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

December 2002
BOOKS IN REVIEW
   
 

An Almost Unknown Military Genius:
USAF Col. John Boyd

BY MARC LEEPSON


The world’s two most influential military strategic thinkers, historians agree, are the Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu (c.500–320 B.C) and the Prussian General Carl Phillip Gottfried von Clausewitz (1780-1831). In John Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War (Little Brown, 496 pp., $27.95), Robert Coram makes a case that hitherto virtually unknown U.S. Air Force Colonel John Boyd (1927-97) stands in their lofty company.

Boyd was a brilliant and blazingly eccentric man. He was a crackerjack jet fighter pilot, a visionary scholar, and an innovative military strategist. Among other things, Boyd wrote the first manual on jet aerial combat, was primarily responsible for designing the F-15 and the F-16 jet fighters, was a leading voice in the post-Vietnam-War military reform movement, and shaped the smashingly successful U.S. military strategy in the Persian Gulf War. His writings and theories on military strategy remain influential today.

Boyd also was a brash, combative, iconoclastic man who made enemies (and fiercely loyal acolytes) everywhere he went. His strange, mercurial personality did not mesh with a military career, and Boyd was in constant trouble during his 24 years in the Air Force (1951-75). Coram’s worthy biography is throughly researched, detailed, and reads well.

HOMERIC INTERPRETATION

Jonathan Shay, a longtime VA psychiatrist and Tufts Medical School professor, also is a Homeric scholar. In his book, Achilles in Vietnam, Shay compared and contrasted the war and postwar experiences of the legendary Greek hero and Vietnam veterans. In his latest book, Odysseus in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming (Scribner, 352 pp., $24), Shay uses a similar technique to examine the age-old problem of how serving in a war affects the psychological well being of those who were closest to combat. You don’t have to have a working knowledge of The Odyssey to understand all that Shay presents. Nor do you have to be familiar with the ins and outs of PTSD among Vietnam veterans. But it wouldn’t hurt.

NONFICTION IN BRIEF

Charlene Edwards, whose husband is a Vietnam veteran, has put together a unique, powerful book, Voices from Vietnam (Journeys, 264 pp., $40, hardcover; $25, paper), a collection of her photographs of Americans and Vietnamese, along with first-person interviews. Edwards augments her first-class photography with evocative photos of her subjects during their Vietnam-War days. She tells many stories, many of them moving, of people on all sides of the conflict. For more information go to www.voicesfromvietnam.com

Sen. John McCain’s new book, Worth the Fighting For (Random House, 396 pp., $25.95), written with his longtime aide Mark Slater, begins in 1981, eight years after he was released from the Hanoi Hilton. In that memorable year McCain retired from the Navy, his father--Adm. Johns S. McCain, Jr., who was the Commander-in-Chief of Navy operations in the Pacific when he son was held by the North Vietnamese - died, and the son embarked on his political career. The latter is the main subject of this readable, informing memoir.

Sen. McCain has a role in Gregory A. Freeman’s Sailors to the End: The Deadly Fire on the USS Forrestal and the Heroes Who Fought It (Morrow, 320 pp., $254.95), an excellent recounting of the July 1967 disaster on the aircraft carrier in Yankee Station in the Tonkin Gulf in which 134 sailors were killed and 150 injured after a Zuni rocket went off on deck and hit McCain’s A-4 Skyhawk. Freeman, a former AP reporter, tells the story well, including how many of the Forrestal survivors have suffered emotionally in the years since the disaster.

Mitchell B. Lerner’s The Pueblo Incident: A Spy Ship and the Failure of American Foreign Policy (University of Kansas, 408 pp., $34.95) examines the January 1968 seizure by North Korea of the American intelligence-gathering ship just outside its territorial waters. Lerner, an Ohio State University history prof, combines research with interviews of former Pueblo crewmen in this detailed, smoothly written account.

The Real Lessons of the Vietnam War (Carolina Academic Press, 507 pp., $60), edited by John Norton Moore and Robert F. Turner, is made up primarily of papers given at a 2000 Vietnam War conference at University of Virginia Law School where Moore and Turner teach. Many of the papers are from top Vietnam War scholars, including Jeffrey Record, the late Douglas Pike, Gary D. Solis, and Michael Lind. The book also includes a VVA-bashing paper by B.G. Burkett.

