwise, The Erawan War is a great military and military intelligence history book. 

–John Cirafici

Blackhorse Tales by Donald C. Snedeker

Donald C. Snedeker’s Blackhorse Tales: Stories of 11th Armored Cavalry Troopers at War (Casemate, 304 pp. $34.95, hardcover; $15.99 Kindle), is one of the best books I have read about U.S. combat forces in the Vietnam War.

Snedeker served in 1969-70 as a platoon leader with the 2nd Squadron of the 11th Armored Cavalry (Blackhorse) Regiment. The unit operated in the hotly contested War Zones C & D north of Saigon in places such as An Loc, Zuan Loc, Di An, Gia Ray, Bien Hoa, the Michelin Rubber Plantation, Nui Ba Den, Tay Ninh, and the Ho Bo Woods, and farther west into Cambodia.

Although he awarded a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart, Snedeker writes very little about himself in this, his second book about the regiment. The first was The Blackhorse in Vietnam, which came out in 2020. His new book is almost entirely about other Blackhorse troopers and a few attached units. Through scores of interviews, they share their experiences, perspectives, and evaluations.

While writing about one combat engagement after another, Snedeker, who is the unit’s long-time historian, includes many photos, maps, and drawings. Blackhorse Tales is well designed with seven chapters interspersed with “Combat Vignettes.” The chapters include many details about Vietnamese civilians and allies, animals, terrain and weather, and how all of that affected every aspect of the lives of the troops.

These men literally lived in their APCs and tanks. Some spent months in the bush before returning to base camp. They set up fire support bases that were more like night defensive positions, and frequently were on the move. One trooper said he felt like a gypsy living in his track and constantly moving to other positions. 

Reading Blackhorse Tales, I was even more impressed with the mobility and effectiveness of armored troops in the jungles and through the rice paddies of South Vietnam. It is estimated that in its 67 months in country, the 11th Cav drove their tracked and wheeled vehicles over some 23-million miles of terrain and that the unit’s air group had flown some 250,000 sorties.

I truly enjoyed and appreciated Don Snedeker’s work in Blackhorse Tales. I highly recommend it.

–Bob Wartman

Break in the Chain by W.R. Baker

The basic premise of W.R. Baker’s Break in the Chain: Military Intelligence in Vietnam and Why the Easter Offensive Should Have Turned Out Differently (Casemate, 264 pp. $34.95, hardcover; $20.95, paper) is that the United States should not have been caught totally off-guard by the bold North Vietnamese 1972 Easter Offensive because U.S. intelligence operatives had provided warning indicators.   

The book reads like a retrospective investigation into what transpired in the days leading up to the invasion and what continued to happen in the confusion that followed. What especially gives Bob Baker credibility is that he was an Army intelligence specialist in northern South Vietnam when the NVA’s major thrust came south across the DMZ.  

This account is a strong indictment of incompetent senior South Vietnamese generals in key positions whose strong suit was political connections—not military skill. The book also calls into question the poor use of available intelligence by senior American leaders—both military and political—all the way up to the Nixon White House. What the generals reported as the offensive unfolded had little connection to the reality on the battlefield.

Baker points out that the intelligence community—especially it’s HUMINT (human intelligence) reporting—as often discounted by senior leaders, most of whom were in the combat arms arena. This reviewer, having served in both intelligence and combat, understands completely the points Baker repeatedly emphasizes—including that no military or political leader can afford to marginalize intelligence.

Conventional military wisdom dominated the thinking of the U.S. generals in Saigon, leading them to believe erroneously that an attack, if any, would come late in January during the Tet holiday, and that it would be made up of regiment-sized infantry units—and it would target the Central Highlands. Instead, the offensive came at the very end of March. And it was fought with infantry divisions (not regiments) accompanied by armor and artillery regiments and protected by anti-aircraft artillery and surface-to-air missiles. And it came south across the DMZ as well as from Laos and into the Central Highlands. The North Vietnamese, hoping to end the war on their terms, threw some 130,000 troops into the fight.

