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

May/June 2003
BOOKS IN REVIEW
 
 

From All Sides: All-encompassing Vietnam War Oral History

BY MARC LEEPSON

Christian G. Appy's excellent oral history, Patriots: The Vietnam War Remembered From All Sides (Viking, 491 pp., $29.95), includes voices from just about every group of people involved in the American war in Vietnam. That includes war hawks, peace activists, Viet Cong and Vietnamese communist officials, Vietnamese anti-communists, POW/MIA activists, poets, novelists, journalists, entertainers, former government officials from all sides, and American veterans of many stripes, from privates to generals, from medics to infantrymen.

Appy spent five years interviewing 350 people here and in Vietnam. The book contains stories from about half of those. Each person appears only once, but Appy gives the participants plenty of room to tell their stories. He also provides informative introductions to each entry, along with brief, succinct chapter introductions that set them in historical context.

The book contains the remembrances of some well-known people--many who are well-known among Vietnam War cognoscenti (including VVA President Tom Corey)--and the voices of just-plain-folks who experienced the war. It all adds up to a solid contribution to Vietnam War primary-source history.

MARINES' TOUGHEST FIGHT

The vicious fighting that took place in and around Khe Sanh for more than a year before the infamous January-April 1968 NVA siege is a largely untold and important story. In The Hill Fights: The First Battle of Khe Sanh (Presidio, 304 pp., $24.95), Edward F. Murphy, the Vietnam War historian (Vietnam Medal of Honor Heroes, et al.) and Vietnam veteran, rectifies that situation.

The heart of the book consists of detailed depictions of firefights, ambushes, and other battlefield action told from the point of view of the U.S. Marines. Murphy interviewed dozens of survivors of the Hill Fights and retells their stories well. He makes a strong case that the blame for the Khe Sanh fiasco rests with Gen. William Westmoreland, who believed the enemy intended to make Khe Sanh a version of Dien Bien Phu and pushed upon the Marines wrongheaded and inadequate tactics and strategy. The situation was aggravated by the newly issued M-16 rifles, which failed with distressing regularity during the Hill Fights.

NONFICTION IN BRIEF

Francois Bizot, a French ethnologist, is the only Westerner to survive a Khmer Rouge prison camp. Bizot, who had been living and studying near Angkor since 1965, was arrested by the Khmer Rouge in October 1971. He faced death continuously for three months before being released. That experience is at the heart of Bizot's gripping The Gate (Knopf, 278 pp., $24), a bestseller in France translated by Euon Cameron. The gate in question was at the French Embassy in Phnom Penh, where Bizot served heroically as a go-between in 1975 to the KR and the Westerners who were holed up there during the height of the Cambodian holocaust that became known as the Killing Fields.

The latest look at the My Lai incident, Michal R. Belknap's The Vietnam War on Trial: The My Lai Massacre and the Court-Martial of Lieutenant Calley (University Press of Kansas, 312 pp., $35, hardcover; $15.95, paper) provides in-depth narrative and analysis. Belknap, a California Western School of Law professor who served as an Army LT in Vietnam, sees Calley's court martial as ``a trial of the army that fought the Vietnam War and ultimately of the war itself.''

Richard Pyle and Horst Faas's Lost Over Laos: A True Story of Tragedy, Mystery, and Friendship (Da Capo, 276 pp., $27.50) is a unique Vietnam War and postwar story. Former AP Vietnam correspondents Faas (a photographer) and Pyle (a reporter) tell the tale of the 1971 deaths of four war photographers--Larry Burrows, Henri Huet, Kent Potter, and Keisaburo Shimamoto--who went down in a helicopter crash in Laos. The authors also report on their recent visit to the crash site to try to recover the men's remains. It's an evocative, informative narrative and one that carries heavy emotional weight.

Dr. Hemant Thakur, a Kansas City-based physician and psychiatrist, has had great success working with Vietnam veterans suffering from PTSD. His book, Mega Mind: Path to Success and Freedom (Rutledge Books, 234 pp., $17, paper), offers a step-by-step program to success and happiness in life. Members of VVA Chapter 317 have benefited from Dr. Thakur's counseling. The chapter, in fact, has a limited number of copies of his book for sale. Write to: VVA Chapter 317, 3020 Walnut, Kansas City, MO 64108.

A. Jay Cristol, a federal judge and a former Navy JAG officer, spent 14 years investigating the June 8, 1967, Israeli Air Force and Navy attack on the USS Liberty near the Sinai coast in which 34 U.S. crew members died and 171 were wounded during the Six-day Arab-Israeli War. In The Liberty Incident: The 1967 Israeli Attack on the U.S. Navy Spy Ship (Brassey's, 295 pp., $27.50), Cristol argues that the Israelis ``identified their target as an enemy ship'' and made a ``tragic mistake.''

Larry Smith's Beyond Glory: Medal of Honor Heroes in Their Own Words (Norton, 320 pp., $25.95) is an oral history of MOH recipients from WWII and the Korean and Vietnam Wars. Former Parade magazine editor Smith includes the words of the 11 men from Vietnam, among them Alfred Rascon, former Sen. Bob Kerrey, and Adm. James Stockdale.

Manny Garcia, who served as a 101st Airborne infantryman in Vietnam in 1966-67, tells his life story, focusing on his time in the war zone, in An Accidental Soldier: Memoirs of a Mestizo in Vietnam (University of New Mexico, 278 pp., $24.95). He has produced a smoothly written, thoughtful book. Now an attorney in Utah, Garcia writes eloquently about his upbringing in southern Colorado and his severe wounding in Vietnam.

