The Official Voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress

June/July 2002
BOOKS IN REVIEW
   
 

Mike Kelley's Indispensable New Guide To Where We All Were

REVIEWS BY MARC LEEPSON

Michael P. Kelley=s Where We Were (Hellgate, 850 pp., $39.95) lives up in spades to its subtitle: A Comprehensive Guide to the Firebases, Military Installations, and Naval Vessels of the Vietnam War, 1945-1975. Kelley, a former 101st Airborne machine gunner, has worked seven long and hard years to produce his magnum opus. The result: a remarkable book that will take its place among the indispensable reference works of the Vietnam War.  

Chances are if you served in Vietnam, you will find where you were in this amazingly detailed book. Kelley has compiled more than 10,000 entries covering the entire scope of the American War in Indochina. He=s uncovered more than 6,000 firebases and LZs, some 2,000 airfields, and more than 700 warships. He includes tons of facts and details about many of the places, including grid coordinates, the dates they were built and put into operation, and the main units who occupied them. 

Kelley, an accomplished artist and writer, also includes much helpful information in his in-depth appendices. That includes a primer on how to research the war and how to gain access to military personnel records. His also includes a glossary, abbreviations, acronyms, and minutiae appendix that alone is worth the price of admission.


HACKWORTH REMEMBERS

In Steel My Soldiers= Hearts: The Hopeless to Hardcore Transformation of the 4th Battalion, 39th Infantry, United States Army, Vietnam (Rugged Land, 516 pp., $27.95), the prolific David Hackworth (About Face, Hazardous Duty, et al.) weighs in with a long, detailed account - co-written with Eihys England - of his second tour of duty in the Vietnam War as a 39th Infantry Division battalion commander.  Hackworth describes how he turned a group of decidedly unready infantrymen into an effective fighting force mainly through his hard-core personality.  

Steel is a readable, gritty, in-the-trenches tale, dotted with clever epigrammatic prose and filled to overflowing with reconstructed dialogue. The main source is Hackworth=s memory bank, but he and England also combed through primary and secondary sources and made good use of interviews they conducted with many of his former troops.


FOUR FOR FOUR

Chuck Logan=s fourth thriller, Absolute Zero (HarperCollins, 382 pp., $24.95), is, like its predecessors, a top-notch, action-filled page-turner. Logan has shown since his 1996 debut, Hunters Moon, that he knows how to create enticing, suspenseful stories featuring over-the-top characters engaged in violent, to-the-death conflict. Logan, who served as an Army paratrooper in the Vietnam War, used the war as one theme of the first book. The others - The Price of Blood (1997), The Big Law (1999), and Absolute Zero - feature Vietnam veteran Phil Broker as the iconoclastic central character. 

In the new novel, Broker, a former undercover cop, gets involved in a strange marital squabble involving a Nam vet novelist, his young wife, her former mental patient boyfriend, and two of her male admirers. The drama starts with a backwoods Minnesota disaster and ends with an exceedingly bloody confrontation between most of the above. Broker flashes back on occasion to his war experiences in this book, which flows smoothly even as the plot gets more complicated. 


FICTION IN BRIEF 

William Hart=s Never Fade Away (Fithian, 202 pp., $12.95, paper) is a terrifically executed novel told in two voices: those of an emotionally troubled Vietnam vet college English instructor and of one of his ESL students, a young Vietnamese woman. The time is 1985-86. The place is a rundown California state college in L.A. The vet in question is having a difficult time coping with post-combat trauma and with a bullying, heartless college bureaucracy. The young woman is trying to make a life in a strange country after having survived a brutal escape by boat with her family from Vietnam. 

Michael Connelly=s City of Bones (Little, Brown, 393 pp., $25.95) is his seventh sterling detective novel featuring former Vietnam War tunnel rat Harry Bosch, a brooding, brilliant LAPD homicide investigator. This time Bosch won=t rest until he discovers the killer of a 13-year-old boy whose bones turn up in a shallow grave in the Hollywood Hills. As usual, Bosch gets into serious trouble with his uptight superiors, has a troubled love affair and fights through dark emotional times before he solves the case. The plot hums rapidly and the dialogue and characters ring true in this top-notch, satisfying novel. 

Don Truitt=s The Originals (AmErica House, 332 pp., $24.95, paper) is a bitingly funny, semi-autobiographical Vietnam War novel that follows the misadventures of a group of troops at the fictional 516th AG as they wend their way through their year in the war zone - in this case a rear area at Cam Ranh Bay. Truitt himself served a 1967-68 tour with the 518th AG. 

Longtime VVA member Dick Rose=s Moveable Forts and Magazines (1st Books, 209 pp., 11.95) is a dialogue-driven novel that looks at two Navy men - an idealistic senior chief journalist and a disaffected helicopter pilot. The time is 1968, and both men face extremely trying times as they come to grips with different aspects of the war in Vietnam. Rose, who served a Vietnam tour as a Navy combat journalist, is a former VVA chapter newsletter editor.

VVA member Bill Burnskill=s clever Symphony of Rai (Writers Club Press, 185 pp., $11.95 paper) centers around an Army veteran who is severely wounded during a training accident and is forced to leave the service. Brunskill, a college professor who teaches anthropology and writing, takes the plot into strange places involving the character=s love of music and the mythical world of Rai. 

David Crocco=s Of Honor and Dishonor (AmErica House, 174 pp., 19.95, paper) is set at West Point during the Vietnam War. The main character is a nave patriotic guy from Chicago who goes to the U.S. Military Academy in 1969 and faces many difficult emotional times. Crocco himself attended West Point. 