Bob Baker In Country

This book in particular illustrates that the history of battles gone wrong have repeatedly shared a common feature: discounted or ignored intelligence. Baker points out that intelligence had been disregarded prior to the Second World War’s Battle of the Bulge and the subsequent Operation Market Garden, nearly leading to disastrous consequences. And that the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 was undermined by ignored intelligence. Much more recently, a heavy price was paid for selectively discounting intelligence prior to the U.S. going to war in Iraq and Afghanistan. One hopes that the lessons in this book will help military and government leaders pay closer attention to intelligence and make the correct decisions in the future.   

Break In the Chain is the book to read for an accurate picture of what really took place during the pivotal 1972 North Vietnamese Easter Offensive.

The book’s website is breakinthechain.com

–John Cirafici

The Tonkin Gulf Yacht Club by Thomas McKelvey Cleaver

Working under the belief that the outcome of the Vietnam War was visible from the start, I first read the last two chapters—“End Game, April 1975” and “Southeast Asian Finale”—of The Tonkin Gulf Yacht Club: Naval Aviation in the Vietnam War (Osprey, 400 pp. $28.80, hardcover; $12.60, Kindle) by Thomas McKelvey Cleaver.

Cleaver is one helluva historian. He nails down facts by using a combination of first-hand accounts of Navy aviators and former North Vietnamese Air Force pilots, including from interviews he conducted, as well as historical research. In analyzing the 1975 end of the Vietnam War, he presents a picture that reveals touches of logic to the confusion that we have learned to accept as characterizing the chaotic ending of the war. His account of the capture of the USS Mayaguez in Cambodia by the Khmer Rouge masterfully conveys the counter productivity and death involved in that regrettable episode.

Tom Cleaver’s credentials are flawless. He is a Navy veteran of the Vietnam War. For 40 years he has published best-sellers with Osprey, the noted U.K. military history book publisher. Simultaneously, he has had a 30-year career writing and producing stories for movies and television.       

The heart of The Tonkin Gulf Yacht Club is a dramatic recreation of the activities, triumphs, and failures of Naval aviators starting at the beginning of the air war, in August 1964. Without gloating, Cleaver shows how and why Navy tactics proved superior to those of the U.S. Air Force. Sad to say, in many ways the war was an educational process for both groups.

Navy aviators flew from U.S. Seventh Fleet Task Force 77 aircraft carriers in the Gulf of Tonkin. Normally six carriers, each with 70 to 100 airplanes, provided strike forces that dueled with MiGs and SAMs over North Vietnam and supported ground troops in the South. A reader can open the book to just about any page and find accounts of exciting aerial feats or challenging problems related to strategy and tactics.  

Cleaver’s book is a welcome addition to the world of Navy aviation and combat flying in general. It complements and updates Rene J. Francillon’s Tonkin Gulf Yacht Club: U.S. Carrier Operations Off Vietnam 1964-1975, originally written in 1988 and expanded in 2018. Francillon highlighted the story of the USS Coral Sea because of its 875 days on line, the most of any Vietnam War aircraft carrier. Cleaver presents a broader and deeper approach to Navy air operations. He clearly validates the idea that war is a bitch even for the side that has the best equipment in the world.

Because of its breadth and depth of information about specialized combat operations, I rank The Tonkin Gulf Yacht Club as my favorite book of 2021.

—Henry Zeybel

The Year of the Hawk by James A. Warren

“We are not about to send American boys 9 or 10 thousand miles away from home,” Lyndon Johnson said during the 1964 Presidential campaign, “to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves.” In his accessible The Year of the Hawk: America’s Descent into Vietnam, 1965 (Scribner, 320 pp. $28, hardcover; $14.99, Kindle) James A. Warren focuses on the American plunge into the Vietnam War from the fall of 1964 through the summer of 1965.

Warren is a military historian, foreign policy analyst, and author, most recently of God, War, and Providence, as well as several books on the history of the U.S. Marine Corps. A former acquisitions editor at Columbia University Press, he recently was a visiting scholar in American Studies at Brown University.

