The history of the Vietnam War grows more complete and accurate as veterans, journalists, and historians continue to research and write about the conflict. Today’s authors gain the advantage of supplementing their research by studying what other writers have learned and written about the war. Organizations that help veterans offer opportunities for prospective authors to share information and work on their craft. Improvements in access to after action reports and other documents continually expand the information base.
All of those factors significantly helped Hubert Yoshida in writing Operation Utah:The Die Is Cast (Luna Blue, 356 pp. $29.99, hardcover; $20.99, paper), which centers on a four-day March 1966 Vietnam War battle in which he participated. His extensive research has uncovered facts not previously published and identified errors made by other authors.
Lt. Yoshida commanded a rifle platoon in H Company, 2nd Battalion, of 7th Marine Regiment based at Chu Lai. As a child of Japanese American citizens, he and his family spent World War II interred in a prison camp. He earned a math degree from the University of California, then enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and was commissioned from Officer Candidate School. He survived the Vietnam War with no traumatic aftereffects but is physically disabled from exposure Agent Orange.
Operation Utah matched three undermanned 2/7 Marine battalions and one South Vietnamese Airborne battalion against the North Vietnamese Army’s 21st Regiment and local Viet Cong forces. The Marines prevailed, but only after paying a heavy price of 101 killed in action and 278 wounded. Enemy losses totaled 600 KIA and an estimated 1,200 to 2,000 WIA.
Yoshida’s account of the fighting includes a look at the buildup of the Marine battalions and questions the intel underlying the operation. He breaks the combat into three phases and describes maneuvers from the perspective of the combatants. In this thoroughly researched account, Yoshida highlights Marine helicopter crews and artillery and Navy corpsmen. He also includes a chapter based on the diary of a KIA North Vietnamese soldier. His account of how one American family coped with the death of a young son and brother is universally true.
Yoshida offers four “obvious” lessons learned from Operation Utah. He also attempts to “connect the dots” regarding the war’s influence on the lives of the surviving young men.
The crowning tribute of the book is a photo gallery with short biographies that pays fond farewell to the 101 men killed in action during Operation Utah. Hubert Yoshida’s heart and soul are intrinsic in the biographies, a tone similar to his story telling.
Overall, Yoshida expresses sadness for the losses of young lives in this battle and the Vietnam War in general. Operation Utah easily could be retitled Tragedy in Victory.