A Life in a Year: The American Infantryman in Vietnam, 1965-1972 by James R. Ebert

Includes spoilers:

Wisconsin high school teacher James R. Ebert does a masterful job as he combines interviews and printed primary sources in this remarkable telling of the infantryman’s experience during the Vietnam War. Ebert tells the story of the US Army and a few US Marine infantrymen during the Vietnam War. He takes their story from induction into the service through basic and advanced individual training, arrival in Vietnam, their first combat experiences, the first killed in action they experience, in some cases the soldier’s death, and the freedom birds that take them back to the world. Ebert points out while infantryman accounted for less than 10% of the American troops in Vietnam, the infantry suffered more than 80% of the losses.

Ebert uses an interesting technique starting every chapter with a letter by Leonard Dutcher to his parents. Dutcher just wanted to do his part for God and country and go home at the end of his 12-month tour (13 for Marines). Spoiler alert! In the last chapter, we find out that Dutcher was killed. It caught me off guard and really added to the impact of the book. Ebert takes many of the soldiers and Marines experiences word for word from the individual himself through interviews or letters. It is a collective look at similarities of the many infantry soldiers and Marines in the war. It is a very personal account from many points of view.

This is an important book in Vietnam War literature. This is what the grunts really went through. I was left with somewhat of feeling of guilt from reading the book. Why? I graduated high school in 1971. Some of my high classmates went to Vietnam and fought. Everett Maxwell was killed in action. I went to college and was ultimately commissioned a second lieutenant in the infantry, went through airborne school and served three years active duty. My becoming an officer deferred my entry on active duty from 1971 to 1975. This is the reason for my reflective thoughts.

Read and reviewed by Jimmie Aaron Kepler

On Their Own: Women Journalists and the American Experience in Vietnam by Joyce Hoffmann

For female reporters who wanted to cover the long, brutal war in Vietnam, the challenge began before they even left home, when – in the words of one former Saigon bureau chief – they had to “fight like hell to get the assignment.”

On Their Own: Women Journalists and the American Experience in Vietnam focuses on a few of the approximately 70 women who worked as journalists during the Vietnam War, spanning from its earliest days as a “not-so-secret war” in the late 1950s to the fall of Saigon nearly two decades later. Each traveled a different path to get the assignment, and each arrived at different conclusions about what they saw. Dickey Chapelle, a grizzled anti-Communist hawk, lived at the front lines with the Marines for more than four years; she would become the first American woman to be killed while covering a war. Gloria Emerson, on the other hand, the first woman to report from Vietnam in 1956, would later earn some of President Nixon’s angriest epithets on the White House tapes for her award-winning work about the war’s effect on South Vietnamese civilians. And for Laura Palmer, among the last reporters to leave Saigon in 1975, the faces below her departing helicopter were “sacred, because it was beyond words; you stand in the mystery, you stand with humility, and you stand with awe.”

Researched and written over the course of ten years, On Their Own is the story of a fundamental shift in journalism, the point at which the “boy’s club” of war reporting in World War II and Korea gave way to the modern press corps of Iraq and Afghanistan, and a more vivid perspective on the causes and casualties of war. At the outset, they had to fight for the assignment; after they got it, the women profiled in On Their Own produced work that led one critic to suggest, in 1986, that Vietnam had been the first war recorded better by women than by men.

Joyce Hoffmann has written for the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and several other publications over the course of her twenty-five year career. She is currently a professor of journalism at Old Dominion University and public editor of the Virginian-Pilot.

http://www.pritzkermilitarylibrary.org/events/2008-10-30-joyce-hoffmann.jsp

A Life in a Year: The American Infantryman in Vietnam, 1965-1972

Wisconsin high school teacher James R. Ebert does a masterful job as he combines interviews and printed primary sources in this remarkable telling of the infantryman’s experience during the Vietnam War. Ebert tells the story of the US Army and a few US Marine infantrymen during the Vietnam War. He takes their story from induction into the service through basic and advanced individual training, arrival in Vietnam, their first combat experiences, the first killed in action they experience, in some cases the soldier’s death, and the freedom birds that take them back to the world. Ebert points out while infantryman accounted for less than 10% of the American troops in Vietnam, the infantry suffered more than 80% of the losses.

