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

May/June 2004
BOOKS IN REVIEW
 
 

The Compelling Story of a Hanoi Hilton Friendship
 

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.

This amazing 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 reporter.  

Hirsch's 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. 

NOT BEATING THE BUSHES  

The Vietnam 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 husband-and-wife authors.

He's a Hoover Institution fellow; she's a freelance writer.  

The book's 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.

Bush "came 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.''  

The war, 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.''

George W.'s 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.  

The authors 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 Florida.''   

Taking "a 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.  

FICTION IN BRIEF  

Grace F. 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.  

D.L. 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 actionand there's plenty of ittakes 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?

It's difficult to figure out, but the plot keeps moving and surprises await at the end.  

John J. 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.

Nance, the 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 www.saigonwarrior.com

Longtime VVA 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 www.diegorayle.com 

NONFICTION IN BRIEF 

Pat Moffett 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 tourextending 60 days for an early outwith 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 assthe time he was hit in the rear with shrapnel during an enemy mortar attack. 

Ray Hildreth 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 1966.

That's when 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. 

Joseph W. 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). Hirsha 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 1990and told in the present tenseof the author's 1967-68 tour as a rifleman with the Second Battalion, Fourth Marines. 

Also: John 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.                                          

 

   

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.