In Liberating Strife by Steve Atkinson

“Love and war happened simultaneously for me” in the 1960s, Steve Atkinson writes in Liberating Strife: A Memoir of the Vietnam Years: Vol. 1, The Track of a Storm (City Limits Press, 395 pp. $29.95, paper; $7.99, Kindle). This declaration sets the stage for Atkinson exhuming his memories, from a highly personalized perspective, about how that decade’s dynamics influenced him while he was a high school senior and college student from 1963-69. At that time the Vietnam War, he says, “was the root cause of most of the domestic disturbances.”

Atkinson analyzes the pros and cons of the disturbances—communism, thermonuclear weapons, racial conflict, women’s rights, Selective Service practices, illegal drug use, and the antiwar movement—along with trying to find a lifelong mate—in this memoir. He digs up minutia that ought to register a touch of nostalgia among those who lived through the era, and his thoughts might teach a lesson or two to people unfamiliar with those years.

A week after completing graduate school finals, Atkinson became an Army draftee. The book’s second half describes his military training (nothing new here except a drill instructor who becomes a friend) and gives equal time to his relationship with wife-to-be, Bev Minear. He quotes from their letters and spends a lot of time on how they opened each other’s eyes to the enjoyment of intellectual pursuits. He convinced me that they definitely were made for each other.

Suffice it to say that Atkinson did not enjoy Army life. In October 1969, three weeks after finishing AIT, Atkinson went to Vietnam. In Liberating Strife, Vol. 2  (631 pp. $36.99, paper; $7.49, Kindle) he tells the story of his role in the war.

Trained as an infantryman, Atkinson ended up as a clerk typist. During his year in-country, he served at Lai Khe with the 1st Infantry Division Adjutant General; at Di An in the Message Center; and at Long Binh with the 16th Public Information Detachment.

Initially, he worked a twelve-hour, seven-day-a-week schedule. As American units deactivated because of Vietnamization, his workload diminished to an hour a day. He filled his free time by writing letters, reading, watching movies, and listening to music. By mail, Bev and he doted over classical literature and music.

His vices were drinking beer and limited dope-smoking. He describes his gun-toting duties as follows: “Standing guard on the rear perimeter [at Long Binh] is among the experiences that I remember most vividly. I knew it was highly unlikely there would be any trouble, yet there was still the remote possibility that I might be called upon to kill a man that night—an agonizing decision.” Atkinson puzzled over how fate had put him “in this strange little corner of the world,” but was pleased that it played out as it did.

Actually, Atkinson’s heart and mind never left Minneapolis. He intersperses accounts of his activities in Vietnam with information from Bev’s letters and other hometown sources. As he did in Volume 1, he analyzes historical events pertaining to the war and the strengthening of antiwar sentiment. He frequently writes more about problems regarding Bev, his family, and Minnesota than those of the war.

“The most important and beneficial lasting legacy of the Vietnam War was the abolition of the military draft,” he writes. “The draft is both an unwarranted imposition on individual liberty and too powerful and dangerous a tool to put in the hands of our elected leaders.” He labels it “involuntary servitude.” Throughout both volumes, he offers other controversial pronouncements.

With almost the same breath, however, he says, “I can honestly affirm that I do feel a certain pride in my service. I answered my country’s call to duty amid a time of strife and ambiguity. These pages have made it clear that I arrived at that decision in the face of considerable misgivings.”

In Atkinson’s case, love conquered all: Bev and he have been married since he returned from Vietnam. Atkinson, a member of Vietnam Veterans of America, focuses his book on their long-distance romance and underplays the war angle. That choice—and his job assignment— eliminated suspense and drama from his story.

The two volumes contain nearly 400 photographs, most taken by Atkinson, and illustrations, all of which were new to me. He shot large batches of pictures on R&Rs to Tokyo and Hong Kong. The collection includes more than two hundred pages made up on three scrapbooks that partially tell his story by themselves.

—Henry Zeybel


Sadec Province: by Gordon Bare


Gordon Bare’s Sadec Province: A Memoir of War and Reconstruction in the Mekong Delta (Politics and Prose, 160 pp. $17.95, paper) is based on a journal the author kept during his two tours of duty in the Mekong Delta of South Vietnam. Bare served with U.S. Army as an Assistant Province Adviser with Army Advisory Team 65.

A retired Army Reserve Colonel who also worked in middle and high-level positions in the State Department, Bare now devotes time to Team River Runner, an organization dedicated to helping wounded veterans through whitewater kayaking. The proceeds of this book go to that worthy organization.

