Girls Don’t by Inette Miller

At first impression, Girls Don’t: A Woman’s War in Vietnam (Texas Tech University Press, 256 pp. $29.95, hardcover; $8.99, Kindle) seems implausible and irreverent. The cartoon illustrations on the book cover don’t help, but they accurately reflect the colorful, rebellious personality of Inette Miller, a 23-year-old journalist who married her draftee boyfriend in order to follow him to Vietnam in 1970. Their marriage was an ill-kept secret.

Besides being an unusual chronicle of the war, this memoir is a coming-of-age story. An emerging feminist who protested the war in college, Miller fought her own “war within” of conflicting pressures and emotions.

From 1965-73, a total of 1,742 accredited American reporters covered the Vietnam War. Only 232 were women. Half were in country less than a month and most, Miller claims, never left Saigon.

In contrast, Girls Don’t begins with Miller in a Medevac helicopter out of Khe Sanh. The chopper is hit and then “the worst” happens. Miller–who covered the war for Time magazine—lived to tell the tale, but the reader doesn’t know fully what the worst was until later in the book.

Covering January 1970 to March 1971, Miller draws from her journal and letters she sent home. Written mostly in the present tense, her descriptions and dialogue seem pulled verbatim from those sources, giving the narrative a sometimes disjointed, but vivid, flow.

Miller’s tone often seems naïve, or at least cringe-inducing. She describes skies above Quang Tri, for example, as “crystal blue like a chlorinated swimming pool” and the Ho Chi Minh Trail as “visible from above as a dirt road through a country fair.”

As events unfold, though, her voice evolves, and her observations become more insightful. Most notable are her descriptions of three trips into Cambodia. The first came when she flew to Phnom Penh in March of 1970, where she was “the only Western correspondent to enter Cambodia in years,” she says. (You have to take her word for it; some statements inspire skepticism).

In May she went with other journalists on a short press junket, which she compares to “a fifth grade field trip.” On the way there, an Army private told Miller: “I liked the Vietnamese when I got here. Now I hate them. They’re out to get us. I just want out of here. I want to go home.”

In June, she hitchhiked with two other reporters from Saigon to Phnom Penh, and saw burned villages and bodies and barely camouflaged landmines left on dirt roads by the Viet Cong.

Other chapters are equally vivid. Descriptions and reflections about life in Saigon, her marriage, Army pettiness, and the impact of the American presence on Vietnamese social and cultural norms are all intertwined. Many anecdotes are tragic; others ironic and humorous.

Assigned as a typist in the Army Provost Marshall’s office, Miller’s husband was busted after displaying antiwar cartoons around his desk. When not on duty, he donned civvies and curled up in “a private world” with Miller in a room she rented from a Vietnamese family.

Occasionally, her husband joined her to watch American movies with generals and colonels. During M*A*S*H, they “laughed [their] fool heads off” while the officers sat in “stony silence.”

On the streets of Saigon, they took once had to take cover as a sniper fired at motorcyclists. When an Army truck hit a 12-year-old boy and roared off, they stopped to help, only to be surrounded by an angry mob.

Inette Miller in country

The Medivac that barely made it back, Miller writes in the last chapter, had its tail “wrenched apart” and its body riddled with jagged holes—“the most dramatically destroyed helicopter I’d ever seen bring its crew and passengers back alive.”

By this time she has matured, and, in her telling, won the respect of male colleagues and combatants. Still, at that moment she felt “utterly exposed, raw and vulnerable.” The approval she had been seeking,” she realized, “had been my own.”

Inette Miller wanted to go home. With her husband’s tour of duty ending, they returned stateside in April 1971. Fifteen years later, they divorced.

Miller’s website is inettemiller.com

–Bob Carolla

The Journalist by Jerry A. Rose and Lucy Rose Fischer

In 1959 the lure of what westerners then called “the Orient” overpowered Jerry Rose. So he walked away from a half-finished Comp Lit PhD program to teach English for two years at the University of Hue in Vietnam. That job led him to become a newspaper and magazine stringer, which put him in the middle of South Vietnam’s economic and political turmoil prior to the United States’ full-scale infusion of manpower into the nation. He covered the Time Life bureau beat and much more until he died in an airplane crash in 1965 at the age of 31.

Lucy Rose Fischer, Jerry Rose’s sister, collected his voluminous published and unpublished papers, journals, and letters, and laboriously wrote “100 versions—maybe more,” she says, of her new book, The Journalist: Life and Loss in America’s Secret War (Spark Press, 332 pp. $16.95, paper; $8.99, Kindle). She uses that wealth of material to tell the story as a memoir in her brother’s voice. From its opening page, the book read as if Jerry Rose were alongside of me recounting the drama of his life.

I delighted in plowing through six years of Jerry Rose’s life with him. His aspirations, insights, successes, mistakes, cleverness, and stupidity brought back memories of episodes from my twenties. At times I wanted to shout, “Don’t do that” or “Don’t go there.” Narrow-minded readers might be turned off by Rose’s concentration on himself, but I found it tremendously lifelike.

