It Wasn’t Like Nothing by Thomas J. Hynes

Clearly the double negative in the title is a clue to expect a no-nonsense chronicle about the hazardous realities of Vietnam War combat through the eyes of a United States Marine. It Wasn’t Like Nothing: One Marine’s Adventure in Vietnam by Thomas J. Hynes (iUniverse 270 pp., $20.95, paper; $3.49, Kindle) covers the author’s path from enlistment to fighting the Viet Cong and and NVA.

Hynes’s rapid change of venue after graduating from Georgetown Law School in September 1966, then taking the Marine Basic Course and Officer Candidate School and his subsequent assignment to Lima Company, Third Battalion, Fifth Marines near Da Nang all happened in less than a year. 2nd Lt. Hynes even somehow managed to fit in his marriage during a two-week leave.

A Catch 22-like assignment was the new Lieutenant’s introduction to Lima Company. Introducing himself as Captain K, his CO said, “Lieutenant, we have a problem. I already have three platoon commanders, and I don’t have a place to put you except as weapons platoon commander.” Captain K then told Hynes that there wasn’t a weapons platoon. A temporary mortar team was created and Hynes began “learning the hard way.” Talking to experienced members of Lima Company was more valuable than most stateside training.

This OJT often took place during platoon sweeps, patrols, and battalion-wide operations. Calling in artillery strikes and air support requires full knowledge of where your unit is and where the enemy is. “Just as the rifle was the basic tool of the infantryman, the map and compass were the basic tools of the platoon commander,” Hynes writes.

Responding to a firefight, another platoon commander “intentionally called in the mission on top of us. He thought we would get out of there in time and we would catch Charlie sneaking in behind us. He didn’t give us enough time to clear the area before the artillery came in.”

Hynes offers his opinions on the South Vietnamese military and civilians. “We went from village to village,” he writes. “The reaction of the villagers was one of studied indifference. The peasants were caught in the middle of this war. All they wanted was to tend their fields in peace. Regardless of who ruled their country, they had to raise enough crops to survive another year.”

One battle in which a Marine platoon advanced on a treeline responding to small arms fire from Viet Cong inside the forest did so without support from the the ARVN squad they were working with. The Vietnamese later explained, “we do not attack treelines.”

Although the book’s photographs are of poor quality, the author’s descriptions of his platoon’s combat actions are as vivid as any images on film. One such account describes a ground action that could have caused many friendly casualties.

A battalion operation was winding down as two companies were returning to their base camps. Lima Company detected incoming fire from the woodline in front of them and laid down a field of fire into the woods. Delta Company, advancing on the other side of the woods, returned fire toward Lima Company’s position. Miraculously, none of the thousands of rounds fired resulted in friendly fire casualties. The din of rapid firing drowned out cease-fire commands until radio transmissions halted the gunfire.

Operation Swift was among the most critical enemy engagements Second Platoon was involved in during Hyne’s year in country. His report on this series of battles reveals a startling action that had the Marines and their lieutenant thinking about the futility of such operations over a few kilometers of The Que Son Valley.

Marines ready for action during Operation Swift

Official reports often conflicted with what the grunts actually experienced. Lt. Hynes recalled: “I later read the after-action report on the operation, and it was my opinion the official version of Operation Swift was suspect.”

Hynes has written a remarkable personal journal enabling readers to appreciate the work of a group of brave Marines.

—Curt Nelson

Brave Warriors, Humble Heroes by Marjorie T. Hansen

Brave Warriors, Humble Heroes: A Vietnam War Story (Brown Books, 232 pp., $22.95 hardcover; $14.95, paper; $9.99, Kindle)  is a love story, a book filled with the admiration that Marjorie T. Hansen feels for her husband Charlie. She details her feelings about a calm and quiet man who unfalteringly performed the duties assigned to him.

Charlie Hansen’s letters from Vietnam comprise the bulk of the book. Marge Hansen calls them “a small piece of history that belongs to all of us.”

