A Dusty Boot Soldier Remembers: Twenty-Four Years of Improbable but True Tales of Service with Uncle Sam’s Army (Hellgate Press, 574 pp., $27.95, paper) is a Horatio Alger story: A boy from “Fly Town U.S.A.” (the poorest section of Columbus, Ohio) finds success as a U.S. Army colonel and, after retirement, becomes a representative for two large corporations.
In this autobiography, Larry A. Redmond walks the reader through his experiences in military training, work, and combat assignments. “Redmond’s Rules,” twenty-five directives to becoming a more effective leader, punctuate the book.
Spanning the years 1962-87, Redmond’s experiences included different jobs in many parts of the world. His recollections often teach history lessons that compare the time of the draftee Army to the present structure of all-volunteer soldiers, which began in 1973.
Commissioned upon graduation from Providence College, Redmond completed jump school and Ranger training and by 1964 was commanding a company. He recalls peacetime field exercises and housekeeping duties such as his paying the troops in cash at the end the month. He then joined Special Forces and served in Panama before going to Vietnam. His two tours with the 101st Airborne Division in I Corps highlight the book.
Redmond’s first tour in Vietnam in 1967-68 ended with what he called “thirty-six hours of purgatory”: leading his company in Hue during the Tet Offensive. The accounts of maneuvers in the field provide a textbook for combat leadership. Redmond candidly describes both his right and wrong moves. As a result of wounds he received at Hue, he spent many unconscious days and three conscious weeks in intensive care. Eight months of rehabilitation followed.
During his second tour in 1971-72, Redmond encountered an unexpected world of drug abuse and racial tension. Vietnamization had transformed Americans basically into spectators awaiting the end of their involvement in the war. Even senior U.S. leaders were marking time. Recognizing this, the NVA often avoided contact. In his duties as S3 and eventually acting battalion commander, Redmond attacked problems ignored by previous leaders.
In six months, he renewed a sense of STRAC among his men; tore down an on-base hootch that was basically a drug den; thwarted a large-scale NVA attack by diverting a B-52 Arc Light strike; put down a rebellion by a group of black soldiers known as the Phu Bai Thirteen; and foiled a plot to frag him. When his unit rotated stateside early, Redmond stayed on as a J3 with MACV during the 1972 NVA Spring Offensive.
Following the war, Redmond’s career path meandered. He was a member of a United Nations peacekeeping team for the 1973 Yom Kipper War. He went to Thailand in 1975-76 with a casualty resolution group. Redmond provides insightful history regarding both tasks, particularly on MIA-POW issues.
Back at Fort Bragg in 1976, he deployed to Germany and Panama and Alaska, eventually commanding an 82nd Airborne battalion. He spent seven years at Bragg and tells interesting stories about the Army’s peacetime preoccupation with selling the product—namely wartime capabilities—through exercises, deployments, and demonstrations.
Reading between the lines I concluded that during Redmond’s years of service relationships among officers radiated a good-old-boy aura. Friendships provided as much advancement and favoritism as outstanding performances did.
Redmond wrote this book, he says, at the urging of his children who wanted a record of his accomplishments. Beyond satisfying them, the book offers a clearly detailed picture of a quarter century of Army life during transitional periods.