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There has been an explosion in the number of books about the Vietnam War since it became politically correct to discuss it. Some of these books are better than others. Some are outright garbage. Since I have purchased and read a ton of these books over the last few years I thought it might be appropriate to provide my humble opinions as to which are worth the price. The opinions expressed are mine alone, and do not reflect the opinions of the U.S. Army, the Newport Harbor Yacht Club, or the Government of Bolivia.
Bury Us Upside Down: The Misty Pilots and the Secret Batlle for the Ho Chi Minh Trail
Rick Newman and Don Sheppard
Presidio Press Inc.
New York, NY
"Misty" was the call sign for the fast Forward Air Controllers (FACs) who flew F-100 Super Sabres over the Ho Chi Minh Trail instead of the slower O-1 Bird Dogs used in South Vietnam. The reason for using the F-100 was that the NVA had so much anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) over North Vietnam and Laos that is was suicidal to be flying low and slow in the O-1. While the F-100 was faster, it was none-the-less vulnerable to AAA and many Misty pilots were lost over the trail. Some were rescued alive, some were not and their remains never located.
One of the authors, Don Sheppard, was himself a Misty FAC, and you may know him as a consultant for CNN on matters pertaining to the military. His analysis is usually spot-on, as most veterans will be able to tell from listening to him. Welcome home, Don.
This is a well written, suspense-packed book. It's the kind you read in one sitting because it's hard to put down. It is chock full of information that I'm certain even veterans of the Trail campaign and missions into Route Pack 1 will be eager to learn. Even though I served in Vietnam, and witnessed valor on an almost daily basis, reading of the courage displayed by the Misty pilots, the fighter-bomber pilots, and the Search and Rescue (SAR) pilots of the Jolly Green Giants and A1-E "Sandys" makes me wonder where America gets such men. Had these men been given the proper support and more realistic Rules of Enagagement (ROE) there is little doubt that the Ho Chi Minh Trail would have been shut down almost completely as a supply route and infiltration route for the NVA and many soldiers who eventually died in Vietnam would have come home safely. Unfortunately, the restrictive, non-sensical rules laid down by Robert McNamara and Lyndon Johnson doomed these fine aviators to labor in vain.
I highly recommend this book.
Where We Were In Vietnam:
A Comprehensive Guide To The Firebases, Military Installations, and Naval Vessels of the Vietnam War
Michael P. Kelly
Central Point, OR
An exhaustively researched and astonishingly large collection of information on not only locations, but unit information and anecdotal information from veterans of the units. Extremely well organized, with reproduced maps starting with small scale maps and drilling down to large scale maps. Valuable information on ordering maps from USGS and obtaining documents from the National Archives, the National Personnel Center, and other historical sources. Extensive glossary of terminology used in the military and particularly in Vietnam during the war. The book is large-format (8 1/2 x 11 inches), and has 848 pages with over 16,000 entries. It lists landing zones, fire support bases, logistics bases, base camps, ports, airfields, and even U.S. Naval vessels. The UTM grid coordinates are listed for every ground installation listed in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.
This book was written by a Vietnam combat veteran with D/1st/502nd Infantry, 101st Aibrone Division, Mike "M-60" Kelley, who is also an accomplished artist, producing exquisite images of the Vietnam War.
If you are doing research on the Vietnam War this book is a must-have. Even if you're just curious about where you were this is a book you should own. It has become the most dog-eared book in my library.
Vietnam Order of Battle:
A Complete Illustrated Reference to U.S. Army Combat and Support Forces in Vietnam 1961-1973
Shelby L. Stanton
Stackpole Military Classics
Mechanicsburg, PA 17055
This is the definitive reference on the Order Of Battle for not only the United States Army Vietnam, but also for Air Force, Navy, and Marine Units in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. Extensively illustrated and filled with maps, charts and graphs which help to make sense of the complicated overall picture of U.S. forces in the region. Stanton is arguably one of the best historians of the Vietnam War. If you are doing research on the Vietnam War this is another must-have book.
Street Without Joy
Bernard B. Fall
Written by Bernard Fall, the well-known French jounalist, and orignally titled "Le Rue Sans Joie", this book was first published in 1961. It was required reading in my high school World Culture course and I read it before going to Vietnam. I had no idea at the time that I would be patrolling the very places Fall describes. But when I arrived on Highway QL19 in the Central Highlands I saw the graves of the French tankers and infantrymen who belonged to Groupement Mobile 100, the unit that was ambushed repeatedly along Highway QL19 in 1954. Fall's account of these ambushes was chilling when I first read this book, and they are even more chilling over 40 years later. The book has been re-published and is a must read for anyone doing research on the Vietnam War in the Central Highlands, or anyone who wants to know what happened to the French in Vietnam. It's too bad Robert McNamara never read this book. Had he read it he might have warned LBJ not to "...mess with the east..." as Rudyard Kipling wrote. It's fortunate that someone in the U.S. Army Vietnam read this book, since the defoliation of the entire length of Highway QL19 prevented the the NVA from conducting type of close-in ambushes the Viet Minh used against the French.
We Were Soldiers Once...And Young - Ia Drang: The Battle That Changed The War In Vietnam
Lieutenant General Harold G. Moore (Ret.) and Joseph L. Galloway
New York, NY ISBN 0-679-41158-5
I've been ambushed and survived and this book evoked some chilling memories. If you don't develop a deep sense of admiration for infantrymen and helicopter pilots after reading this book, your reading comprehension is zero. This is one of those books that you read from cover to cover at one sitting. It is that compelling.
