Suicide Charlie: A Vietnam War Story by Norman L. Russell


I found Suicide Charlie: A Vietnam War Story in the local library. I read the book during the first week of February 2006. Norman L. Russell tells his story with the draft, the US Army and the 25th Infantry Division. Russell was drafted in 1968. He went to Vietnam when he was 19 years old. There he served as a mortar man with the 25th Infantry Division’s so-called Suicide Charlie Company. He tells how he was hardened by the demands of war. He tells of the various experiences he had. The war made less sense to him the longer he was there. He found it hard to follow all the orders he was given. He tells of being told to shoot to kill the Vietnamese children to keep away from his unit’s trash dump. He disobeyed this order. He shares a tale of the boom boom girls (prostitutes). He lets us have a look at another kind of battle he faced upon return to the world — post combat depression and delayed stress. He makes mention that his father was a World War II vet that took his own life a few years after returning. He battles the demons related to this from time to time. Unlike some memoirs, there are moments of hubris on his part from time to time in the book. It is very entertaining and an easy read. Read and reviewed by Jimmie A. Kepler.

The Gathering Storm by Sir Winston Churchill

The Gathering Storm by Sir Winston Churchill is the first volume of Churchill’s Noble Prize winning six part chronicle of World War II. This six book series is Churchill’s personal memoirs. The Gathering Storm depicts the rise of Hitler and the indifference of the leaders of the European democracies to the clouds of the gathering storm. Churchill incorporates contemporary documentation and his own reminiscence in this opening memoir. Churchill’s mastery of English is reason enough to read this book. I like what was said in a review on Amazon.com, “Winston Churchill was not only a statesman and leader of historic proportions, he also possessed substantial literary talents. These two factors combine to make The Gathering Storm a unique work.” The book tells the story of the events between World War One and World War Two. Churchill shows how key events were ignored or the people simply hoped they would go away without dealing with them. The resulting inaction allowed many of the later events to occur, thus escalating the size and difficulty of the task. Sir Winston Churchill won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1953 for this book and the other five books in the series. Read by Jimmie A. Kepler in July – August 1996 and  again in August – September 2004.

Mobile Riverine Force: America’s Mobile Riverine Force Vietnam Vol. 1 and 2


Mobile Riverine Force: America’s Mobile Riverine Force Vietnam Vol. 1 is a history of the Mobile Riverine Force in the US Armed Services from its beginning through today. It contains a 74 page description of Riverine Operations 1966-1969 by Major General William B Fulton. It tells the history of the Mobile Riverine Force Association. It shares stories of member’s personal experience through biographies of Mobile Riverine Force Association members. It has hundreds of historic photographs.

Volume II proceeds on where Volume I left off and details the ongoing function of the Riverine Forces leading up to the final boats being transferred to the South Vietnamese Navy in December 1970. In the interim period you will see how combat hardened sailors volunteered to be Advisors to the South Vietnamese Navy under the command of Task Force 194. Despite the outcome of the war, a legacy of honor, dedication, and heroism was left by a small band of unique young sailors and soldiers. (Vol 2 review description written by the publisher – source: http://www.turnerpublishing.com/detail.aspx?ID=1237)

Sherman: Memoirs of General W.T. Sherman by William T. Sherman

Sherman: Memoirs of General W.T. Sherman by William T. Sherman is a must book for anyone serious in learning about the life and experiences of Union General William T. Sherman.

I have read numerous Civil War books, including the prominent historical volumes by the leading scholars. Reading these volumes led me to begin reading the memoirs and books of the significant people involved in the war – Grant, Longstreet, etc. Sherman’s memoirs have been the most fascinating.

Sherman is an interesting writer. His descriptions of early California life were beautiful. It paints a great picture of 1840’s San Francisco and northern California. In other places the writing bogged down where it felt you were reading a military TO&E (table of organization and equipment).

Sherman was not a failure in anything that he did. On the contrary, I think he led a full and fascinating life that would be difficult to duplicate in the present times, even with our transportation abilities. Sherman was a brilliant military leader and you feel as though you are with him throughout his many marches and campaigns. He includes many letters and orders in the book that I believe substantiate his writing and give proof that he was one of a kind.