Jerry Rose’s exposure to the oppression of the South Vietnamese government began while he taught at Hue University. His descriptions of the gunfire and hand-grenade explosions of a failed coup d’état; arrests, punishments, and disappearances of his friends; and his disastrous love affair with a diplomat’s wife challenge the best story-telling of Graham Greene about that era in South Vietnam.

From there, Rose’s life and career went into overdrive. He eagerly roamed the jungles and rural areas to interview the common man and to reveal clandestine American military operations, which elevated his perspective above that of some established reporters. He had a knack for getting interviews with high-ranking officials. As a result, he saw the future disaster before it formed into reality—and both American and South Vietnamese leaders labeled him a troublemaker.

Within four months after he finished teaching, Jerry Rose sold feature articles and photographs to Time, Life, The New York Times, The Reporter, and the New Republic. His ability to uncover corruption earned assignments to Burma, the Philippines, Thailand, Laos, and Indonesia. He reached a higher level of notoriety with an account in The Saturday Evening Post of a battle at Camp Plei Mrong that he and a half dozen Special Forces men barely survived.

Settling temporarily in Hong Kong, he married Kay Peterson in 1962 and they soon had a daughter and a son.

Despite his adventures elsewhere, Rose’s heart belonged to Vietnam. Following coups and multiple transitions of leaderships in the South Vietnamese government, Rose put his writing career on hold and accepted a job as Adviser to the Prime Minister to try to improve the education system and farmers’ living conditions.

Jerry Rose

Four-and-a-half months after starting that job, he concluded that corruption at all levels of the South Vietnamese government was even deeper than he had thought. He decided to quit, but agreed to one last assignment: to help a camp holding four hundred refugees. His plane crashed on September 15, 1965.   

Lucy Rose Fischer is an author, artist, and social scientist. She has written five books about aging and more than a hundred research articles. She has a PhD in sociology and an MA in Asian Studies.

Thanks, Lucy, for a really cool look back in time.

The book’s website is jerryrosevietnam.com

—Henry Zeybel

No Place for a Lady by Thea Rosenbaum

As Thea Rosenbaum stepped from a still-moving C-130 onto the Khe Sanh runway on January 29, 1968, she was greeted with the click -click of incoming rounds. Throwing herself behind some oil drums, the young war correspondent noticed cows crossing the runway. It reminded her of the terror she had experienced as a child during World War II.

He memoir, No Place for a Lady (AuthorHouse, 194 pp., $16.95, paper), written with Chris Moore, has greater depth than many war stories. Thanks to Rosenbaum’s well-crafted writing the reader can see through her eyes as she relates her wartime experiences in Berlin and Vietnam.

After describing landing at Khe Sanh, Rosenbaum spends several chapters explaining how war was not new to her and how she and her family survived World War II in Germany.

Just as this narrative is not an ordinary book, Thea Rosenbaum was no ordinary child. At the age of five she traveled ten miles by train to enroll in school. During the final weeks of the war, she saved her mother from being raped by Russian soldiers.

Rosenbaum admits to serious feelings of inferiority. But by the age of twenty-one, she had become Germany’s only female stockbroker at Oppenheimer & Company. Later, she would become the only German female journalist covering the war in Vietnam. Her desire to produce top journalism led Rosenbaum into potentially dangerous situations, including going through Vietnamese airborne troop training.

As the reader is drawn into the Rosenbaum’s life, you can appreciate why she spends so many pages describing her youth. It becomes quite clear that her growing-up experiences brought a new kind of self-confidence. Dealing with a child-molesting grandfather, being an au pair for a family with no children, and falling madly in love with a violin player built a foundation for dealing with all kinds of people.

Thea Rosenbaum

Arriving in Khe Sanh was as fortuitous for a journalist as it was dangerous. There was no lack of action to report. It was the beginning of the Tet Offensive. Moving into Saigon later during Tet, the author writes:

“There is no battle line. Now this is true generally of the fighting in Vietnam, but during Tet, and in Saigon, if you went to an area where fighting was under way, you would have great difficulty in pointing to one side of the street or the other and say with any certainty that is where the Vietcong are and that is with the South Vietnamese are. You just couldn’t do it with any consistency.”    

Being a German citizen and a noncombatant was no guarantee of safety. While Rosenbaum was in Vietnam, a group of German doctors was taken out to a field and shot by the Viet Cong. The author writes that Americans were also guilty of atrocities, but says we were not nearly as cruel as the Viet Cong were.  

After she left Vietnam, Rosenbaum worked in the White House as a German correspondent for ARD television. She became well acquainted with Presidents Carter, Reagan, and George H. W. Bush, and interviewed people such as David Duke of the Ku Klux Klan, Jesse Jackson, and Hugh Hefner. One of the greatest experiences of her life, she writes, was seeing the Berlin Wall fallThea Rosenbaum became a U.S. citizen in 2013.

She ends her narrative with these words. “Yet sometimes I ask myself, was it more important to meet every president since Nixon or to spend time with my family? It can be difficult to choose between historically important people and taking care of your children. But would I do it again? You bet I would.”

Would this reviewer recommend this book and read it again? You bet I would.

The author’s website is www.noplaceforalday.com

—Joseph Reitz