Ebert uses an interesting technique starting every chapter with a letter by Leonard Dutcher to his parents. Dutcher just wanted to do his part for God and country and go home at the end of his 12-month tour (13 for Marines). In the last chapter, we find out that Dutcher was killed. It caught me off guard and really added to the impact of the book. Ebert takes many of the soldiers and Marines experiences word for word from the individual himself through interviews or letters. It is a collective look at similarities of the many infantry soldiers and Marines in the war. It is a very personal account from many points of view.

This is an important book in Vietnam War literature. This is what the grunts really went through. I was left with somewhat of feeling of guilt from reading the book. Why? I graduated high school in 1971. Some of my high classmates went to Vietnam and fought. Everett Maxwell was killed in action. I went to college and was ultimately commissioned a second lieutenant in the infantry, went through airborne school and served three years active duty. My becoming an officer deferred my entry on active duty from 1971 to 1975. This is the reason for my reflective thoughts.

Book review of: A Life in a Year: The American Infantryman in Vietnam, 1965-1972 by James R. Ebert

Valor in Vietnam 1963 – 1977: Chronicles of Honor, Courage and Sacrifice

I enjoyed reading “Valor in Vietnam 1963 – 1977: Chronicles of Honor, Courage and Sacrifice” by Allen B. Clark. I can easily recommend the book. In the vast literature on Vietnam that is too often  memoirs full of hubris or tomes that bore you with action killing details, Mr. Clarke has given us a wonderful, fresh look at one of the most seminal events in the life of those who experienced the 1960s and 1970s. You experience the Vietnam War from the personal point of view of  some of the men and women who were there. You get both a unique boots on the ground and narrative perspective.   
 
I need to give a spoiler warning. I was left wondering if the actions Colonel Clyde R. Russell was the catalyst that started the war. It was interesting to see his son in high school in Saigon in 1964. Later, we learn of his son, Lieutenant Chris Russell – the reluctant warrior as the author called him. We see how his dad got his college student deferment pulled where he had to go in the Army. We see when he is in Vietnam he returns to the halls he walked as a ten grader. The building is now used for a very different purpose.
 
The book is full of wonderful, well told stories that sequentially take us through the war. The stories of men and women of various branches of service and ranks, both officer and enlisted gives a you were there feel.
 
I especially enjoyed the combat leadership lessons that were shared as we made our way through the years of the war. I would hope that such venues as the Infantry School, Command and General Staff College, and War College would include this insightful work in their required or recommended reading. I pray these are lessons that will not have to be learned over and over, but can be taught through case studies from this book.
 
While every chapter was well written and action packed, a couple of chapters especially touched me. They were the chapters on The Real Horrors of War covering Captain Wendy Weller’s tour as a nurse in 1969-1970 and the chapter titled Ranger’s Ranger covering the 1965 – 1970 tours of duty of Staff Sergeant Patrick Tadina. I was amazed at how low the casualty rate was for the units/missions he led and how long he was in Vietnam.
 
The book’s title caught my attention when it had the date range going to 1977 instead of stopping in 1973 or 1975. Spoiler alert – the last chapter covers 1975 to 1977 and a couple who were left behind when the last Americans fled. It is intriguing.
 
Congratulations to author Allen B. Clark and Casemate Publishing.  You have published a special book. “Valor in Vietnam 1963 – 1977: Chronicles of Honor, Courage and Sacrifice” by Allen B. Clark. The publisher is Casemate Publishing. 
 

Review: We Were Soldiers Once and Young

There is a movie based on this book. I read the book before seeing the motion picture. I was very surprised when I saw the movie. They had left out the second battle. It was a battle that was just as bloody as the first, but without LTC Moore commanding.

General Moore and Joseph Galloway have written a fine book. It should be must reading for every military officer and politician. I found this book to be consuming my attention. It was very hard to put down. The narrative of the training, deployment, battle, wives back at Fort Benning, battle, deaths and death notifications by cab drivers, and the stupidity of the leadership that lead to the second battles terrible losses.

We Were Soldiers Once and Young is terrific book!

I was in junior high school when the battle of Ia-Drang took place. I remember it vividly. My dad had returned months earlier from his first duty in Viet-Nam. I was living in a military family on a military base. I watched soldiers march to and from training daily from my school’s playground.

I can still vividly recall the CBS evening news story with Walter Cronkite discussing the impact of all the deaths on Fort Benning and Columbus, Georgia. I wish I had read this before I served as a US Army Infantry platoon leader.