Sadec Province was initially a slow and laborious read mainly because of the scores of end notes. The reader would have been well served had these notes been embedded in the text or placed as footnotes on their associated pages. That said, this was a very good book for me to read

The first chapters set the stage with history, organizational structures, policy evaluations, and the like, and paint a fairly good picture of a part of the Vietnam War of which not too many of us are aware. The book is more than Bare’s memoir of his time in a small area inside the Delta. It’s a melding of those experiences and what he has learned about the war since then.

He has assembled a trove of information that brings to light obscure information about the war, the mindset of the Viet Cong, hidden successes of Vietnamization, mistakes of American strategists at the highest levels, how the war’s lessons learned are being applied today in the Middle East, and much more.

The final two chapters contain Bare’s afterthoughts and evaluations. Of particular interest to me was that as awful as the Vietnam War was on the people of South Vietnam, no one fled the country by boat. It took a communist regime to accomplish that.


Also, that it has been suggested that the American war gave the rest of Southeast Asia time to get its act together and limit the falling dominoes to Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. And that there has been no recognition of the culpability of Americans who denounced the war in Vietnam and then denied that a bloodbath occurred. These statements, and others, have given me a more secure feeling that our involvement in Vietnam was necessary and to a certain extent, successful.

I recommend Sadec Province to anybody who served in the Vietnamization programs—Phoenix, CORDS, USAID, MAGG, MACV—as well as to anybody who served in the Delta or to those simply interested in learning more of behind-the-scenes military activities in Vietnam during the war.

I am glad I read the book. I was truly enlightened.

— Bob Wartman

The Vietnam War: An Untold Story of Drugs by William E. Campbell


In June 1971 President Richard Nixon declared war on drug addicts and traffickers. One tactic of the war—Operation Gold Flow—decreed that troops leaving Vietnam and returning permanently to the United States would be subject to urinalysis. Anyone who tested positive for drugs would be detoxified before begin allowed to go home.

At that time, LTC William Campbell commanded the 90th Replacement Battalion in Long Binh, one of two units that out-processed returnees to the United States. They also assigned in-coming replacements to units. In The Vietnam War: An Untold Story of Drugs (CreateSpace, 216 pp. $12.95, paper; $3.99, Kindle), Campbell tells a year-long story about his role in carrying out the requirements of Gold Flow during his second tour in Vietnam.

With merely four-days’ notice, Campbell and the commanders of the engineer, medical, and military police battalions practically rebuilt and re-manned parts of Bien Hoa and Long Binh to satisfy Gold Flow’s requirements. Bill Campbell’s account of performing this feat provides an excellent lesson in leadership. His stories about drug testing, detoxification, and disgruntled troops are informative and entertaining.

Day and night, the 90th overflowed with men in transit—awaiting either test results, a trip to detox, or a flight homeward. Detox required a seven-day departure delay. Concurrent with the push for Vietnamization, the out-processing of American troops accelerated in 1971-72. It reached a level of loading twelve airplanes a day—a total of thirty-six hundred people. Eventually, the drug-testing program expanded to include those going on R&R or leave, as well as in-coming personnel from the States.

“The pace of the withdrawal was insane,” Campbell says.

The job was further complicated by unannounced visits from generals, each with his own idiosyncratic demands. War correspondents arrived next and then members of Congress. After the release of The Pentagon Papers, interest in Gold Flow waned, Campbell says, but generals continued to visit and order misdirected tasks.

“To us, it seemed as if the actual shooting war had taken a back seat to the Army’s war against drugs,” he says.

Campbell had limited access to drug user statistics, which hovered between six and seven percent, he estimates. The majority were junior enlisted men, with a scattering of NCOs and young officers. Percentages among black and white users were equal, he writes.


Col. Campbell back in the day

The 90th’s workload ended as abruptly as it had begun. Campbell inventoried the facilities—he called it “counting the buildings”–and was the last man to leave.

The book ends happily as Campbell learns of his promotion to full colonel.

Campbell wrote An Untold Story of Drugs in 1985 but shelved it until this year. His book presents a start-to-finish view of a phase of the war that—as the book’s title forewarned—was new to me.

