The back-cover blurb on Henry “Rocky” Colavita’s Company Grade: Memoir of an Angry Skipper (Hellgate, 276 pp. $19.95, paper; $9.99, Kindle) tells us to expect an “engaging, often funny memoir.” And that’s what Colavita came up with in this well-written book, beginning with his earliest memories of wanting to join the Army and to be a police officer.
His father’s Army career as a transportation officer took the Colavita family to many duty stations and assignments. As a student at Virginia Tech, Rocky Colavita joined Army ROTC, and received his commission as a 2nd lieutenant when he graduated.
The book includes lots of reminiscing about college life and early ROTC training. Colavita went through Infantry AIT, Ranger and Airborne Training, and Vietnamese Language School.
During his first tour in Vietnam he was assigned to an Airborne Advisory Team with MAAG, the predecessor of MACV. While working with a Vietnamese Airborne unit, Colavita was wounded and medevaced stateside for treatment and recuperation.
After recovering from his wounds he did a stint at the Army War College, then went back to Vietnam for a second tour, commanding Delta Co, 2nd/8th in the 1st Cavalry Division. Colavita’s call sign was Angry Skipper-6. He provides lots of good war stories about his second Vietnam War tour. After that, he finished a 20-year career as an Army officer.
Colavita joined the Fairfax County (Virginia) Sheriff’s Office after he retired, rose to the rank of Major, and retired a second time. Colavita devotes only five pages to his law enforcement career. After enjoying what came before, I expected more great stories and anecdotes.
In early 1965 while at stationed at Fort Benning, I witnessed an incredible sight. Actually, I heard it first, and it sounded as if I were inside a beehive. Then an armada of helicopters emerged low over the trees with Mohawk reconnaissance aircraft leading the way and Caribou transports alongside. I had no idea that what I was seeing was the future of combat operations: employing airmobile forces on the battlefield.
What I saw was the 11th Air Assault Division completing its final test phase. Within months the unit was re-designated the 1st Cavalry Division and sent to Vietnam. Airmobile warfare, tested and refined at Fort Benning and then put in place in Vietnam, is the subject of Chris McNab’s U.S. Air Cavalry Trooper Versus North Vietnamese Soldier, Vietnam 1965-68 (Osprey, 80 pp. $22, paper; $9.99, Kindle),
McNab, who specializes in writing about wilderness and urban survival techniques, focuses on the key components of success in war. He writes that the Air Cavalry is a true product of combined-arms warfare, employing vertical envelopment on the battlefield supported by massive firepower. McNab analyses how that concept worked in the Vietnam War against the North Vietnamese Army’s impressive ability to quickly adapt tactics to diminish the air cavalry’s advantages and inflict maximum casualties by assaulting air cav troopers before withdrawing.
McNab points out how the cavalry employed technology to enhance success on the battlefield. New advances in radio communications, for example, permitted rapid responses to fluid situations on the ground, and scout helicopters brought eyes-on-the-battlefield to the command and control system. This was in addition to the use of helicopters to rapidly insert forces and shift them as battlefield conditions evolved.
Although the 1st Cavalry led the way with new tactics, mobility, and technology, it still had to fight conventionally on the ground. While the men of the 1st Cav inflicted significant casualties on the enemy—primarily due to the firepower at its command—they also suffered large losses. Two prime example, the November 1965 Battle of the Ia Drang Valley, and the October 1965 Siege of Plei Me.
By the time the 1st Cavalry Division withdrew from the Vietnam War it had suffered more casualties than any other U.S. unit
To illustrate the tactics of the 1st Cav and the NVA, McNab draws on the engagements fought in 1966-1967, particularly Operations Crazy Horse and Masher and the battles of Tam Quan and the Vinh Thanh Valley. He explains the NVA’s uncomplicated method of neutralizing airpower and artillery: quickly closing with U.S. troops, something they termed “holding the enemy’s belt.” In doing so, they got inside the safe zone for American forces where artillery and airstrikes were equally dangerous for both sides.
This is a first-rate short book, but there is a significant omission. Reading the description of the 1st Cavalry’s organizational structure I was surprised that McNab did not mention Air Force units that worked with the Cav and with other Army combat divisions and independently operating battalions: Forward Air Controllers (FACs) and the Special Forces Tactical Air Control Party (TACP).
Other than that misstep, this book brings much to the table: It is filled with excellent illustrations and photographs that greatly enhance the narrative, along with highly usable maps with descriptive keys.
Doug Berg’sA Snowman in Hell: Christmas in Vietnam: A Collection of Photos and Stories, which we reviewed when it came out in 2012, is now available in a second edition (Independent Publishing Corp., 109 pp., $24.90, paper). The book came about after VVA member Doug Berg found a picture he took in Vietnam on Christmas night of 1969 in a bunker at an artillery base at VO Dinh in the Central Highlands.
Berg then went about collecting bits of reminiscences and in his book paired them with photos of scraps of Christmas trees, too much booze, and GI Santas distributing toys to Vietnamese children.
Marine Sgt. Major Daniel Bott playing Santa for Vietnamese children book
As our reviewer, Michael Keating, said four years, ago, the book is “a bittersweet tour of wartime Vietnam during Christmas, with big dollops of machismo and melancholy, and one that captures the surprising innocence of young men in danger. The quality of the photos is sometimes good, other times terrible—just like the times.”
Many of the book’s contributors are VVA members. That’s not surprising, since Berg’s most important resource was the Locator column in The VVA Veteran.
Nelson DeMille is one great storyteller. And he has been for three decades. The former Vietnam War 1st Cavalry Division lieutenant has been producing compelling, page-turning, plot-twisting mystery/thrillers with regularity since the Vietnam-War-themed Word of Honor came out in 1985. DeMille’s first-class story-telling ability has reaped dividends: His books always hit the best-seller lists.
So it’s no surprise that DeMille’s seventh John Corey thriller, Radiant Angel (Grand Central, 320 pp, $28), scored big with reviewers and the public when it came out last week. In it, wise-ass former FBI agent and former NYPD homicide detective Corey (now on the federal payroll in New York keeping an eye on foreign spies) gets enmeshed in a dastardly Russian scheme involving a Saudi prince, his yacht, and a small but potentially world-shattering nuclear device.
Much of the action takes place on Long Island—where DeMille grew up and still lives, and a place he often uses in his books. As usual, Nelson DeMille has the endearing but rule-breaking Corey stir up trouble involving his complicated personal life, his bosses, and some very bad guys. There’s also a big helping of the old ultra violence—just what you expect from a top-notch thriller that you’ll sure to see under many a beach umbrella this summer.