BOOKS IN REVIEW
The Compelling Story of a Hanoi Hilton
BY MARC LEEPSON
Among the true
American heroes of the Vietnam War are the men held prisoner by
the North Vietnamese who were brutally tortured physically and
emotionally for years on end. High on that list are Fred Cherry,
an Air Force F-104 fighter-bomber pilot and the highest ranking
black POW, and Porter Halyburton, a white Navy F-4 Phantom jet
navigator from North Carolina.
Cherry, who was severely wounded when he was shot down near Hanoi
in October 1965, was tortured unmercifully as his captors tried,
without success, to coerce him into signing antiwar statements
urging black servicemen to give up the fight. Cherry would not
have survived his ordeal without the compassionate and courageous
care he received from Halyburton, who was placed in Cherry's cell
to foster enmity between the two. Halyburton cleaned Cherry's
wounds, bathed him when Cherry was too weak to move, boosted his
morale, and provided life-saving care for nearly eight months.
story of courage, friendship, and dedication to ideals, told in
Wallace Terry's monumental oral history, Bloods (1984), is
described in depth in Two Souls Indivisible: The Friendship
that Saved Two POWs in Vietnam (Houghton Mifflin, 228 pp.,
$25) by James S. Hirsch, the author (Hurricane, et al.) and
former Wall Street Journal and New York Times
well-researched, cleanly and clearly written account chronicles
Cherry and Halyburton's lives before and after the war, but
concentrates on their day-to-day struggles in Hoa Loa Prison--also
known as the Hanoi Hilton--from 1965-73. This is a compelling
story told well.
War comes up twice in The Bushes: Portrait of a Dynasty
(Doubleday, 574 pp., $27.95) by Peter Schweizer and Rochelle
Schweizer, a well-researched, well-written, generally favorable
look at the two Bush presidents and their families. This
five-years-in-the-making multi-generational biography had the
cooperation of Bush family members and close friends, who
submitted to hundreds of hours of interviews with the
He's a Hoover
Institution fellow; she's a freelance writer.
first Vietnam War section deals with President George H.W. Bush's
time in Washington as a Texas Congressman, from 1967-71. The
authors describe a 16-day trip George Bush made to Southeast Asia,
paying for it himself, beginning in late December 1967. He met
with Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker and then went to the field,
visiting troops up and down the country, taking fire a couple of
times, and talking to pilots on an aircraft carrier off the coast.
away enormously impressed with the fighting spirit and commitment
of the American soldiers he met,'' the authors say, "and returned
convinced that the war in Vietnam was just and could be won if the
U.S. simply remained committed.'' For the rest of his term in
Congress, the elder Bush "became an evangelist in trying to
explain the merits of the American cause in Southeast Asia.''
however, divided the Bush clan, the Schweizers say. One of George
Bush Sr.'s nephews, George Walker, was an Airborne trooper in
Vietnam; another nephew, John Ellis, was active in the antiwar
movement. His son Jeb was against the war, but his son George W.
was "completely supportive of Vietnam'' and stood "firm against
the radicalism of the day.'' George W. later had second thoughts
about the war effort. He didn't become a dove, but was upset
because he felt that the war was "being poorly executed,''
according to the Schweizers. Had the future president "been called
to fight,'' they say, "there can be little doubt that George W.
would have done so. But there can also be little doubt that he had
reservations about how the war was being fought.''
longtime goal was to be a pilot, the authors say. In the spring of
1968, as he was about to graduate from Yale,"George discovered the
only real route open to him was the Texas Air National Guard.''
Exactly why the Guard was "the only real route'' is not made
clear. The authors point out that joining the Guard in 1968 was
not easy, but explain that a word from Ben Barnes, the former
Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, opened the door for
George W. On May 28, he enlisted in the Texas Air National Guard.
very briefly cover the later years of the President's National
Guard service in the early 1970s. They address the question of
whether he missed a significant number of meetings, as some
reports have alleged, saying that "records are unclear whether
Bush actually reported for duty'' in Alabama when he transferred
to the National Guard there in 1972. They report that Bush "had
other priorities during his tenure in the Guard,'' noting that he
took an eight-week leave of absence after finishing flight
training in September 1968 ``to work on a Senate campaign in
leave of absence,'' they say,"would become a regular occurrence
during his military service.'' The authors also point out that
from November 1972 to May 1973 records indicate Bush reported for
Alabama National Guard duty nine times, giving him more duty
points than he needed to maintain his standing in the Guard.
Edwards' The Viaduct (Doubleday, 260 pp., $22.95) is a
well-crafted everyman procedural. It is set in Harlem in the 1970s
and features Marin and Chance, working-class African Americans who
served together in the Vietnam War. The men's lives are going well
despite some setbacks when tragedy strikes: soon after Marin is
mugged, his newborn daughter is kidnapped. With little help from
the authorities, Marin sets out to solve the heinous crime with
Chance's help. Edwards, the author of the Mali Anderson detective
series, tells her story very well. She does a good job of evoking
the Harlem of the era, creates believable characters, and spins
out a very convincing plot.
