The subtitle of Joe Tyson, Sr.’s Unfortunate Sons: The Beginning of Marine Corps Tanks in the Vietnam War and How I Survived Vietnam as a Marine Tanker (Friesen Press, 552 pp., $31.49, hardcover; $27.49, paper; $6.99, e book) covers the seventeen months in 1965 and 1966 that Tyson served as a young Marine tanker with B Co. in the 3rd Tank Battalion. In his book, Tyson describes the daily routines of patrols and combat situations. The story unfolds from his “internal foot-locker” of memories, as Tyson puts it.
Before he went to Vietnam, Tyson witnessed a mid-air helicopter collision that resulted in nine deaths and was on board a C-130 that made a rough landing in a blizzard and ended up sideways in a cornfield. He had been in the Marines for nearly two years when he volunteered for duty in Okinawa, “the Party Capital of the Marine Corps,” as Tyson puts it.
When Tyson arrived in Da Nang in March 1965, his unit was among some of the first tanks to deploy in the Vietnam War. His tank company operated around Marble Mountain in support of the 9th Marine Regiment.
Tyson and the members of his platoon had their time in-country involuntarily extended twice. All that time, he points out, they never saw a USO show or received any R&R on China Beach.
For the first five months the tankers were not involved in much action. But then things became more serious, including regular mortar attacks. When that happened, Tyson says, routine daily inspections ended and everyone began carrying loaded weapons.
The men seemed to spend most of their time battling heat, bugs, and snakes, but also had to be constantly on alert for anti-tank mines and grenades tossed at them.
Tyson carried with him a reputation for always saying what he was thinking. That led to a few run-ins with officers, usually lieutenants. He points out several times how decisions in Vietnam often were more trustworthy when they were made by someone with experience in-country, regardless of rank.
His time consisted of conducting sweeps with infantry, some company-sized and some with just a few squads. Some days there would be no enemy contact, other days a lot.
As the months dragged on, Tyson and many of his fellow Marines become bitter over how the war was being fought, mainly because they felt that nothing was being accomplished. Looking back, he has nothing positive to say about members of the peace movement back home.
Tyson uses a lot of detail, especially in describing the firing of tank weapons, which becomes pretty repetitive by the end of the book, although that could be his point.
The book is filled with much reconstructed dialogue, Tyson’s way of pulling the reader into his story.
Dozens of photographs are spread throughout the book.