Philip Gutzman’s Vietnam: A Visual Encyclopedia (PRC/Sterling, 448 pp., $24.95, paper) is an A-Z accounting of the Vietnam War filled with hundreds of color and black-and-white photographs to back up the short, concise entries. Gutzman is a multiple-tour Vietnam veteran. The worthy third edition of American Naval History: An Illustrated Chronology of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, 1775-Present (Naval Institute, 408 pp., $55, hardcover; $38.95), edited by Jack Sweetman is presented chronologically. The bulk of the entries from 1964-75 deal in detail with the prime events involving Navy and Marine sea, air, and land operations in the Vietnam War.

The Twenty-Five Year Century (University of North Texas, 448 pp., $32.95) is former ARVN Gen. Lam Quang Thi’s look at the war. Gen. Lam fought for the French against the Viet Minh and was a top ARVN commander during the American War. His book offers a strong anticommunist viewpoint and contains a sharp attack against the American news media for practicing "one-sided journalism."

Samuel Brantley’s muscularly written Zero Dark Thirty (Hellgate, 288 pp., $15.95, paper) is the story of his unique and momentous Vietnam War tour and his rocky homecoming. Brantley enlisted in the Marines and fulfilled a life-long ambition by qualifying as a jet fighter pilot. He flew A4s into North Vietnam dodging SAMs and coming out unscathed. Then, in a strange quirk of fate, he found himself on the ground as a Forward Air Controller in firefight after firefight. Brantley evokes his Marine training, his amazing tour of duty and his extreme readjustment difficulties well.

Daniel Ellsberg gives his version of his notable life in the very long, very detailed, and quite well written and revealing Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers (Viking, 498 pp., $29.95). This is the place to look if you hanker to know how Ellsberg went from warhawk Marine to the man the spilled the beans about U.S. Vietnam War policymaking by spearheading the copying and distribution of the secret military history of the war known as The Pentagon Papers.

Three Australian university professors - Jeff Doyle, Jeffrey Grey, and Peter Pierce - have put together Australia’s Vietnam War (Texas A&M University, 218 pp., $39.95) a top-notch collection of incisive and insightful essays that cover many aspects of the subject, including the antiwar movement, the veterans movement, Australia’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and the literature of the war.

Retired Army Gen. E.M. Flanagan, Jr.’s Airborne: A Combat History of American Airborne Forces (Ballantine/Presidio, 496 pp., $27.95) contains only a seven-page chapter on the Vietnam War. That chapter deals mostly with the war’s only combat jump, which took place in February 1967 when the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Airborne Infantry Regiment of the 173rd Airborne Brigade went after suspected VC headquarters north of Tay Ninh during Operation Junction City.

TANS: The TANS Collection, Volume I (Writer’s Showcase, 210 pp., $14.95, paper) is a compilation, edited by John Klawitter, of recollections of a group of undercover Army Security Agency operatives, mainly dealing with the Vietnam War. That includes Dennis St. Germaine’s evocative "The Best Can of Beer I Ever Had," which tells of a memorable can of warm Schlitz he consumed one hot day in the field in Vietnam.

VVA plays a small role in Eric Hamburg’s JFK, Nixon, Oliver Stone and Me (PublicAffairs, 305 pp., $26), a memoir of his time as a legislative aide on Capitol Hill and as a Stone-affiliated Hollywood producer. Hamburg met Stone at VVA’s 1987 National Convention when we gave awards to Hamburg’s then boss, U.S. Sen. John Kerry, and to Stone. Kerry and Hamburg had been friends of VVA, helping get our congressional charter and working hard on VVA’s top legislative priority in the mid-eighties, Judicial Review. He characterizes VVA as "a very enlightened and progressive group of veterans."