Buy it, read it, and keep it in your library.

Remembering General H. Norman Schwarzkopf

General H. Norman SchwarzkopfI am remembering General H. Norman Schwarzkopf by republishing a review I did a number of years ago of his autobiography.  I first read this book in 1995. I have read it once since. “It Doesn’t Take a Hero” by H. Norman Schwarzkopf takes its title from a quote Schwarzkopf gave during an interview with Barbara Walters in 1991; “It Doesn’t Take a Hero to order men into battle. It takes a hero to be one of those men who goes into battle.”

First, I must admit I am a Schwarzkopf fan. He commanded the 1st Brigade, 9th Infantry Division as a colonel while I was serving as a 1LT in the 9th Division. His third child (son) was born about two hours after my first son at Madigan Army General Hospital. We spent time in the Army hospital delivery room together. Our wives were in beds besides each other in the hospital ward. We were on a first name basis. He called me lieutenant and I called him sir. Prior to his arrival at Fort Lewis he had been the assistant commander of the 172nd Infantry Brigade (Alaska Brigade). The 172nd Infantry Brigade’s commander he served under was Major General Willard (Will) Latham who Schwarzkopf called the toughest general in the US Army. I have been an acquaintance of MG Latham’s for 40 years. Latham’s son Mark was a class mate of mine at University of Texas at Arlington (UT Arlington). Will Latham and I are active members of the Corps of Cadet Alumni Council Board at the UT Arlington. I have discussed Schwarzkopf and Schwarzkopf’s book with Latham. I also am a contributor to the Wikipedia article H. Norman Schwarzkopf.

Schwarzkopf came from an upper middle class family, his father was a West Point graduate, head of the New Jersey state police (who later led the hunt for the Lindbergh kidnappers), and served President Roosevelt on a special assignment in Iran. They lived in the best house in their town, and even employed a maid, but there was a dark family secret… his mother’s alcoholism. His experiences in the Middle East in Iran as a young man, where he lived with his general father, gave him a unique insight into the Arab world that served him personally, and the coalition as a whole. He went to boarding schools in the middle-east and in Switzerland. This helped him develop the cultural understanding and build some relationships that he would later call on during the Gulf War. He was a military brat just like me.

The part of the book that deals with his duties in Vietnam is interesting. He expresses the popular hindsight viewpoint against the stupidity and arrogance of the politicians and ‘Brass’ who ordered young men to lay down their lives in that far away land for no good reason. He became convinced that he had to do something to change the army from within; it was either that or he resigns his commission.

His role in leading the rescue of the medical students in Grenada is extremely interesting. It provided him with lessons that were applied during the Gulf War.

The most interesting part of the book is his telling of the Gulf War, Desert Storm. It is probably true to say that without “Stormin’” Norman, there wouldn’t have been a, successful, Gulf War. He was able to play on the links his father had with Arab Royalty, and then forged his own links with the current Saudi Royal Family, working with Crown Princes on a first name basis to get things done, everything from releasing endless millions of dollars in payments to the US – what is the daily rental on an aircraft carrier?! – to arranging for “tent cities” to be erected to shield the incoming troops from the scorching desert sun.

The most interesting aspect of the Gulf War section was the politics of the coalition, especially in the Arab world, something that was almost completely missing in Colin Powell’s memoir. In this crucial, although mostly unknown area of the War, Schwarzkopf’s experiences in the Middle East were invaluable. Middle Eastern politics are a lethal mine field at the best of times – us Brits have had our fingers burnt on more than one occasion over the years! – and pouring hundreds of thousands of free thinking, free drinking, Western troops of endless religious and moral persuasions into the autocracy that is the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, should have been a recipe for utter disaster!

Schwarzkopf’s deft handling of the endless ‘difficulties’ involving religious services, the consumption of alcohol, the reading of magazines of dubious ‘artistic’ merit, even the receiving of Christmas cards and the erection of Christmas decorations, were handled with a skill and subtlety that one would not have thought a mere ‘soldier’ possible. And then of course there was the Israeli question. The one thing above all else that would have blown the coalition apart would have been Israel attacking Iraq in retaliation for the Scuds that fell on Israeli territory. Although much of the efforts to keep Israel out of the action were handled direct from Washington, Schwarzkopf’s handling of the Saudi’s in particular, on the ground as it were was masterful.

