Brave Warriors, Humble Heroes: A Vietnam War Story (Brown Books, 232 pp., $22.95 hardcover; $14.95, paper; $9.99, Kindle) is a love story, a book filled with the admiration that Marjorie T. Hansen feels for her husband Charlie. She details her feelings about a calm and quiet man who unfalteringly performed the duties assigned to him.
Charlie Hansen’s letters from Vietnam comprise the bulk of the book. Marge Hansen calls them “a small piece of history that belongs to all of us.”
Charlie Hansen was a major when he was sent to navigate C-123s at Phan Rang Air Base in 1971. It was near the end of the Vietnam War, and Congress had promised to have all American combat personnel out by year’s end. Shortly after he arrived at Phan Rang, the base began closing down.
As squadron scheduling officer, Charlie Hansen’s duties were tediously repetitious, but he performed them with good humor. His flying consisted of navigating bladder birds that hauled JP-4 to remote outposts, training South Vietnamese Air Force crewmen to take over the squadron’s mission, and dropping ARVN parachutists in practice exercises.
In essence, he was living in a war zone, while burdened with peacetime labors. Mortar and rocket attacks on the base and antiaircraft fire aimed at his plane frequently reminded him of where he was.
In letter after letter, Charlie Hansen mentioned the maintenance nightmares of mechanical breakdowns that typified C-123 operations. He wrote about them without complaint. Based on his many accounts, it’s difficult to believe that the South Vietnamese accepted the planes after the Americans departed.
Eight months into his tour, Hansen was transferred to Nakhon Phanom to fly as an AC-119 Stinger night observation scope operator over the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Surprisingly, in one of the letters in the book that describes a Stinger flight there is only one short paragraph about events in Laos. I flew 158 Spectre missions in that arena and know there was plenty to talk about, even on quiet nights.
Overall, I feel as if Marge or Charlie Hansen shortchanged us in this book. Too often, that is, a letter provides a trailer without delivering a feature picture.
For example, here’s Charlie Hansen’s description of an IG visit led by Gen. Robin Olds: “Last night almost did me in. The general stayed on—and on—and on! A USO group showed up and—I could write a small book! I finally got to bed about 4 AM and things were still going strong.”
That was it: no details. Furthermore, Charlie Hansen reduced his combat experiences to little more than headlines. Such as: “Miracles never cease—we finally found and destroyed a truck last night. We hadn’t seen a burner in almost two weeks.” The remainder of this letter focused on squadron administrative chores.
A great deal of the letters’ contents dealt with travel plans. On the other hand, Charlie Hansen mentioned exchanging tapes with his wife, which perhaps is where they hid the good stuff.
Marge Hansen devotes a chapter to meeting her husband for R&R in Bangkok and then accompanying him to NKP, an adventure that she ranks as the most dynamic episode in her life. Her joy had a severe price: she was exposed to toxic herbicides.
By then, Charlie Hansen also had been exposed to Agent Orange at Phan Rang. In the late 1980s he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Their exposures led Marge Hansen to write:”The Vietnam War never ended for us.”
Following Charlie Hansen’s retirement in 1976 after twenty years of military service, he and his wife enjoyed twenty-year careers in engineering and marketing. Charlie Hansen died in 2012.
His wife closes her book with a plea for the government to provide greater comfort for veterans who suffer from diseases caused by exposure to Agent Orange.
The author’s website is www.bravewarriorshumbleheroes.com