Waging the War Within by Tim Fortner with Elizabeth Ridley

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Waging the War Within: A Marine’s Memoir of Vietnam and PTSD (McFarland, 209 pp. $29.95, paper; $17.99, Kindle), by Tim Fortner with Elizabeth Ridley, pretty naturally divides into three parts. The first third of this relatively short book covers Fortner’s life before the Marines, then comes a recounting of his military experiences, mainly in Vietnam, and then a look at his post-war life up to today.

Fortner admits he was never concerned about grades in school but did, he says, “set new records for sexcapades in the back of a Chevy.” He writes that during his senior year of high school he had sex with one of his teachers over a four-month period, including at least once in the school building. He tried college but quickly dropped out.

With the draft breathing down his neck, he joined the Marines. It was late 1966 and Fortner was 18 years old. After serving stateside, he volunteered for Vietnam, arriving in-country in August of 1968.

Fortner was assigned to a CH-46D Sea Knight helicopter in Medium Helicopter Squadron 262 in the First Marine Air Wing based at Quang Tri Province in the far north of South Vietnam. He worked in the maintenance shop, and also flew as a gunner when not needed there. There are good descriptions of some of the missions he took part in, along with stories about a stolen Jeep, the accidental firing of a rocket on base, and the fragging of an NCO.

A bizarre episode involves Fortner taking his R&R in Hawaii, usually the place where married men met their wives. He asked to go there so he could spend time with his mother, who flew in from California. The story gets better when, Fortner says, they stealthily took a flight to San Francisco for a couple of days. More excitement: The plane he took back to Vietnam lost an engine, forcing it to return to Hawaii. Instead of staying in the airport as ordered during the delay, Fortner went back to the hotel to extend his visit with his mother.

On the last day of his tour in Vietnam Fortner took part in what he calls a “pretty unbelievable” massive food fight, then returned to San Francisco where he says he was spat on at the airport. After finishing his last few months in the Corps, he moved back home. One of his first jobs involved him digging around and removing a septic tank. After the job, disgusted with how his clothes smelled, he stripped naked and drove home. He had his mother spray him down with water while he scrubbed his body. She then threw him a towel.

After a failed relationship, a suicide attempt, and time in a “psych ward,” as Fortner puts it, went to the VA for help with hearing and back issues and was surprised to later be awarded a 100 percent service-connected disability rating for PTSD. Fortner has nothing good to say about his teachers growing up, his stepfathers, rear-echelon personnel in Vietnam, officers in general, and Jane Fonda.

Some of his stories push up to the edge of credulity, but I accept his description of the book as a “true” memoir. True or not, it’s not one that I’d recommend to my sons.

–Bill McCloud

Mystery of Missing Flight F-BELV by Stephen Wynn

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Stephen Wynn examines the gamut of flying difficulties in attempting to solve the Mystery of Missing Flight F-BELV (Pen and Sword, 192 pp. $32.95, hardcover; $14.99, Kindle). Said mystery: the disappearance of a Boeing Model 307 Stratoliner on a routine flight from Vientiane to Hanoi on October 18, 1965.

The airplane, which belonged to the International Commission for Supervision and Control (ICSC), carried nine delegates from India, Canada, and Poland who monitored hostilities in Indochina. One of the nine, a sergeant in the Canadian army, was Wynn’s uncle, a fact that significantly stimulated his search for a solution to what happened to the airplane, its passengers, and crew—and to this book.

Wynn uncovered data on the aircraft’s maintenance, its French crew’s proficiency, the terrain it overflew, the day’s weather, the probability of mistaken identity, Pathet Lao and North Vietnamese antiaircraft weapons, and even the insight of a clairvoyant. He also includes an in-depth review of regional politics at the time of the plane’s disappearance.

Although an on-and-off search for F-BELV continued until 2002, no wreckage has been discovered. Nevertheless, Wynn reaches a definitive conclusion as to the plane’s fate, which we will not reveal here.

Following a thirty-year career as an English police constable, in 2010 Wynn began writing books. He has produced more than a book a year since then, six of which he has co-written. Events in England—such as the stories in Pen and Swords’ “Towns and Cities of the Great War” series—had been his principal topic until now.

Solving the Mystery of Missing Flight F-BELV repeatedly veers off into discussions about America’s role in the Vietnam War. The tone of Wynn’s comments contains a fatalistic puzzlement over how a great nation committed itself to such a blunder-filled endeavor. He emphasizes the negative effects that the Central Intelligence Agency and Air America had on the progress and outcome of the war. His conclusion: “The biggest influence in South Vietnamese politics wasn’t communism, but the continuous interference by elements of the CIA.”

