When Stewart M. Harris joined the Navy out of high school in 1960, he thought he had discovered a savvy way to serve his country, avoid the draft, and receive a free college education. At the time, Harris viewed his four-year commitment to the Navy as a relatively safe and stable alternative to the uncertainties of the draft.
Harris found himself assigned to serve as senior adviser to Coastal Group 16—a remote and dangerous junk base on the South Vietnamese coast—in 1968 after his original commitment to the Navy had ended. It was then that he realized that his service had become anything but safe and predictable.
In Shore Duty: A Year in Vietnam’s Junk Force (iUniverse, 325 pp., $32.95, hardcover; $22.95, paper), first published in 2009, Harris traces the steps that lead to him becoming the senior adviser to a land-based naval group. He also discusses the year he spent leading a small team of sailors in one of the war’s most challenging and trying land posts.
As Harris describes in his book, Coastal Group 16, located ten kilometers east of Quang Ngai City (nearly forty kilometers from the nearest American units at Chu Lai), was the most remote and underdeveloped of the twenty-eight junk bases in Vietnam. Four Americans and eighty to ninety Vietnamese operated out of a fort built of coconut logs and mud.
“Mud everywhere. No electricity. Drinking water only from rainfall,” is how Harris describes the place.
Further complicating matters, Coastal Group 16 was located in an enemy-controlled area, and all of Harris’ predecessors had been killed. Despite nearly overwhelming obstacles, Harris led his group impressively against the enemy. He was awarded the Bronze Star for his service with Coastal Group 16.
Harris’ approachable, honest, and down-to-earth style of writing makes this intriguing book an enjoyable, easy, and illuminating read.