Frank M. Smart was drafted into the Army in 1964 and served on active duty for seven years. He arrived in Dong Ha in May of 1968, and was assigned to the First Cavalry Division’s 42nd Public Information Detachment. His MOS was 71Q20, Combat Reporter. He had received his military education at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana, the same place I learned to be an Army stenographer.
Smart’s Assignment in Samarra (Tate Publishing, 192 pp., $12.99, paper) “is a work of fiction,” the author says. It’s a handsome little book, with a title that echoes that of John O’Hara’s first novel, Appointment in Samarra. That echo is all that Smart’s novel has in common with O’Hara’s book, however, other than it also is set in the Middle East. On the first page, the hero gives a short speech about the deja vu of being in another “God forsaken hell hole,” and how he doesn’t want to die to make Islamic fanatics free.
He then expresses disgust for South Vietnam’s ARVN troops, who, he says, were “perfectly willing for me and my fellow soldiers to die to make them free, but they were not necessarily willing to die for it.” The implication is that ARVN troops avoided casualties in South Vietnam. I checked the statistics, and ARVN troops did die, in at least three times the numbers as American troops did.
I’ve read criticisms elsewhere about the bravery of ARVN troops, but one cannot question their fatalities. Brave or not, they died. Maybe they died hiding under their mothers’ beds, but they did die. It’s a myth that they did not.
Jack Spraggins, the hero of this book, is a Vietnam veteran who gets picked, at a handsome fee, to go to Iraq with a seven-member fact-finding group. They go there to investigate allegations of bribery, graft, and poor workmanship. He and his committee are ambushed and Jack uses his Vietnam-War-honed fighting skills to defeat a large contingent of insurgents with weapons he obtains in a manner that can only be called divine intervention.
Jack is unsure if the cavalry will come in and save him and his cohorts in time. I won’t ruin the suspense, but will say that the reader is told that there will be a sequel with more of Jack’s derring-do. The next time it looks as though he will be going into Southeast Asia to rescue American POWs, which has been a life-long obsession. He knows they are there.
This short thriller will please those who agree with Smart’s vision of the world. He has a lot of positive things to say about Vietnam veterans, always a refreshing change. And he mentions a lot of American icons, including John Wayne, who is quoted non-ironically saying “Saddle Up.”
That’s always a good thing to do in times of crisis.