—Henry Zeybel

Vietnam 365 by Karen Angelucci


In Vietnam 365: Our Tour Through Hell (Acclaim Press, 224 pp., $26.95, hardcover) Karen Angelucci presents a complex narrative based on the Vietnam War tour of former Army Spec 5 David J. McCormack, who served in Vietnam in 1970-71. Angelucci identifies his unit as “the Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 5th Battalion, 2nd Artillery Automatic Self Weapons group located on Duster Compound, attached to 30th ARVN Rangers and a Navy Seal A-Team of 5th Special Forces.”

Angelucci presents the Vietnam War story of McCormack,  a “greenline” guard and master mechanic. In Vietnam he acquired the sobriquet “Billy the Kid,” by which he became widely known both to allied leaders and—according to the book—to vengeful, high-ranking members of the NVA and VC.

This honorary title was bestowed on him due to his legendary coolness and lethality in several encounters with the enemy during his time in III Corps.

Angelucci also describes McCormack’s repeated confrontations with those who outranked him. She writes that NCOs and officers usually backed down in deference to his incredible courage and in-country experience.

In one chapter he karate punches a sleazy chief warrant officer in the nose, then intentionally runs his Jeep over the guy, breaking his kneecap and smashing his foot. In the next chapter McCormack punches a Long Binh Hospital nurse in the chest, knocking her to the floor.

Despite these and other assaults and threats of time in Leavenworth or worse, McCormack always escaped serious punishment. Angelucci writes that he even outsmarted the CIA when agents sent him on a suicidal decoy mission.

She says he also worked with a Vietnamese spy in Cu Chi who informed him of enemy movements in the area. When the spy was captured by the enemy, she identified him to her torturers.

Before leaving for The World, McCormack was debriefed by a friendly master sergeant, who told him: “Moscow, Peking, and Hanoi had [sic] each put up five hundred dollars for your young ass dead or alive. Go home and crawl in a hole and pull the hole in after you. There, no doubt, will be a Soviet Special Forces operative inserted into the U.S. to kill you.”

Readers might raise an eyebrow at some of these tales, but still find the narrative rings true in several of its specifics, primarily those concerning military vehicles and weaponry.

McCormack, who became an auto mechanics instructor in a technical college after serving in Vietnam, offers intricate details of his work as an in-country mechanic. For example:

“So I thought, ‘These military vehicles are literally ‘de-tuned.’ I took string and measured around the crankshaft pulley. I used a tape measure and calculated eighteen degrees before top dead center. That was the factor specification for the ’61 Corvette fuel injection that was what I used on my ’57 Chevy I called the ‘Grey Ghost’; it ran best changing gears at full power shift at 7,200 revolutions back on the street.”

In another passage, he and a fellow Southerner discuss at length and with sentimentality the specifications of their cars back home. It is a believable and poignant moment of escape from the grinding craziness of the war into which these “good old boys” have both been thrust.

McCormack seems to have an unusual story to tell. Perhaps a direct autobiography or a better-documented account would have been more effective in telling it.


Karen Angelucci

The book includes McCormack’s own in-country photographs and several excellent photos taken by Robert W. Griffin during the war.

One final note: Angelucci quotes McCormack who quotes an Army dog handler who claims he would put black gunpowder into the raw meat of  his “German Shepard hunting dogs.” Then, according to the handler, the dogs, now super-aggressive and with a taste for human flesh, would be set loose to slaughter the enemy.

During this period this reviewer served in III Corps with a unit that had guard dog handlers. He never heard of this bizarre practice.

Is this another in a long and still-growing list of Vietnam War myths?

—Paul Kaser

Hotel Constellation by David L. Haase


David L. Haase is a former journalist who got his start in the business in Vietnam covering the war. After getting tossed out of Vietnam, he went to Laos and spent many months there struggling to learn how to write about war and how to deal with the often extreme discomfort that westerners encounter in hot, humid Southeast Asia.

Much space is devoted in his memoir, Hotel Constellation: Notes from America’s Secret War in Laos (C. Lawrence, 280 pp. $16.99, paper; Kindle, $6.99), exploring the serious problems h encountered in Laos. That includes crotch rot, hemorrhoids, and other afflictions brought on by bad water and bad food.

Haase was very young when he arrived in Southeast Asia, twenty. His 4-F draft status prevented him from having the opportunity that about 2.8 million other young Americans had serving in South Vietnam in an American military uniform.

This memoir is engaging and well-written and more honest than Haase had to be about how callow and inexperienced he was with just about everything. He uses a journal he kept at the time and the long letters home he wrote to loved ones to summon up the small details of his life in Laos that inform his memoir and make it accessible and intimate.