Charlie Hansen was a major when he was sent to navigate C-123s at Phan Rang Air Base in 1971. It was near the end of the Vietnam War, and Congress had promised to have all American combat personnel out by year’s end. Shortly after he arrived at Phan Rang, the base began closing down.

As squadron scheduling officer, Charlie Hansen’s duties were tediously repetitious, but he performed them with good humor. His flying consisted of navigating bladder birds that hauled JP-4 to remote outposts, training South Vietnamese Air Force crewmen to take over the squadron’s mission, and dropping ARVN parachutists in practice exercises.

In essence, he was living in a war zone, while burdened with peacetime labors. Mortar and rocket attacks on the base and antiaircraft fire aimed at his plane frequently reminded him of where he was.

In letter after letter, Charlie Hansen mentioned the maintenance nightmares of mechanical breakdowns that typified C-123 operations. He wrote about them without complaint. Based on his many accounts, it’s difficult to believe that the South Vietnamese accepted the planes after the Americans departed.

Majorie Hansen

Eight months into his tour, Hansen was transferred to Nakhon Phanom to fly as an AC-119 Stinger night observation scope operator over the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Surprisingly, in one of the letters in the book that describes a Stinger flight there is only one short paragraph about events in Laos. I flew 158 Spectre missions in that arena and know there was plenty to talk about, even on quiet nights.

Overall, I feel as if Marge or Charlie Hansen shortchanged us in this book. Too often, that is, a letter provides a trailer without delivering a feature picture.

For example, here’s Charlie Hansen’s description of an IG visit led by Gen. Robin Olds: “Last night almost did me in. The general stayed on—and on—and on! A USO group showed up and—I could write a small book! I finally got to bed about 4 AM and things were still going strong.”

That was it: no details. Furthermore, Charlie Hansen reduced his combat experiences to little more than headlines. Such as: “Miracles never cease—we finally found and destroyed a truck last night. We hadn’t seen a burner in almost two weeks.” The remainder of this letter focused on squadron administrative chores.

A great deal of the letters’ contents dealt with travel plans. On the other hand, Charlie Hansen mentioned exchanging tapes with his wife, which perhaps is where they hid the good stuff.

Marge Hansen devotes a chapter to meeting her husband for R&R in Bangkok and then accompanying him to NKP, an adventure that she ranks as the most dynamic episode in her life. Her joy had a severe price: she was exposed to toxic herbicides.

By then, Charlie Hansen also had been exposed to Agent Orange at Phan Rang. In the late 1980s he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Their exposures led Marge Hansen to write:”The Vietnam War never ended for us.”

Following Charlie Hansen’s retirement in 1976 after twenty years of military service, he and his wife enjoyed twenty-year careers in engineering and marketing. Charlie Hansen died in 2012.

His wife closes her book with a plea for the government to provide greater comfort for veterans who suffer from diseases caused by exposure to Agent Orange.

The author’s website is

–Henry Zeybel

JFK in the Senate by John T. Shaw

John T. Shaw ‘s JFK in the Senate: Pathway to the Presidency (Palgrave Macmillan, 228 pp., $26) is a well-written, pioneering look at President John F. Kennedy’s 1953-60 tenure as the junior U.S. Senator from Massachusetts. JFK’s time in the Senate, Shaw says, “was a period of remarkable personal and political growth in which an untested backbencher transformed himself into a man of substance and depth and a victorious presidential candidate.”

Kennedy “participated actively and sometimes boldly” during his time in the Senate “in the central policy debates of his time,” Shaw notes. On the international scene Kennedy spoke his mind on “the challenges posed by China and the Soviet Union, the icy armistice in Korea, France’s faltering military interventions in Vietnam and Algeria” and “the appropriate defense posture for America during the Cold War.”

Kennedy had visited Vietnam as a Congressman in 1951 as part of a big fact-finding mission to Asia and the Middle East. The French at the time were enmeshed in a bitter war against communist insurgents led by Ho Chi Minh and Vo Nguyen Giap determined to shed the yoke of colonialism. After meeting with high-level French and U.S. military and political figures, JFK came away with a decidedly negative view of the situation.