Al Sever joined the Army eight days after graduating from high school in June 1966. He was in Vietnam in April 1968, assigned to the 116th Helicopter Assault Co., where he put in a memorable one-year tour. Sever rejoined the Army in May 1970 and was almost immediately back in Vietnam as a platoon sergeant and later a crew chief with the 1st Cav's C Troop, 7th Squadron, the Blackhawks. He extended his tour and finally left Vietnam in February 1972. Sever does an excellent job detailing the events of his time in Vietnam in his readable memoir,
Xin Loi, Vietnam (Quiet Storm, 365 pp., $25.95).

Andrew P. O'Meara, Jr.'s Accidental Warrior: The Forging of an American Soldier (Elderberrry, 293 pp., $29.95) tells the story of the author's 30-year Army career, including his time in Vietnam with the 1st Cav and 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment. Robert Hopkins Miller served in Vietnam with the U.S. Foreign Service. His experiences in country and in France, where he worked on the Paris Peace talks, are at the heart of his readable memoir, Vietnam and Beyond: A Diplomat's Cold War Education (Texas Tech University, 264 pp., $36.50).

Charles J. Gross's American Military Aviation: The Indispensable Arm (Texas A& M University, 416 pp., $35) is a history of U.S. combat aviation from WWI to today. It includes an analysis of the air war in Vietnam, both fixed wing and helicopters. Gross, the chief of the Air National Guard program, served as a U.S. Air Force officer from 1964-69.

Robert McKelvey, a psychiatry professor at Oregon Health and Science University, served as a Marine Civil Affairs officer in Vietnam in 1969-70. His concern for the people of South Vietnam continues today. His latest book, A Gift of Barbed Wire: America's Allies Abandoned in South Vietnam (University of Washington, 266 pp., $26.95), tells the stories of ten former South Vietnamese government and military officials who were forced into post-1975 re-education camps along with the experiences of their families in Vietnam.

Much-honored high school history teacher James Percoco of West Springfield, Virginia, has taught the Vietnam War for many years. Two of his informed and informing books aimed both for teachers and parents deal with teaching the war imaginatively on the high school level: Divided We Stand: Teaching About Conflict in U.S. History (Heinemann, 238 pp., $19, paper) and A Passion for the Past: Creative Teaching of U.S. History (Heinemann, 149 pp., $19.50, paper).

FICTION IN BRIEF

Emmett Early provides long and deep analysis of just about every one of the myriad aspects of the cinematic images of war veterans in The War Veteran in Film (McFarland, 284 pp., $35, paper). A newsletter editor and psychologist, Early covers dozens of films, including many dealing with Vietnam veterans. He divides them into six broad categories and two dozen sub- categories. That includes veterans who refuse to fight again; fake veterans; veterans as comic figures; veterans under attack; veterans as pursuers and anti-heroes; and war veteran capers. It all makes for intriguing reading.

Michael Connelly does it again in his eighth and latest Harry Bosch detective, Lost Light (Little, Brown, 360 pp., $25.95). What he does is present an artfully written, cleverly plotted procedural starring Bosch, a tunnel rat in the Vietnam War who is now a retired LAPD detective. This time Harry gets into his usual difficulties trying to solve an old heist at a movie studio that resulted in two murders, one of a female FBI agent. Connelly tells the tale entertainingly, and Bosch comes to life again as a dedicated, obsessed, conflicted contrarian who uses his experience and brains to solve a multidimensional crime.

Dennis Mansker's A Bad Attitude (I-Universe, 635 pp., $30.95, paper) is a readable, sprawling in-country Vietnam War novel centering on a sardonic Army clerk who takes on the military establishment in 1968 in Long Binh. Mansker served as a company clerk in two Army transportation units in Vietnam in 1968-69. For more info, go to www.dennismansker.com

Ralph Wetterhahn, who wrote The Last Battle, a terrific nonfiction book about the Mayaguez incident, has weighed in with a Vietnam-War-POW-themed first novel, Shadowmakers (Carroll & Graf, 357 pp., $26). This one's an action-heavy, James Bond-type thriller with a complicated plot. It involves dastardly Russians, live POWs, dastardly North Vietnamese, a gigantic POW cover-up, dastardly Ukrainians, a heroic USAF flyboy and his intrepid scientist love interest, and dastardly American politicians, generals, and intelligence officials. Wetterhahn flew 180 Vietnam War combat missions with the Air Force and Navy.

Archer Mayor's The Sniper's Wife (Mysterious Press/Warner, 312 pp., $23.95) is a cop procedural with a clever plot and an unappealing main character. That would be the Sniper, actually a former part-time Vietnam War sniper now a Vermont detective. On the book's first page, he gets wind of his former wife's murder in New York City and sets out, in typical rogue-cop-like fashion to get to the bottom of things. He creates mayhem, naturally. Two other important characters are Vietnam veterans, a slimy former REMF, and a steely Harlem man of action who joins with our anti-hero to take the law into their own hands.

Lawrence McNally's Walk a Deadly Trail (I-Universe, 238 pp., $15.95, paper) is a riveting look at three LRRPs captured by the VC. McNally served with the Air Force Combat Security Forces in the Vietnam War. James Finnegan's SMAC: Saga of a Student Warrior (I-Universe, 203 pp., $14.95, paper), the first of a triology, shows what happened to a young man after he was drafted into the Army in 1966. Finnegan served with the U.S. Army Signal Corps in Vietnam. For more info, go to www.saigonwarrior.com

Alan R. Miller's Amigos, Musketeers and Steve McQueen (Trafford, 204 pp., $17.95, paper) is a well-written chronicle of two friends from Wisconsin who wind up in the thick of things as Marines in Vietnam. Miller served with the 9th Marines in Vietnam, where he was wounded three times. For info, go to www.trafford.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.