Birchfield's Field of Honor (University of Oklahoma, 236
pp., $27.95) is a strangely plotted story starring U.S. Marine
Patrick McDaniel. A half-blood Choctaw Indian, McDaniel either
deserted under fire in Vietnam or committed an incredible act of
bravery. The actionand there's plenty of ittakes place in 1976
with McDaniel hiding out in the Ouachita Mountains in Southeastern
Oklahoma. Very weird things start to happen to him, involving a
secret Army unit and a high-tech underground Indian nation. Is
this satire, allegory, or just plain science fiction?
to figure out, but the plot keeps moving and surprises await at
Nance's Fire Flight (Simon & Schuster, 353 pp., $25) is a
thriller centering on a veteran pilot and airborne firefighter, a
dangerous conspiracy, and two romantic relationships.
author of 16 books, including ten novels, is a USAF veteran of the
Vietnam War and Operation Desert Storm. James Finnegan's CMAC:
A Vietnam Era Trilogy (I-Universe, 525 pp., $27.95, paper)
contains three novels that follow the life of a young man who is
drafted into the Army in 1966 and undergoes many adventures
serving with the Capital Military Assistance Command in Vietnam.
Finnegan did a tour with the U.S. Army Signal Corps in Vietnam.
For more info, go to
member James Rayle's autobiographical novel, Stay Out of the
Wheat Field (1st Books, 302 pp., $15.95, paper), is now
available in a new edition at online booksellers and may be
ordered at your local bookstore. Rayle tells the story of Bobby
Meyer, a draftee who goes through a tough Vietnam tour in 1970-71
and comes home to face a long and rocky emotional battlefield. For
more info, go to
volunteered for the draft in the fall of 1967. After basic
training at Ft. Jackson, the Army sent him to Infantry AIT and
then to Vietnam. He did a 1968-69 tourextending 60 days for an
early outwith the 101st Airborne. But Moffett's tour was marked
more by off-the-wall adventures than by firefights. Suffice it to
say that he put in his time behind a typewriter, as well as toting
an M-16 in and around Phouc Vinh.
Moffett, a VVA
life member, tells his wild Vietnam War story extremely well in
Fortunate Soldier (Garrison-Savanna, 300 pp., $15.95, paper).
His memoir is an engagingly written account. It is filled with
tales of intrigue, strange interludes with the populace, and one
literal giant pain in the assthe time he was hit in the rear with
shrapnel during an enemy mortar attack.
and Charles W. Sasser's Hill 488 (Pocket Books, 384 pp.,
$6.99, paper) tells the amazing story of what happened to 18 men
of Hildreth's platoon in C Company of the 1st Marine Division's
1st Recon Battalion during a three-day period in Vietnam in June
they faced off against an entire battalion of NVA regulars and VC
guerrillas. The Americans suffered 100 percent casualties (killed
or wounded) and became the most highly decorated small unit in
American military history. Their awards, some of them posthumous,
included a Medal of Honor, four Navy Crosses, thirteen Silver
Stars, and eighteen Purple Hearts.
Calloway, Jr.'s Mekong First Light (Presidio/Ballantine,
256 pp., $6.99, paper) is a well-written, thoughtful account of
the author's 19 months (December 1966-July 1968) in Vietnam,
during which he served as a platoon leader with the 9th Infantry
Division, as a tactical combat adviser with a Thai Army regiment
known as the Queen's Cobras, and with the 5th Special Forces
Group. Not bad for a guy who joined the Army, he says, "to avoid
being drafted and going to Vietnam as an infantry private.''
Calloway provides day-to-day details of his in-country tour, along
with often-perceptive analyses of the war's politics and this
country's military strategy and tactics in Vietnam.
"One of the
worst jobs in the military is being a cook. They have enemies on
both sides of the war.'' That's one of a gaggle of military yuks
in Michael Hirsh's slim Your Other Left! Punch Lines from the
Front Lines (NAL, 135 pp., $8, paper). Hirsha journalist,
author, and documentary filmmaker--served as a combat
correspondent with the 25th Infantry Division in Vietnam. If you'd
like to share your favorite military joke for the book's sequel,
e-mail him at
UniformlyFunny@hirshmedia.us Hirsh is also the author of the
far-more-serious None Braver: U.S. Air Force Pararescuemen in
the War on Terrorism (New American Library, 296 pp., $24.95),
a first-person report on his embedded experience covering the
USAF's 38th Expeditionary Rescue Squadron's search-and-rescue work
in 2002 and 2003 in Afghanistan and other areas of Central Asia.
New in paper:
James R. Ebert's A Life in a Year: The American Infantryman in
Vietnam, 1965-1972 (Presidio/Ballantine, 494 pp., $$7.50), a
worthy 1993 volume that combines interviews with some fifty former
Army and Marine ground troops with solid research to tell a
detailed, fact-crammed story of Vietnam War combat, and E. Michael
Helms's The Proud Bastards (Pocket Star, 273 pp., $6.99),
an evocatively written, very readable memoir, first published in
1990and told in the present tenseof the author's 1967-68 tour as
a rifleman with the Second Battalion, Fourth Marines.
Prados and Ray W. Stubbe's Valley of Decision (Naval
Institute Press, 551 pp., $29.95), a detailed, massively
researched study of the famous siege of Khe Sanh, first published
to justifiable acclaim in 1991. Prados is a noted Vietnam War
historian whose work often appears in this newspaper. Stubbe is a
retired Navy chaplain who was at Khe Sanh. Their combined efforts
produced what can only be described as the definitive account of
the Khe Sanh siege.