I found it fascinating to be with him through his diary entries as he witnessed the destruction of the small, landlocked country of Laos as the CIA used it as the place to stage its so-called “secret” war.



As the book’s blurb says, we watch a “young innocent abroad growing older and cynical.”

Haase evokes the special atmosphere of the Hotel Constellation, the place everyone in Laos eventually stumbled through looking for whatever it was that brought them far away from home to this tiny country that was at the center of the biggest war going.

The author’s website

—David Willson

How Did You Get This Job?  by Terry A. Moon

Terry A. Moon’s How Did You Get This Job?: The Daily Journal of a 1st Air Cavalry Combat Photographer in Vietnam  (CreateSpace, 250 pp., $12.95, paper) tries to correct a common complaint about military books: that they have too few pictures. Well, this book contains more than four hundred photos.

While I was very pleased and entertained with the photos in the book, I was disappointed to find that this year-long journal of a 1st Air Cav combat photographer had very few pictures of grunts in action.

Moon enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1968 with a guaranteed MOS as a photographer. In April, he went to Fort Ord for basic training then on to photo school. On November 13, 1968, he stepped off a 707 at the Bien Hoa AFB and his Vietnam tour began. As that 707 was landing, Moon’s photo journal also was taking off. During his tour, Moon received a Bronze Star for meritorious service and the Air Medal for all the flying he did to get to his photo assignments.

He had graduated number one in his photo class, so the 1st Cavalry Division snatched him up and stationed him at Phuoc Vinh, 50 kilometers north of Saigon. He had a unique way of getting around to different Fire Support Bases, LZs, and other locations. Moon’s press pass gave him the ability to take any open seat on virtually any airplane or helicopter going wherever he needed to go. Periodically, there were no available seats maybe thirty minutes away, so he had to cobble together multiple hops that sometimes ended up taking several hours to get to that same place.

There is a journal entry for nearly every day of Terry Moon’s tour. Much like a Command Chronology, some days are loaded with interesting entries and some are not. Virtually every photo is captioned and many are accompanied by very descriptive and educational narratives.

I found this book to be relatively interesting and learned a lot about behind-the-scenes activities required to make the seemingly apparent happen.

While How Did You Get This Job? never really grew on me, I found it to be an interesting and educational book. I read the entire book, including the photo captions, and feel it was time well spent. I believe others will agree.

The author’s website is

— Bob Wartman

2D Surgical Hospital by Lorna Griess


Lorna Griess served as a military nurse for thirty years, two in the Navy and the remainder in the Army. She retired as a colonel in 1990.

Her memoir—2D Surgical Hospital: An Khe to Chu Lai South Vietnam (Xlibris, 108 pp. $22.99, hardcover; $15.99, paper; $3.99, Kindle)—covers 1966-67 when she was twenty-eight years old and primarily tended to wounded soldiers in recovery rooms and intensive care units, working twelve hours a day, six days a week.

“In RR/ICU, every patient was acute, needing instant and constant care,” Greiss writes.

Greiss’s recollection of the time focuses on her duties and surroundings. She does not describe in detail the individual Americans the treated. She talks of a “push,” or mass casualty, and other medical events in general terms. For example:

“Gunshot wounds were always surprises. They took eclectic paths through the body, sometimes diverted by bones and sometimes clean. Medical people had to turn the patient over to find the full damage. Some of the slower rounds made little entry holes but large exit wounds. Chest and abdominal wounds from gunshot or blast injuries sometimes took hours to find and fix all the damage.”

Greiss does describe the impact that her duties had on her psyche. “If I dwell on it now, some of the sights, sounds, and smells are still very real,” she writes. “They were perceived at the height of emotion and are etched forever in my mind. Tears are filling my eyes and cascading down my cheeks as I write this. That was forty-eight years ago, and it is as fresh as yesterday in my mind.”

The book contains thirty-two full-page photographs Griess took. Mainly they show buildings from the locales where she lived, worked, and traveled.

Based on Griess’ closing comments, I believe she wrote 2D Surgical Hospital to help relieve her own war-related emotional problems. She proudly served her nation and paid a price. She has lung cancer attributed to exposure to Agent Orange and mentions PTSD as follows:

Lorna Greiss

Lorna Griess

“Those of us who made the Army a career had peer support and did much better than those who got out and went back home looking for the same world they left. Many are still seeking treatment today.”

Griess continues to work on behalf of veterans from the Vietnam War as well as returnees from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The author’s website is

—Henry Zeybel