Patricia Santana=s Motorcycle Ride on the Sea of Tranquillity (University of New Mexico, 276 pp., $19.95) is a well-crafted coming of age novel. The main character is a teenaged girl living with her large Mexican-American family in San Diego in 1969. Among her travails: dealing with her favorite brother who comes home from Vietnam severely traumatized. Santana actually describes this sad character as a time bomb getting ready to explode. 


NONFICTION IN BRIEF 

Marshall L. Michel III offers a deeply researched and well-presented look at Operation Linebacker II, the all-out 1972 B-52 Christmas bombing campaign of North Vietnam, in The Eleven Days of Christmas: America=s Last Vietnam Battle (Encounter, 325 pp., $16.95, paper). Michel is a retired Air Force colonel who flew 321 combat missions in the Vietnam War, including Linebacker II. 

Former U.P.I. and Washington Post Vietnam War correspondent Arthur J. Dommen=s massive The Indochinese Experience of the French and Americans: Nationalism and Communism in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam (Indiana University, 1,172 pp., $49.95) is a well-written and cogently analyzed tome. Dommen=s Herculean effort looks at the Indochinese wars from the Indochinese perspective. In his excellent examination of the American War, for example, Dommen offers the viewpoints of the South and North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong on the conflict=s main events.  

The Vietnam War: A History in Documents (Oxford University, 176 pp., $32.95) is a reader-friendly, fact-filled look at the American War in Vietnam mainly through excerpts from dozens of documents, including formerly classified government material and lyrics from popular songs. The editors are Marilyn Young and A. Tom Grunfeld, who teach the war at the university level, and John J. Fitzgerald, a high school teacher who served as a 25th Infantry Division LT in Vietnam.

Some 1,700 U.S. Army lieutenants were killed in the Vietnam War, according to Brain Haig=s well-told section on the conflict in West Point: Two Centuries of Honor and Tradition (Warner, 304 pp., $49.95), a handsome, well-written look at the U.S. Military Academy edited by Robert Cowley. Haig reports that 273 West Point grads lost their lives in Vietnam and five earned the Medal of Honor. This worthy book includes essays by many noted authors, including David Halberstam and Wallace Terry, who offers a concise, readable history of the black experience at West Point.

The historian and author Alan Axelrod includes a meaty, fact-filled 30-page chapter examining the Vietnam War in America=s Wars: A Wiley Desk Reference (Wiley, 550 pp., $40), a book that also looks at other American conflicts from the 18th century to today.   

Bui Tin, the former North Vietnamese Army colonel and journalist who accepted the surrender of South Vietnam in 1975, but who has been an exiled critic of the Vietnamese government since 1990, puts forth his well-informed thoughts on the Vietnam War in From Enemy to Friend (Naval Institute, 181 pp., $24.95). The book is presented in a question-answer format and is translated by Nguyen Ngoc Bich.  

Robert W. Black=s A Ranger Born: A Memoir of Combat and Valor from Korea to Vietnam (Ballantine, 320 pp., $24.95) is a by-the-numbers autobiography by a much-decorated, up-from-the-ranks retired Army colonel who served honorably and well in the Korean and Vietnam Wars. The competently written book concentrates on Black=s 1967-68 Vietnam War tour when he was a senior district adviser to the South Vietnamese Army in Long An Province southwest of Saigon.

New in paper: Tom Philpott=s terrific biography, Glory Denied: The Saga of Vietnam Veteran Jim Thompson, America=s Longest-Held Prisoner of War (Plume, 457 pp., $15); Dale Andrade=s exhaustive look at the NVA=s 1972 Easter Offensive, America=s Last Vietnam Battle (University of Kansas, 528 pp., $24.95); and Lawrence Freedman=s incisive and insightful Kennedy=s Wars: Berlin, Cuba, Laos and Vietnam (Oxford University, 528 pp., $17.95). 


POETRY 

The Vietnam War and its aftermath are two themes that George Evans returns to often in his newest work, The New World (Curbstone, 95 pp., $13.95, paper), a collection of word portraits by the San Francisco-based poet. Also from Curbstone: Six Vietnamese Poets (254 pp., $15.95, paper), a collection of 81 poems edited by Nguyen Ba Chung and Kevin Bowen that deal in verse with the American war and many other Vietnamese topics. The collection=s nine translators include Bruce Weigl, the accomplished Vietnam veteran poet. 

VVA member Lawerence Mize=s second worthy collection of Vietnam War-influenced poetry, Dead Men Calling (American Literary Press, 62 pp., $12.95, paper), contains more than two dozen short poems that evoke the war well from his perspective as a 101st Airborne Division combat medic. Cracks in the Wall: Poetry and Art About the Vietnam War (63 pp., paper) is former Navy combat artist Ed Orr=s collection of word and ink portraits based on his 1967-68 Vietnam War tour. For info, e-mail VVSpyder@aol.com 

The Happy Warrior: An Anthology of Australian and New Zealand Military Poetry (Sid Harta, 524 pp., paper) contains scores of poems, including a handful from veterans of the Vietnam War. For info, go to: http://anzac.sidharta.com.

   

Visit The VVA Veteran archives
to locate back issues.

E-mail us at TheVeteran@vva.org


     Home | Membership | Publications | Events | Government Relations | Contact Us
Press Releases | Benefits | Meetings & Special Events | Collectibles | Contributions and Sponsorships | Site Index

Vietnam Veterans of America  
8605 Cameron Street, Suite 400
Silver Spring, Maryland  20910-3710
301-585-4000, Fax 301-585-0519, 1-800-VVA-1316  

Copyright 2005 by the Vietnam Veterans of America. All rights reserved.