“It Doesn’t Take a Hero” is a fascinating tale, a real inspiration; it shows what one man can achieve through clear thinking, a positive attitude, boundless enthusiasm, and a profound love, not only of his own country, but of mankind. I would recommend it highly.

Thank you General H. Norman Schwarzkopf for your service to our country.

Steel My Soldiers’ Hearts: The Hopeless to Hardcore Transformation of the U.S. Army, 4th Battalion, 39th Infantry, Vietnam by David Hackworth

Steel My Soldiers’ Hearts: The Hopeless to Hardcore Transformation of the U.S. Army, 4th Battalion, 39th Infantry, Vietnam by Col. (Retired) David H. Hackworth and his wife Eilhys England. The book is about David Hackworth. It is memoir about his time in Viet-Nam in the spring of 1969. He embodies both the best and the worst of US Army officers. He is a hard-charging, mission-oriented, and motivational officer. He demands excellence from the men under his command. He suffers the hardships they do. He is also quite egotistical and hubris can describe his self-confidence that borders on attitude of self love.

The book is about the U.S. Army’s 9th Division (my old unit ), 4th Battalion, 39th Infantry (I was in 2nd Battalion, 47th Infantry), Vietnam. This book is about Hackworth’s transformation of a what he viewed as a combat-ineffective battalion of draftees that he lead into a solid American fighting unit. The story is a good case study of leadership. The descriptions of combat operations contained in the book are some of the best I have read since “We Were Soldier Once … and Young”.

I highly recommend the book to those interested in military history or Vietnam War history. David Hackworth relates a narrative about himself. It is a good story of the men in the 4th Battalion, 39th Infantry that deserves to be read. Read in November 2005.

US Army Infantryman in Vietnam 1965 – 73 by Kevin L. Lyles and Gordon L. Rottman


US Army Infantryman in Vietnam 1965 – 73 by Kevin L. Lyles and Gordon L. Rottman tells the compelling story of the average United States Army infantryman in Vietnam. Beginning with conscription, enlistment, Basic Training, and Advanced Individual Training at the Armed Forces Induction Center at Fort Polk, Louisiana (the infamous “Tigerland”), it goes on to explore the day-to-day realities of service in Vietnam, from routine tasks at the firebase to search-and-destroy missions, rocket attacks, and firefights in the field. Weaponry, clothing, and equipment are all described and shown in detailed color plates. A vivid picture of the unique culture and experiences of these soldiers emerges – from their vernacular to the prospect of returning to an indifferent, if not hostile, homeland. The contents include: chronology, conscription, training, appearance, equipment, barracks life, on campaign, experience in battle, belief and belonging, aftermath, museums and collections, glossary, and a good bibliography Read by Jimmie A. Kepler.

Viet-Nam 1968-1969: A Battalion Surgeon’s Journal by Byron E. Holley, M.D.

Viet-Nam 1968-1969: A Battalion Surgeon’s Journal by Byron E. Holley, M.D. is gritty, gutsy, and grueling. It is the true story of a surgeon’s experience on the bloody battlefields of Vietnam. Holley spent the longest years of his young life as an infantry surgeon, living like a swamp rat in the Mekong Delta. In a land torn by generations of bloodshed, he witnessed firsthand the heartbreaking courage of the men who fought and died in a terrible war. Read and reviewed by Jimmie A. Kepler.

Jungle in Black by Steve Macguire


Jungle in Black is the memoir of Steve Maguire. McGuire was a young, gung-ho, Airborne Ranger who lead a 9th Infantry Division battalion Reconnaissance Platoon in the 6th Battalion, 31st Infantry in the Mekong Delta. The story opens with drawn-out and generic combat descriptions that lead up to Maguire’s wounding. The rest of the book covers his treatment. We learn that an exploding Vietcong mine blinded him for life. This is an honest first-person account that never wallows in self-pity. Unfortunately, he in no way offers enough background about his life to round out his person. He missed the mark with his book. He paints a broad description of the early stages of rehab. The description covers the usual male boasting, lust for nurses and hopes dashed by physicians not healing or restoring his sight. He fails to feature how he coped with his loss of sight and earned a doctorate in psychology (not mentioned until in an epilogue). This could have been a very inspirational and motivational story; instead it’s just another war story memoir.