Warren divides his book into three sections. The first looks at the crucial military and political decisions made by the Johnson Administration from November 1963, when he assumed the presidency, to the big build-up of American ground forces in July 1965. The second examines the ramifications of those decisions, and the third contains Warren’s assessment of, and reflection on, those events. Warren relies heavily on secondary sources and published memoirs to support his analysis.

As way of background, Warren provides an overview of Vietnamese resistance to French colonial rule in the aftermath of World War II, the American support of France during the First Indochina War (1945-54), and the deepening commitment to a noncommunist government in South Vietnam under the Kennedy Administration from 1961-63.

When Johnson became president, he felt it necessary to continue Kennedy Administration’s commitment to a non-communist South Vietnam out of fear of damage to his credibility and to American international prestige. Warren rightfully opines that the American commitment and strategy in the Vietnam War was largely shaped by domestic politics. He comprehensively details the nascent antiwar movement, while pointing out that in 1964-65 there was broad support for the war and President Johnson’s handling of it.

Warren explains the internecine struggle between the Marine Corps strategy of counterinsurgency and pacification, the so-called “other war,” and the Army’s preference for big-unit engagements and search-and-destroy operations. Gen. William Westmoreland’s insistence on the strategy of attrition prevailed, and—coupled with a flawed and ineffective air campaign—created a doomed American policy.

Westmoreland thought his strategy was justified following the 1965 Battle of Ia Drang— made famous by Lt. Gen. Harold Moore and Joe Galloway’s book We Were Soldiers Once, and Young—in which the Moore’s 1st Cavalry Division troops inflicted significant battlefield casualties on the North Vietnamese. After that bloody engagement the communists adjusted their tactics and largely avoided large-unit confrontations. Warren argues that Westmoreland’s approach was deeply flawed, but believes his treatment by historians has been unfair, saying that any American general with any strategy would have been ineffective in Vietnam.

LBJ, Cam Ranh Bay, 1967

Warren’s analysis follows the accepted historical orthodoxy: Ho Chi Minh was a courageous leader uniting his people; South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem and his predecessors were corrupt despots; and the U.S. did not understand the revolutionary spirit that was sweeping the countryside.

On the other hand, the North attempted to provoke three general uprisings that would have toppled the unpopular South Vietnamese regime—in 1964, 1968, and 197—and failed each time.

Warren contends that the 1968 Tet Offensive’s crucial objective was to inflict a psychological blow on the American public and government. But that was Tet’s crucial outcome, not its intent. Tet was designed to incite a revolution in South Vietnam and win the war. Only when the North invaded in 1975 with the conventional forces of the North Vietnamese Army did the communists prevail.

Though Warren’s use of headings within each chapter allows the narrative to move quickly, his overuse of long quotations and colloquialisms slows things down. That said, this book is a solid and readable introduction to a conflict that continues to resonate in American politics and culture.

–Daniel R. Hart

UH-1 Huey Gunship vs NVA/VC Forces by Peter E. Davies

Veteran military historian Peter E. Davies’ UH-1 Huey Gunship vs NVA/VC Forces: Vietnam 1962-75 (Osprey, 80 pp. $22, paper; $7.99, Kindle) is the book for anyone who wants to know just about everything about the UH-1 Huey helicopter in the Vietnam War. Rich in photographs and illustrations, this concise book examines and explains virtually every detail about that famed helicopter, from its inception to its war-fighting variants. The Huey, formally named the Iroquois based on the Army’s use of American tribal names for its helicopters, was the backbone of U.S. air mobility warfare in Vietnam.

In this tightly focused study of only eighty pages Davies—aided by illustrators Jim Laurier and Gareth Hector—takes the reader from the first use of helicopters in combat to the development of the gunship as an assault helicopter. Davies goes step-by-stop from concept through design innovation, evaluation, and the emergence of a new capability on the battlefield. He then discusses air mobility in the Vietnam War and how tactics and weapons evolved to meet a changing battlefield.

He also addresses the counterstrategy the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese developed to try to neutralize the challenges of air mobility. In doing so, Davies examines NVA and VC tactics and weapons systems and how they evolved to meet the air-assault threat.

The limits of the helicopter in fighting in the Vietnam were exposed during Operation Lam Son 719 in 1971 when the NVA set up an intensive anti-aircraft artillery defense in Laos, taking a heavy toll on the assaulting helicopter force. 