Along with those bashings and the F-BELV mystery, Wynn provides inside facts on his uncle and the ineptitude of the ICSC, which was established in 1954 to enforce the Geneva Accords following the end of the French Indochina War. It was made up of members from then pro-communist Poland, anti-communist Canada, and neutral India.

For old timers, this slim book brings back an evening’s worth of head-shaking memories—with pictures.

—Henry Zeybel

The Red Lotus by Chris Bohjalian

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Chris Bohjalian writes best-selling thrillers—lots of them. His twenty-first and latest, The Red Lotus (Doubleday, 400 pp. $27.95, hardcover; $13.99, Kindle, $24.50, audiobook), has a strong Vietnam War theme.

One main character—an NYC private investigator and former cop—served in the trenches in the war. One minor character, an upper-crust guy (“Boston Brahmin, Patrician, old money”) served as an Army lifeguard in country. The uncle of one of the main characters died in combat in the war. Agent Orange and its effects on humans and animals—mainly rats—comes up periodically. And a fair amount of the action takes place in Vietnam, albeit in the present day

Rats are at the center of this fast-moving novel. So is the Plague. So is a sociopath who enjoys torturing and murdering people. So is Bohjalian’s fondness for filling the book with in-your-face, clinical descriptions of fatal illnesses and serious medical conditions, along with their medical treatments. The main character, Alexis, a millennial ER doctor, has a self-cutting addiction. Bohjalian fills us in on the razor-blade specifics of that malady, as well as all manner of emergency injuries and illnesses that Alexis treats on the job.

That is, when she isn’t trying to spearhead the investigation into the mysterious death of Austin, her boyfriend. He died violently in Vietnam, purportedly run over by a car during a solo excursion while the young couple was enjoying a biking vacation there.

Alexis discovers that Austin had lied to her and everyone else about why he choose Vietnam for this biking adventure. He claimed he wanted to see the place where his dad—the lifeguard—had been wounded and his uncle had been killed. Turns out his rear-echelon father had been injured in a golf cart accident at Long Binh Post and his uncle died in another part of Vietnam.

Those revelations set in motion a plot that moves back and forth between Vietnam and New York City. The tale includes a smart Vietnamese detective, the dedicated American Nam vet PI, an edgy NYC hospital administrator, and an array of bad guys and gals—and rats.

The sociopath is a rat aficionado. He’s also a maniac who cooks up a dastardly scheme involving a unique biological weapon: rats injected with a new form of the Plague that does not respond to antibiotics. Austin, a clean-cut guy who raises money for the hospital where Alexis works, gets involved in the scheme and pays for it with his life. The plot picks up steam as the hunt for Austin’s killer (and the real reason he went to Vietnam) meshes with the main bad guy’s plan to unleash ultra-killer rats on the world. Things zoom to a blood-drenched climax in New York City.

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Chris Bohjalian

Along the way, Bohjalian gets in a bit of Vietnam War support troop bashing at the expense of Austin’s Army lifeguard dad. Rear-echeloners were “guys playing basketball and sitting around getting tan at the swimming pools,” the Vietnamese cop explains to Alexis. “Plus the tennis courts. The softballs fields. The libraries. The weight rooms. The nightclubs.”

Who knew?

If you’re up for delving into the fictional ramifications of evildoers unleashing the Plague on the world as we go through a real pandemic, this could very well be the book for you.

The author’s website is chrisbohjalian.com

–Marc Leepson

The Dragon in the Jungle by Xiobing Li

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Xiaobing Li, a professor of history and the director of the Western Pacific Institute at the University of Central Oklahoma, served in China’s People’s Liberation Army from 1970-72. His new book, The Dragon in the Jungle: The Chinese Army in the Vietnam War (344 pp. Oxford University Press, $34.95), is rooted in his military experience—along with sixteen years of research on the subject.

Li’s goal is to provide an international perspective to help readers gain a better understanding of the the Vietnam War and China’s role in it. He offers answers to questions about China’s objectives, the planning and carrying out of its fighting methods, why the nation withdrew its forces from Vietnam before the war ended—along with the impact China’s intervention ultimately had on the modernization of the its army.

What this book brings to the discussion is a better understanding of the ground-level actions of the Chinese army in the Vietnam War. It also provides a view of the war through the eyes of Chinese officers and soldiers, obtained by interviews with the author.

Historically, China had once dominated both Vietnam and Korea, and entered the second-half of the twentieth century with the view that both countries were still within its defense orbit. China and Vietnam fought with the Allies against Japan in World War II. The Chinese supported the North Vietnamese in their 1946-54 war against France, known as the French Indochina War and First Indochina War, and then continuing supporting the communist North during the 1955-63 civil war.

The worlds’ two largest communist nations, China and the Soviet Union, openly split with each other during the 1956-64 period,  known as the Sino-Soviet Rift. Each nation saw the other as a rival for the support of the North Vietnamese. North Vietnam always tried to remain neutral in this rivalry.