I was surprised to learn that he served as commanding general of the US Army from 1868 – 1884, longer than any other person. That would be like being US Army chief of staff today for 16 years!

Yes, the book did have some hubris and he did defend some of his actions. All in all a must read. Read by Jimmie A. Kepler in July – August 2006.

On to Berlin: Battles of an Airborne Commander 1943-1946 by General James M. Gavin


General James M. Gavin tells the story of the 82d Airborne Division during World War II. Gavin began training at the Airborne School in Fort Benning in July 1941, and graduated in August 1941. After graduating he served in an experimental unit. His first command was Commanding Officer of C Company of the newly established 503rd Parachute Infantry Battalion. Gavin’s friends William Ryder — Commander of Airborne training – and William Yarborough – Communications officer of the Provisional Airborne Group – convinced General William C. Lee to let Gavin develop the tactics and basic rules of Airborne combat. Lee followed up on this recommendation, and made Gavin his Operations and Training officer (S-3). On October 16, 1941 he was promoted to Major.

One of his first priorities was determining how airborne troops could be used most effectively. His first action was writing FM 31-30: Tactics and Technique of Air-Borne Troops. He used information about Soviet and German experiences with Paratroopers and Glider troops, and also used his own experience about tactics and warfare. The manual contained information about tactics, but also about the organization of the paratroopers, what kind of operations they could execute, and what they would need to execute their task effectively.

Gavin is best suited to provide this history since he served with the Division during its entire participation in the European Campaign, starting as a Regimental Commander with the 505th to eventually commanding the division.

General Gavin gives a detailed description of all the operations the 82d participated in during World War II. He adds his analysis of why certain things went well for his unit, while other things were a struggle. He provides insight into the Allied command structure and the challenges it faced.

This is an enjoyable and informative book that provides a unique perspective of the war, much different than other general officers. Gavin personally experienced the harshness and challenges of WWII combat because of the nature of airborne operations. Gavin also he participated in numerous high-level planning sessions with other well-known leaders of the Allied Command. This participation allows him to connect the planning and the execution of how strategic decisions influenced the actual combat operations in the European Theater of Operations.

For me the most insightful and interesting part of the book was General Gavin’s analysis of General Eisenhower’s decision to concede Berlin to the Russians. The last chapter reflects back on the war and Berlin question with analysis of the decisions made and their impact and implications thirty years later. It is pretty interesting stuff, especially given the long-term impact that these decisions had on world events.

I strongly recommend this book. For those wanting to learn more about the 82d or airborne operations this is required reading. Read and reviewed by Jimmie A. Kepler.

Doc: Platoon Medic by Daniel E. Evans Jr., Charles W. Sasser

Daniel E. Evans was a young man who envied his father’s World War II rite of passage and sought his own. He joined the Army as a medic and volunteered for Vietnam to seek his destiny. His 9th Infantry Division duty assignment was the 9th Medical Battalion but he had come to Vietnam to see combat. With persistence, Evans got himself attached to the 4th Battalion 39th Infantry, 9th Infantry Division as a platoon medic for most of his tour. Now it was time to learn how the reality of combat measured up to his boyhood imagination. Evans tells a vivid tale of his first hand experience with the aftermath of life and death conflict in a far off land. Read by Jimmie A. Kepler.

Brown Water, Black Berets: Coastal and Riverine Warfare in Vietnam by Lt. Cdr. Thomas J. Cutler


Brown Water, Black Berets: Coastal and Riverine Warfare in Vietnam by Lt. Cdr. Thomas J. Cutler, USN is a very readable concise history of the US Navy involvement in Vietnam. The author weaves facts and figures with the human stories of the men and women who were fighting a different kind of war. You will see the beginnings of the Vietnam navy, the US advisor role, and active involvement with coastal and inland waterway operations. The stories of naval personnel performing routine surveillance of coastal waters or engaged in the terror of close quarter combat on the muddy waters of the Mekong Delta paint a picture of the war in Vietnam that is often overlooked. A partnership of Navy and 9th Infantry Divisions units loosened the tight grip that the Viet Cong had on the strategically important Delta.