Although this book is well researched, I found a few minor errors. Davies writes, for example, that the 1st Cavalry Division’s fixed-wing aircraft (the CV-2 Caribous and OV-1 Mohawks) were turned over to the U.S. Air Force in 1966. In fact, the Mohawks remained with the 1st Cav. 

That said, UH-1 Huey Gunship vs NVA/ VC Forces is an outstanding reference book. For anyone looking for a well-informed examination of Hueys in the Vietnam War, this is it.

–John Cirafici

Dien Bien Phu 1954 by Martin Windrow

Martin Windrow’s Dien Bien Phu, 1954: The French Defeat that Lured America into Vietnam (Osprey, 96 pp., $24, paper) is an easy-to-follow account of the pivotal May 1954 battle of Dien Bien Phu, which ended the Vietnamese war against France and determined the future of Vietnam. Rich in photographs, illustrations, and maps, and supported with a detailed chronology and order of battle tables, this concise history takes the reader right into the battle.

The French defeat at Dien Bien Phu was a consequence of monumental errors in French operational planning, including misunderstanding the enemy’s intentions and capabilities. The French also overestimated their own capability to maintain and defend the remote base with artillery and air support. and forces available—and underestimated the Viet Minh’s ability to commit substantial forces to the battle supplemented with artillery and antiaircraft weaponry.

The purpose of the base was to draw Viet Minh forces away from the strategically important Red River Delta, which included Hanoi and Haiphong. Ironically, the misguided plan instead isolated significant numbers of French forces, moving them away from areas where they were essential. Despite heavy losses by the Viet Minh. the French were ultimately crushed.

Although Windrow—a military historian who has written widely about the 20th century wars in Vietnam—does not compare Dien Bien Phu with the siege of the remote Khe Sanh combat base fourteen years later during America’s Vietnam War, one cannot help but look for parallels and differences. Some similarities and some important differences come to mind.

The Viet Minh, for example, zeroed their artillery in on Dien Bien Phu’s two airfields, essentially shutting them down and the North Vietnamese Army essentially did the same thing at Khe Sanh. General Vo Nguyen Giap, the overall commander of attacking forces in both battles, applied the lessons of the first to the second. French tactical airpower at DBP was sorely inadequate and encouraged Giap’s tactical boldness. In contrast, U.S. airpower inflicted heavy losses on NVA at Khe Sanh in 1968. 

Vietnamese artillery, well concealed and protected, was a key component of the siege strategy at both DBP and Khe Sanh. At DBP it was used to support assaulting troops, wipe out outposts, deny the use of the airfields, and target command and control bunkers. Fuel storage and ammunition dumps also were destroyed at Khe Sanh. The ammunition dump also was destroyed, many aircraft on the ground were hit, and movement within the camp greatly restricted. Yet Khe Sanh, supplied by airdrops, never fell to the NVA.

French troops besieged at Dien Bien Phu

Finally, an important difference: For the North Vietnamese the Siege of Khe Sanh was not the focus of the ensuing 1968 Tet Offensive. The base did not have to be actually taken. The NVA instead succeeded in its goal of drawing key U.S. combat forces (the 1st Cavalry Division) away from population centers on the eve of the South Vietnam-wide Tet Offensive.

As a veteran of the siege of Khe Sanh I wanted to learn as much as possible about Dien Bien Phu from this book. And I was pleased to see that Windrow’s narrative, maps, order of battle listings, and timelines allowed me an to “see” the battle of DBP as it unfolded.       

This book accomplishes quite a bit. It is well worth reading.          

–John Cirafici           

Clear, Hold, and Destroy by Robert J. Thompson III

Robert Thompson’s Clear, Hold, and Destroy: Pacification in Phy Yen and the American War in Vietnam (University of Oklahoma Press, 330 pp. $39.95, hardcover: $29.95, Kindle) is, above all, about the Vietnam War’s U.S. pacification effort and how it failed. The question addressed by Thompson is: Why is it important that we understand this failure?

