Those Left Behind by Jack McCabe

Vietnam War veteran Jack McCabe is a good writer and determined investigator. In 2016, he heard about the crash of a CH-47A Chinook helicopter named “Love Craft” on July 10, 1970, near Cu Chi in which two crew members and seven passengers lost their lives. The survivors and the families of those who perished, he later learned, felt the effects for the rest of their lives.

That story and its aftermath fill the pages of McCabe’s new book, Those Left Behind (366 pp. $19.99, paper; $6.99, Kindle), which is based on extensive interviews with the survivors and the wives, girlfriends, and friends of men who died, as well as archival research.

We first meet these men as children turning into adults from the time they leave high school and shortly thereafter enter the military. They know they are going to end up fighting in a war, more than likely as infantrymen.

Facing a second tour, Elroy Simmons answers his wife Barbara’s questions, “Why are you going? Why do you have to go?” by saying, “I just have to go,” and walking away. He kisses his five-year-old daughter goodbye and tells her, “See you when I get back.” She replies, “You’re not coming back.” That exchange reflects the mood of the entire book and every thought in it rings true.

McCabe—a life member of Vietnam Veterans of America who served two tours with the Army’s 1st Aviation Brigade in Vietnam in 1970-72—shifts from telling one man’s story to another’s with short accounts of their lives, including their tours in Vietnam. The grunts who perished, who served in the 14th Infantry Regiment, came to realize that there was no way they were going to change things in Vietnam, so their focus shifted to taking care of each other—and coming home alive.

Midway through the book, three men who are part of a helicopter crew join the story. By then it is July 9, 1970, and the reader has developed a relationship with the seven enlisted men who would climb aboard as passengers on “Love Craft” the next day.

McCabe describes the destruction of the helicopter with grim detail in a chapter titled “Inferno.” The aircraft carried twenty men and had just been refueled to capacity. North Vietnamese soldiers attacked it with a barrage of rocket-propelled grenades. Nine Americans were killed, and the survivors suffered severe injuries.

2nd Platoon, D Company, 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, Cu Chi, 1970

The second half of the book focuses on what happed after the crash with the dead and wounded. McCabe discusses every step in the process of treating casualties during the Vietnam War. His details transcend anything I have read about the casualty system.

He covers multiple duties expected to be carried out with precision: mortuary activities related to identifying remains of shattered and burned bodies; evacuation of the critically injured to Japan for stabilizing treatment; casualty notification of next of kin (“probably one of the most difficult assignments in the service,” McCabe says); transportation home; funerals; returning to duty; and living with loss. In doing so, McCabe fills over a hundred pages with respect, sadness, and grief.

Those Left Behind bluntly reminds the reader of the high price of war paid by combatants and those dear to them on the battlefield and afterward. The book should be on library shelves in every American high school—even in Texas where I live.

McCabe’s website is jackmccabe.net

—Henry Zeybel

When We Came Home by Jack McCabe

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Jack McCabe begins When We Came Home: How the Vietnam War Changed Those Who Served (OddInt Media, 350 pp. $19.99, paper; $9.99, Kindle) with his own story, including observations about his homecoming and the intervening years when he struggled despite the VA telling him, “just go home; there is nothing wrong with you.”

The more McCabe wrestled with his own demons, the more he realized he was not alone. Finally, after a successful business career in real estate, he began devoting his time volunteering to help other veterans.

The book is a compilation of stories about what happened after folks returned home from the Vietnam War. McCabe writes that “no one came home whole,” no matter what we may have initially thought. He recognizes two important aspects of Vietnam veterans: That we hid and tried to bury those times within without seeking out our brothers for many years, and that the war changed everyone who went there, no matter the job—cook, mechanic, pilot, or rifleman.

There are many stories in the book, all of them personal and important. The book broadens the mosaic of the story of the Vietnam War veteran.

In his interviews McCabe—a life member of Vietnam Veterans of America—followed a three-part formula, a short account of the veteran’s time in country, then tales of coming home and being home. He includes a range of servicemen and women, being careful to give them all a full and respectful opportunity to tell of their experiences.

One of the more poignant voices is that of Glenn Knight, a 1st Cav veteran trained to be a Huey repairman whose job in country morphed into being a gunner on hunter killer Huey team along the Cambodian border.

Upon his return, Knight realized he didn’t fit in despite his military experience. Marriage, followed by kids, soon turned into bouncing around in many jobs. The toll of raising a family and other pressures of life turned him to drink and bouts of anger. He admits the “guy who went to war is a KIA and he never returned.”

The courage Knight shows as he reveals his story is typical of the hidden courage of the men and women who went to war in Vietnam but did not know how to deal with the ghosts they brought home with them. It took many years, but Glenn Knight finally was able to get help with his PTSD at the VA.

One of McCabe’s lighter stories is that of former Red Cross Donut Dolly Rene Johnson, who decided she needed to go to Vietnam to see for herself stories she was hearing from friends and family before entering nursing school. During her first tour Johnson spent time with the 25th Infantry Division, the 9th Infantry Division, and the First Cav.

Johnson recalls stopping in Hawaii on her way home and spending hours just watching TV commercials. But after getting home, she realized something was missing. Depression set in, along with a feeling of failure that she somehow did not have a home per se. So she re-upped for another tour. It was not until 2012 that Johnson found help for her PTSD.

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Jack McCabe

The importance of this book is the voice it gives to Vietnam War veterans. It validates our service and puts the black and white honesty of what we did in print for all to see.

The courage of all the men and women in this book is raw, naked, awesome, and an encouragement to all who served to stand tall and be proud of what we did.

Jack McCabe has done a marvelous job of interviewing and telling these stories. This is a book that scholars of war and politicians would do well to read to see that war is not just a “tour” and learn about how the trauma taking part in a war causes can last a lifetime.

The author’s web site is jackmccabe.net

—Bud Alley