Because of the strong American support for the French in their war against the Vietminh, Kennedy wrote in his journal, the United States was “more and more becoming colonists in the minds of the people.”

Kennedy stressed in a subsequent radio address that he strongly favored “check[ing] the southern drive of communism,” in Vietnam. But he stressed he did not want to do that relying “on the force of arms.” Rather, Kennedy called for building “strong native non-communist sentiment within these areas.”

In his first year in the Senate, Kennedy “took center stage” in the debate over whether or not the U.S. should continue to support the French, Shaw says. JFK spoke out in favor of sending U.S. aid, but also called on France to grant independence to Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. He even offered an amendment to the Senate foreign aid bill urging France to give more independence to those colonies. It was defeated.

John T. Shaw

Before the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu in May 1954, JFK gave a Senate speech in which he warned that if the United States took over from the French militarily, the subsequent war would “threaten the survival of civilization.” He then spoke out against the U.S. pouring “money, materiel, and men into the jungles of Indochina without at least a remote prospect of victory,” something, that “would be dangerously futile and self-destructive.”

Kennedy, in his search for a non-military solution to the problem of stopping communism in Vietnam, believed that Ngo Dinh Diem, the vehement anticommunist the CIA helped install as South Vietnam’s premier in 1954, would be the leader who could do so. JFK “began to speak of a ‘Diem miracle in South Vietnam,'” Shaw notes, “and urged American backing for his regime. He accepted, as did other American leaders, Diem’s decision not to go forward with national elections in 1956 as had been promised” in the Geneva Accords.

In a June 1, 1956, speech in Washington before the pro-Diem American Friends of Vietnam, JFK changed his stance on what America should do to support Diem. He no longer warned that the U.S. should not get heavily involved militarily in the effort to stop the Vietnamese communists, framing his argument in staunch, 1950s Cold War rhetoric.

Vietnam, he said, “represents the cornerstone of the Free World in Southeast Asia,” JFK said, “the keystone in the arch, the finger in the dyke.” South Vietnam, he said, “is our offspring. We cannot abandon it.”

Kennedy continued his strong support of Diem through his days in the Senate and into his 1,000 days in the White House. Calling South Vietnam “a brave little state,” in a 1960 speech, JFK said that nation was “working in a friendly and free association with the United States, whose economic and military aid has, in conditions of independence, proved to be effective.”

Shaw does not address the oft-debated issue of whether JFK would have withdrawn American troops from Vietnam had he lived. But Shaw does show that during his eight years in the Senate, Kennedy changed his thinking radically on what the U.S. should do to keep South Vietnam from falling to the communists. He went from strongly advocating no American military action in South Vietnam to forcefully calling for strong American aid—including sending in thousands of military advisers—to try to help that country fight the communist insurgency.

The author’s website is

—Marc Leepson

Valor in Vietnam by Allen B. Clark

Allen B. Clark graduated from West Point in 1963. He served in intelligence with the 5th Special Forces Group in Vietnam in 1966-67 and was severely wounded. His new book, Valor in Vietnam: Chronicles of Honor, Courage and Sacrifice, 1962-1977 (Casemate, 288 pp., $29.95), consists of a nineteen chapters, each of which contains a true Vietnam War story.

“Herein are first-hand narratives by Vietnam War participants,” Clark says in his Introduction, “highly intense, emotional, and personal stories.” This “is the Vietnam War as seen through the eyes of people who experienced it. It is my hope and prayer that these stories reflect the commitment, honor, and dedication with which we performed out duty in the Vietnam War.”

What the narratives also reflect is a view of the war as seen primarily through the thoughts and deeds of officers. Eighteen of the twenty war veterans chronicled in the book are former commissioned officers. The only enlisted men Clark concerns himself with are “legendary Vietnam warrior” SSG Patrick Tadina, who served in the war for five years, and Spec4s Robert Fleming, “a battle-hardened young [173rd Airborne] paratrooper,” and James W. “Jess” Jones, a 101st Airborne Division medic.

—Marc Leepson

The author’s website is