As I read this book, I wondered why Thompson’s case study of events that took place fifty years ago would be relevant today. It would seem more natural to look at the recent Iraq and Afghanistan wars and the Vietnam experience and analyze similar philosophical and operational errors to understand why we have repeated the same flawed philosophy. To paraphrase Albert Einstein: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

Thompson’s study of the pacification program in the Vietnam War examines the effort in Phu Yen Province south of Qui Nhon. His goal is to show how Americans advanced pacification and why the program ultimately did not work. He grapples with the impact of conventional warfare on pacification during a war by looking at the North Vietnamese Army, along with the Viet Cong, who were primarily fighting an insurgent war with the goal of winning over the South Vietnamese people.  

The tragedy for the Vietnamese sandwiched in the middle was that the American search-and-destroy strategy was all but inseparable from U.S. pacification programs. At the same time, the often ruthless methods of the Viet Cong to control the population were no less harmful. However, it was not lost on the people that the Viet Cong would always come back after being forced away and reassert themselves.

Thompson, a historian with the Films Team at the Army University Press, argues that the ultimate objective of pacification during the Cold War was the defeat of communism, a goal not quite consistent with the traditional definition of “pacification,” which is to establish peace.

Therefore a dichotomy existed in the inconsistent and confusing use of the term and, more importantly, its consequences in actual practice. It has been said that pacification is about power—ultimately control over a population while isolating it from insurgents. In other words, it requires a major military component.  

In the 1960s the Field Manual 31-22 Counterinsurgency Forces’ definition was “to destroy the insurgent’s ability to use the population for support.” That has proven, because of the destructive nature of war, to be a fundamental contradiction. Witness how incredibly destructive the war in Vietnam was for the Vietnamese people when airstrikes and artillery were used to blast hamlets and repeatedly dislocate those who lived there.   

In an apparent effort to make the mission appear more benign to the public, a cascade of names was used for the program such as nation building, rural reconstruction, revolutionary development, winning hearts and minds, and civic action. Yet, in the end, pacification in the Vietnam War was never free from violence and destruction.

hompson could have looked at the American pacification of the Philippines in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War and in the 19th century Indian wars in the West to illustrate the consequences of pacification. This summer, in his speech announcing the end of the U.S. war in Afghanistan, President Biden said it was the end of the era of “nation-building.” That reference reflects how much the concept has become associated with wrong-headed policies.

Thompson should be applauded for his excellent scholarship in approaching a very difficult subject and accurately describing the reality of pacification programs in the Vietnam War. His book is perceptively written, informative, and well worth reading. His website is drrobthompson.co,

–John Cirafici

War in the Villages by Ted N. Easterling

Men of the U.S Marine Corps Combined Action Platoons in the Vietnam volunteered to live with and protect South Vietnamese villagers in I Corps. Ideally a CAP was made up of fifty men—14 Marines, one Navy corpsman, and 35 South Vietnamese Popular Forces troops, although in reality the teams often fell below those numbers. The program, designed to fight guerrillas during the night and help villagers during the day, was in place in Vietnam from 1965-71, and was the subject of controversies between upper echelon Marine and U.S. Army commanders. In essence, the Army favored the search-and-destroy strategy, and the Marines wanted to emphasize hearts-and-minds counterinsurgency programs.

In War in the Villages: The U.S. Marine Corps Combined Action Platoons in the Vietnam War (University of North Texas Press, 247 pp. $29.95, hardcover;  $23.95, Kindle) Marine Vietnam War veteran Ted Easterling tells the story of the effectiveness of CAPs against the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army. Easterling holds a doctorate from the University of Akron where he taught history. Relying primarily on secondary sources in his book, Easterling concludes that CAP never realized its potential.

The book’s lengthy introduction details the principles of guerrilla warfare, communist ideology, and revolutionary warfare to show the formidable military challenge posed by the communist forces in Vietnam. Easterling also explains a range of counterinsurgency tactics designed to meet the challenge, the core of which fostered disagreement between Marine Gen. Victor (Brute) Krulak and his boss, U.S. Army Gen. William Westmoreland.

