The Ashes of War By MH Murphy


M H Murphy’s The Ashes of War: The Plight of the Vietnamese People at the End and after the Viet Nam War (CreateSpace, 434 pp. $21.95, paper; $9.99, Kindle) deals with what happened to—as the book’s subtitle notes—Vietnamese people after the fall of Saigon in April of 1975. The author served with the U.S. Marines in Vietnam in 1965-66.

Murphy, a member of Vietnam Veterans of America, became interested in the South Vietnamese refugees when he wrote an introductory guide for people who had relocated from Vietnam to the Chicago area. He did years doing an extensive amount of research in compiling The Ashes of War.

In the book, Murphy alternates between telling the stories of two South Vietnamese refugees. One is a former Saigon police officer who escaped by boat. It was surprising to learn that there were 2.5 million refugees who fled Vietnam, causing a humanitarian crisis and coining the term “boat people.” The stories of boats capsizing, pirates attacking, and starvation and suicide among the refugees were very powerful.

The second thread tells of a tea-shop owner who chose to stay in Vietnam after the communist takeover. The new regime closed his family business and sent the owner to a reeducation camp. Murphy writes that more than 300,000 people were sent to these camps. Conditions were terrible and reminded me of stories of concentration camps during World War II.

The tea-shop owner was released after a year when his family bribed the guards. He did find love among the hardships and ended up getting married before fleeing.

I wish the author would have written briefly about where the two main men ended up. Was it Chicago? Did they ever go back to Vietnam? Were they reunited with their families?

That said, I highly recommend this book.

—Mark S. Miller

Ground Pounder by Gregory V. Short

Gregory Short joined the Marines in 1967 after quitting high school. He fully realized that by doing so he was headed for the war in Vietnam. “I did not volunteer to go to Vietnam as a gung-ho patriot or as someone who wanted to emulate John Wayne,” Short writes in his memoir, Ground Pounder: A Marine’s Journey Through South Vietnam, 1968-1969 (University of North Texas Press, 368 pp., $29.95). Rather, Short says, he went to war for “personal reasons,” which “probably had more to do with establishing my manhood and personal identity.”

Short arrived in Vietnam in early February of 1968 at age eighteen, right after the start of the Tet Offensive. He put in thirteen months, primarily as a mortarman with the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment of the 1st Marine Division stationed at Con Thien near the DMZ.

It was an eventful tour, during which Short saw plenty of action, including at Khe Sanh during the seige—as well as some time in the rear. “I am not writing this memoir as a historical document,” Short says. “Instead, I am writing a personal history of the events and times as I had witnessed them.”

Short, who recently retired after more than thirty years of teaching history, also adds his perspective as a historian, including his views about how the war was fought. “If I have learned anything from my experiences in Vietnam,” he says, “it’s that stark military force isn’t enough to overcome the brutal acts of international terrorism or the revenge-filled atrocities committed in every civil and religious conflict.”

–Marc Leepson