Vietnam Rough Riders by Frank McAdams

In Vietnam Rough Riders: A Convoy Commander’s Memoir (University Press of Kansas, 280 pp., $34.95) Frank McAdams provides a page-turning portrayal of his service as a Marine Corps convoy commander during the war in Vietnam and his experiences after coming home in 1969.

McAdams’s tour began in March 1968 just after the infamous Tet Offensive. His 11th Motor Transportation Battalion company delivered supplies and ammunition from Danang to American forces in Indian country. The convoys faced constant danger from ambushes and mines. Back at the base, McAdams and his comrades were forced to serve under an inept company commander who destroyed the unit’s morale and eventually lived in fear of fragging from his troops.

One strong element that weaves its way throughout this memoir is the author’s realization that the entire decade of the 1960s was extraordinarily historic. At one point, in a conversation with one of his colleagues from Danang, McAdams started to evaluate what it all meant to him as his tour neared its end.

“I took a long look at the river down below,” McAdams writes. “I then turned to Jack. ‘ I guess it was about growing up and finding out something about ourselves.’”

That sums up the war and what it was for many, as well as the decade and what happened to our nation.

McAdams also quotes Hemingway’s advice to writers, “If you’re serious about writing, write about your generation.” In this memoir McAdams has done that.

His military service began while he was a student in high school in Chicago when McAdams enlisted in the Naval Reserve.  At the University of New Mexico he continued his reserve training. McAdams was called to active duty as a corpsman aboard the U.S.S. Ticonderoga and served a two-year assignment. It was here that he developed a respect for the Fleet Marines who were aboard ship.

Frank McAdams

The author returned to college and then took an assignment aboard a sailing vessel in search of adventure. Eventually, his parents persuaded him to go back to college. So McAdams returned to Chicago and started classes at Loyola University where he received a degree in history and met his wife, Patty.

In this book, McAdams writes of his reactions to the many and varied events that occurred during this time, including the Cuban Missile Crisis, the assassination of President Kennedy, and the escalating war in Vietnam. It was during this time that McAdams decided to join the Marines. After completing OCS at Fort Quantico, Second Lieutenant McAdams was trained as a convoy commander and assigned to the 11th Motor Transportation Battalion.

His wife returned to Chicago where she excitedly volunteered to work at the Democratic National Convention. In a letter to her husband she graphically described what she had witnessed in Grant Park where the infamous 1968 riot took place.

“Patrol wagons came up and the police literally began throwing the downed protesters into the wagons,” she wrote to her husband in Vietnam. “One guy was dragged to a wagon by two police officers while a third kept hitting him. By the time they got him to the wagon he looked unconscious.”

In his memoir, Frank McAdams, a screenwriter who teaches at the University of Southern California, delivers a clear and well-written account of a decade in our history that still has power over the direction of our country today. This is an outstanding read and highly recommended.

—John Lavelle