In Armed Conflict: The Lessons of Modern Warfare (Ballantine/Presidio, 269 pp., $17.95, paper) active duty Army Capt. Brian Steed deconstructs five American military battles with an eye toward how they apply to future wars. One is the Battle of LZ Albany during the November 1965 Battle of the Ia Drang Valley. Steed says one big problem of that battle was "the lack of preparedness at the grand strategy level for the acceptance of so many casualties."

R.J. Sinsigalli’s Chopper Pilot: Not All of Us Were Heroes (Turner Publishers, 192 pp., $24.95) is a memoir of his two tours as a helicopter pilot with the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment. Tom Lacombe’s Light Ruck: Vietnam 1969 (Loft Press, 240 pp., $20, paper) is a memoir of the author’s tour of duty as a rifleman with the 4th Infantry Division in the Central Highlands of South Vietnam.

A handful of The 50 Greatest Letters from America’s Wars (Crown, 242 pp., $20) edited by David H. Lowenherz are from the Vietnam War. That includes a missive from CWO Bruce McInnes of the 155th Assault Helicopter Co. to his mother, dated July 20, 1969, and the final letter, written by Eleanor Wimbish to her son William R. Stocks in 1984 and left at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Jerald W. Berry and Joe R. Alexander’s The Stand Alone Battalion: A Pictorial Chronology of the 3-506 Vietnam Odyssey (1967-1971) (Scott Company, paperback) is a reader-friendly, scrapbook-like look at Alexander and Berry’s old Vietnam War outfit, the 3rd of the 506th of the 101st Airborne Division. For more info, go to www.currahee.org David Chananie’s Not Yet at Ease: Photographs of America’s Continuing Engagement with the Vietnam War (Capturelife Press, 153 pp., $59.95) contains black-and-white wartime photos and a collection of Chananie’s evocative color photos shot at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

My Vietnam: Photographs by Australian Veterans of the Vietnam Conflict (My Vietnam Trust, 198 pp., $59.95) is a collection of mostly color photographs taken in Vietnam during the war by our Aussie allies. It’s the work of Stephen Lewis, who did a 1967-69 Vietnam War tour and today runs a graphic arts business. For more info, go to www.myvietnam.com.au

New in paperback reprints: Decent Interval (University Press of Kansas, 590 pp., $24.95), Frank Snepp’s heralded tale of the CIA’s handling of the end of the war, with a new introduction by Gloria Emerson, and Gen. Bruce Palmer, Jr.’s The 25 Year War: America’s Military Role in Vietnam (University Press of Kentucky, 236 pp., $19), in which the former Field Force II commanding general provides a thorough analysis of the conflict from his high-ranking vantage point.

PTSD THRILLER

Robert Mooney’s first novel, Father of the Man (Pantheon, 228 pp., $23), is a well-crafted, ambitious tale that melds serious writing with the conventions of the thriller.

The plot deals with the quest of a seriously emotionally troubled man, Dutch Potter, to come to terms with his beloved only son’s disappearance in the Vietnam War. The time is 1982. Dutch has a classic case of PTSD stemming from his horrific World War II experiences.

One morning Dutch dresses up in his World War II uniform, arms himself with his 1940s weapons and hijacks his own city bus. He demands that the government turn over his long-missing son in exchange for freeing his seven innocent civilian prisoners.Father of the Man satisfies. The plot is clever and riveting. The climax is surprising and believable. The characters are well drawn.

FICTION IN BRIEF

Richard H. Dickinson’s The Silent Men (Rugged Land, 302 pp., $19.95) is a fast-paced in-country Vietnam War novel that tells the thriller-like tale of several snipers, two Americans, and a North Vietnamese. It was odd reading the intimate details of the snipers at work at a time when the Washington, D.C. area was the target of random snipers. It was also odd reading a Vietnam War novel in which one of the heroes is a smart, competent, moral, brave Army general.

Michael McGarrity’s seventh novel, The Big Gamble (Dutton, 272 pp., $23.95), has Vietnam veterans in two key roles: as a murder victim and as one of the detectives who discovers his killer. The dead vet is a down-on-his-luck guy; the cop is Santa Fe, N.M., Police Chief Kevin Kerney. The plot of this undistinguished procedural has Kerney solving half the crime and his biological sun, a small-town cop, solving the other.

   

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