Early in the American War, also known as the Second Indochina War (1965-73), Chinese troops entered North Vietnam in response to the U.S. Rolling Thunder bombing campaign. Eventually, more than 300,000 Chinese service personnel would serve, mostly in air defense, railroad and highway construction, and combat engineering. China wanted to avoid a major war against the United States, but did not want Vietnam

to be under Western control. China also supported North Vietnam to reduce its need for aid from the Soviet Union.

As the war went on, the Soviet Union began significantly increasing its military aid to the North. China then saw itself as battling two superpowers, the U.S. militarily, and the Soviet Union politically. Eventually, China withdraw all its troops from Vietnam. The nation was dealing with economic limitations, a serious technological gap and continuing rivalry with Moscow, as well as serious concerns of getting into a war with the U.S.

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 “Oppose the American infringement upon the Vietnamese Democratic Republic!” – February 1965 Chinese Propaganda Poster

The Dragon in the Jungle is an especially important book because, while it focuses on China’s military, it also analyzes the military actions of the U.S., Soviet Union, North Vietnam, and South Vietnam. That’s a lot of ground covered.

Xiaobing Li frequently uses newly available sources to take this deep dive into the Chinese military’s strategy and planning, tactical decisions, and problem-solving efforts. This is a major work that unearths new and important information about China’s role in the American war in Vietnam.

–Bill McCloud

They Were Soldiers Once by Joseph L. Galloway and Marvin J. Wolf

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Former Vietnam War correspondents Joseph L. Galloway and Marvin J. Wolf have combined forces to write a book with a little-traveled approach to telling the stories of those who took part in that war. They Were Soldiers Once: The Sacrifices and Contributions of Our Vietnam Veterans (Thomas Nelson Books, 416 pp. $34.99, hardcover and audio book; $14.99, Kindle) includes the in-country experiences of 49 people who took part in the war, but also delves into what those men and women have done with their lives since then. That is the most captivating factor of this book

Galloway was a United Press International combat correspondent in Vietnam. He’s best known for his collaboration with Lt. Gen. Hal Moore on the book We Were Soldiers Once… and Young. Galloway is also known for putting down his camera, picking up a rifle, and helping fight off the NVA during the Battle of the Ia Drang Valley in November 1965—and for receiving the Bronze Star for that courageous act.

Co-author Wolf served as the Public Information Officer for the 1st Air Cavalry at An Khe. Among a plethora of other books, Wolf co-wrote Buddha’s Child: My Fight to Save Vietnam with the Nguyen Cao Ky, the controversial former South Vietnamese prime minster, and Abandoned in Hell: The Fight to Save Vietnam’s Firebase Kate, with the hero of that fight, William Albracht.

They Were Soldiers has an obligatory A-list of Vietnam War veterans filling its pages. Among them are former Army nurse Diane Carlson Evans, the founder of the Vietnam Womens Memorial; film director Oliver Stone; former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State Colin Powell; and Sen. Max Cleland.

What makes this even more worth the read, though, are the profiles of lesser-known veterans. People such as Paul Longgrear, a Baptist pastor, who said of his service in Vietnam: “I really didn’t mind going. I wanted to see the world. I was pretty wild at that time. Really wild, to be honest.”

Burbank, California resident, Don Ray, a permanent fixture at veterans’ events in that city, is another fascinating addition to the book. Ray was a dog handler stationed near the Cambodian border was attached to the Soc Trang Civil Action Group. “When the Sergeant in charge of the unit and the veterinarian were both arrested for black-marketeering, he suddenly found himself in the role of the detachment’s acting veterinarian technician,” Galloway and Wolf write. After the war, Ray’s passion for research led him to a career in broadcast journalism at KNBC-TV in Burbank.

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Joe Galloway

In addition to those who donned the uniform in Vietnam, others people profiled in the book served in civilian capacities. The International Voluntary Services (IVS), erroneously thought to be an arm of the CIA at one point, sent people to Indochina to counter communism in a nonviolent way.

Retired North Carolina State University English Professor and poet John Balaban, a pacifist who struggled with his draft board, as recounted in his book Remembering Heaven’s Face, telling them, “If you don’t believe me, send me to Vietnam.” They did. Balaban, another very appropriate addition to They Were Soldiers, served with IVS as an English professor at Can Tho University. But being a pacifist did not preclude him from experiencing the Vietnam War’s death and destruction.

Vietnam veterans have suffered the indignities of being labeled the first to lose a war, drug abusers, baby killers, and the like. Many a Hollywood film and TV shamefully added to that erroneous image. The truth is that an overwhelming majority of Vietnam War veterans, much like their World War II veteran parents, came home from their tours, fit back into their communities, went to college or back to work, married, had children, and continue to make the USA the great country it is today.