Easterling conscientiously takes the reader through all the stages of CAP’s existence, a struggle intensified by the program’s limited size and insufficient support from the South Vietnamese government. Even when CAP became a separate command, a lack of supplies hampered progress.

A Combined Action Program unit near Dai Loc, Nov. 5, 1970

Several recently released books about the CAP have reached conclusions similar to Easterling’s. In Spreading Ink Blots from Da Nang to the DMZ, for example, the British military historian David Strachan-Morris rates CAP as successful—a minor success, perhaps, but nevertheless successful. For him, counterinsurgency is an effective way to achieve a specific objective, within a specific area, and (ideally) for a specific period of time. Beyond those parameters, he says, it is ineffective.

A more personalized view of CAP comes from Tiger Papa Three by Edward F. Palm, a former CAP Marine who lived with villagers between Cam Lo and Dong Ha, ten kilometers south of the DMZ in 1967. Palm reports that villagers acted indifferently to the Marines, did not buy into civic action projects, “and never had any great call for our medical services.”

What’s more, he says that the South Vietnamese Popular Forces avoided taking risks, and the U.S. Army offered no help or encouragement. He labels CAP as the Marines’ “enlightened gesture of dissent” against a strategy that was “proving to be self-defeating.”

Regardless of the degree of CAP effectiveness, War in the Villages provides an in-depth study of a controversial program that once again shows the high degree of commitment by the U.S. Marine Corps.

—Henry Zeybel

A Shau by Jay Phillips

Six years before he went to Vietnam and became an infantryman with the 1st Cavalry Division in 1967, Jay Phillips began studying the war. Wounded three times, he spent 21 months in-country. In 1976, he received a BA in history from the University of Denver. Fascinated by the war and its outcome, he accumulated a library of some 1,300 books on the topic and did a large amount of research in the files of the Vietnam Center and Archive at Texas Tech University to write A Shau: Crucible of the Vietnam War (Izzard Ink, 542 pp. $39.95, hardcover; $9.99, Kindle).

Phillips characterizes the A Shau Valley as “one of the most consequential pieces of real estate in all of South Vietnam.” In the book he analyzes how the United States never controlled the Valley after the North Vietnamese overran a U.S. Special Forces camp at A Luoi in March 1966, and how that influenced the war’s outcome.       

The book focuses exclusively on what happened in I Corps from 1961-72 in the area between A Shau and the nearby Laotian border to the west. The North Vietnamese Army used the 28-mile long valley as a supply route into South Vietnam. This greatly benefitted NVA activity, particularly the extended fighting in Hue during the 1968 Tet Offensive—a turning point in the war.

Although he never set foot in the A Shau—which Phillips states for the record in the book—his familiarity of time and place is admirable. U.S. Air Force CHECO Reports primarily provide his source material, but he also cites other official reports, award citations, secondary sources, memoirs, and interviews. I applaud the scope and intensity of his research.

Phillips offers up his interpretations of successful and unsuccessful actions in the field and at leadership at all levels of command. He speculates. He contradicts. He finds fallacies and corrects errors. To put it simply and bluntly: He calls bullshit when necessary.

Despite not maintaining a permanent force in the A Shau Valley, American forces conducted large- and small-scale, short-term incursions there. Phillips brings to life epic operations: Delaware, Somerset Plain, Dewey Canyon, and others. He takes the reader to the infamous Hamburger Hill.

In the A Shau Valley, 1968

Phillips recreates operations with details that should more than satisfy military history lovers. He describes the glory—and the suffering—of American combatants in the A Shau: primarily the 1st Cavalry, 101st Airborne, and the 9th Marines. Those units used reconnaissance and search-and-destroy tactics in forested mountains, much like Americans in the rest of South Vietnam did. At the same time, he weaves in the actions of smaller groups such as Rangers and LRPPs to complete a picture of the complex and fluctuating U.S. tactics.

A Shau has no photographs beyond the dust jacket, but includes maps that clarify each operation.

Jay Phillips now works with support groups for victims of Parkinson’s disease, which he contracted from exposure to Agent Orange. The Parkinson’s Foundation named him 2020 Volunteer of the Year

—Henry Zeybel