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Marvin Wolf

Joe Galloway and Marvin Wolf’s They Were Soldiers goes a long way to illustrate that. Their book will greatly enhance the libraries of Vietnam War veterans, students of the war, journalists who reported on it, as well as J School students of today.

–Marc Phillip Yablonka

The reviewer is a journalist and the author of Vietnam Bao Chi: Warriors of Word and Film, His web site is warstoriespress.com

A Dove Among Eagles by Linda Patterson

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Linda Patterson is a powerhouse of determination. Her energy emanates from a core of emotions connected to her brother Joe Artavia’s heroic death in combat in Vietnam, a sacrifice she wants remembered forever. Her instincts regarding love and respect are flawless. Her patriotism, as she expresses it in her memoir, A Dove Among Eagles: How the Sister of One Paratrooper Changed the Lives of Tens of Thousands in Vietnam and Beyond (Silver Linings Media, 212 pp. $19.95, paper; $9.99, Kindle), overpowered me.

In one instance, her belief in America’s righteousness in world affairs astounded me to a degree that I challenged her logic. But I accepted it. She is unbeatable.

Growing up, Linda Patterson had three younger brothers for whom her mother made her responsible. Mom cared for the children, but also enjoyed drinking and husbands: She married five times. At the age of 14, she ran away from the turmoil of the household. She still watched over her youngest brother, Joe, though, even after he joined the Army and went to Vietnam in 1967 where he served in the 101st Airborne Division.

Amid much of the American public’s aversion to the Vietnam War, Linda Patterson’s concern for her brother peaked when he wrote to her and suggested she could raise the “low and dropping” morale in his company “as high as the clouds” by getting their hometown, the City of San Mateo, California, “to adopt us.”

That request turned Linda Patterson’s life around. Her involvement with that idea created a relationship between San Mateo and the men of Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry in 101st’s 1st Brigade that is still tight today. To show that the people of San Mateo truly cared about the men of A Company, Linda Paterson flew to Phu Bai in Vietnam and lived for two weeks among the troops, an experience that she describes in detail in the book.

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Visiting wounded troops in Vietnam 

She organized a 1972 homecoming with a full-scale, three-day celebration in San Mateo—including a parade—for all 130 men in the company. She then induced the city to install a Screaming Eagles museum in its main library. In 2016, she guided the construction of a monument at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, to honor the 792 men of the 1/327th who perished in the Vietnam War.

She accomplished all this while dealing with personal issues that stretched her emotions to their limits. Foremost was the death of her brother Joe. She also had to deal with marital, parenting, and employment problems. She did so with remarkable fortitude.

Based on her success with her brother’s unit in Vietnam, in 1991 Linda Patterson formed America Supporting Americans to work to have other towns and cities adopt military units fighting in the Middle East, a program that is going strong today.  The book includes an excellent collection of photographs of  projects Linda Patterson has championed.

I once heard Tony Curtis—yes, that Tony Curtis—say, “Living is such a wonderful experience you do not want to deny it.” Good, bad, and otherwise, he seemed to tell us. Linda Patterson’s life parallels that motto and is well worth reading about in her book.

—Henry Zeybel

Waging Peace in Vietnam edited by Ron Carver, David Cortright, and Barbara Doherty

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Waging Peace in Vietnam: U.S. Soldiers and Veterans Who Opposed the War (New Village Press, 256 pp., $35, paper) is a-large format, heavily illustrated book that looks at the role played by active-duty troops and Vietnam War veterans in the antiwar movement. The book—edited by Ron Carver, David Cortright, and Barbara Doherty—is based on a multimedia exhibit that has been shown in this country and in Vietnam.

The editors begin with a 1964-73 timeline of the Vietnam War antiwar movement.  Then comes an essay, “Dissent and Resistance Within the Military During the Vietnam War,” by Cortright, a former Army draftee who was active in the GI peace movement who today is professor of peace studies at the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. In the essay Cortright writes that by 1970 U. S. ground troops had ceased fighting as an effective fighting force. The reason, he says, was opposition to the war from within fomented by underground GI newspapers and other antiwar activity.

Other essays, oral histories, and reprinted newspapers, posters, flyers and photographs deal with Jane Fonda, John Kerry, and nearly all the usual suspects who played important roles opposing the Vietnam War. There also are brief sections on important places and people in Vietnam, such as Long Binh Jail, aka LBJ.  There is a good photo of LBJ, which communicates what the place must have been like for those locked behind its bars.

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The biographical section at the end contains good information on the voices heard in the book and the men pictured on the front cover. I enjoyed reading those bios and learned a few things I had not previously known.

This is a valuable reference book and should be a part of every Vietnam War section in college and public libraries.

The book’s website is wagingpeaceinvietnam.com/book

–David Willson