If you only read one book about the Vietnam War, read this one. It is one of the few books that imparts a genuine feel for what it was really like in the field.
Dak To: America's Sky Soldiers In South Vietnam's Central Highlands
Edward F. Murphy
Pocket Books Division of Simon & Schuster Inc.
1230 Avenue of the Americas
Excellently written book that, while rich in detail, is fast paced and an interesting read. The book covers the battles of the 1967 Dak To campaign and includes the fights for Hills 530, 664, 724, 823, 830, 875, 882, and 1338 (the Battle of the Slopes). The section on the battle for Hill 875 is extensive and like the descriptions of the other battles, downright chilling.
This is a must read for every veteran of the Dak To campaigns and anyone who wants to know what combat in the triple-canopy rain forest of the Central Highlands was like.
Pleiku: The Dawn of Helicopter Warfare in Vietnam
St. Matin's Press
175 Fifth Avenue
Well written and thoroughly researched, this book details the Pleiku Campaign conducted by the 1st Cavalry Division in 1965-1966. It provides a great amount of detail and includes the battles of the Ia Drang. Many excellent maps. Very entertaining in addition to being educational.
This book is a good companion to "We Were Soldiers Once and Young" by Hal Moore.
Anatomy of a Division: The 1st Cav in Vietnam
Shelby L. Stanton
666 Fifth Avenue
This book covers the operations of the 1st Cavalry Division in the Ia Drang Valley, Binh Dinh Province, and in the I Corps area around Hue. A detailed and fascinating read which details the many battles fought by the 1s Cav, with emphasis on the excellent work done by the First Team in Binh Dinh province. Many excellent maps and charts.
Green Berets at War: U.S. Army Special Forces in Southeast Asia 1956-1975
Shelby L. Stanton
Fascinating read and one of Stanton's best works. Very detailed accounts of Special Forces A-Teams operating with 200-man CIDG strike force teams at some of the remotest locations in Vietnam and Laos. The book fills in many of the unknown details surrounding the amazing work done by the 5th Special Forces Group in Vietnam. As with most Stanton books on the Vietnam war, this one is loaded with good maps and charts listing details of Special Forces organization and equipment.
Rangers at War: LRRPs in Vietnam
Shelby L. Stanton
While the writing and research of this book are as good as Stanton's other books on the Vietnam War, this one has very little to work with. Apparently the LRRPs reputation far exceeded their actual accomplishnents. Without doubt it took great courage to be a member of a small recon team inserted deep into hostile territory, but there is very little in the way of substantive results from all but one or two of these heroic patrols. Judging from the book, just about every LRRP team was discovered shortly after being inserted and had to be extracted almost immediately. There are no instances cited in the book in which a LRRP team was able to pinpoint a large NVA force or base camp and have air strikes called down on them or maneuver battalions inserted to close with and destroy them. While the Army intelligence staffs could no doubt infer from the hostile receptions the LRRPs received that there were NVA in the vicinity, it seems very little in the way of substantive intelligence was gathered as a result of these missions. Many LRRPs died in these operations and it seems that no one figured out that inserting them via a noisy helicopter was almost certain to attract the attention of the unsavory elements in the neighborhood.
B.G. Burkett and Glenna Whitley
Verity Press Inc.
P.O. Box 50366
If reading this book does not make you angry, then you are a saint. The authors expose an extraordinary number of "wannbes", embellishers, and outright crooks, who claim to be combat Veterans of the Vietnam War.
This is a must read for every Vietnam Veteran. It should be a must read for the Veteran's Administration as well, since they are freely distributing 100% PTSD and Agent Orange related disability payments to men who never served a day in the military, let alone in combat.
SOG: The Secret Wars of America's Commandos in Vietnam
John L. Plaster
ONYX Division of Penguin Books
375 Hudson Street
If you are squeamish or don't like scary movies, don't read this book. Plaster has the reader on the edge of their seat as he describes, in exquisite detail, some of the most harrowing combat missions performed in South Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and North Vietnam. Because the SOG missions were clouded in secrecy during the war, very little was known about how a small group of Special Forces personnel and their indigenous tribal soldiers managed to tie down over 50,000 North Vietnamese Army soldiers in a vain attempt to stop them from conducting their cross-border raids to snatch prisoners, gather intelligence on enemy strength, location, and disposition, and in general create as much mayhem as they could. Well documented and extremely well written, and a must-read for anyone doing research into the Vietnam War.
Semper Fi Vietnam: From Da Nang to the DMZ, Marine Corps Campaigns, 1965-1975
Edward F. Murphy
Extremely readable, fast paced history of the U.S. Marines in Vietnam. Covers not only the well known battles such as Khe Sanh and Hue, but a lot of other battles fought by the Marines in I Corps that never made the papers but which tell a story of courage, discipline, and determination which should make every Marine who served in Vietnam proud to have served. Contains several maps to help orient the reader not familiar with the locations described in the book. Covers Marine forays into the NVA's sanctuary of Laos heretofore not mentioned. Also illustrates the Marine Corps' skill in the use of tactical air and artillery support that most Army veterans will be surprised to discover (the common misconception--and I'm guilty of believing it too--was that the Marines eschewed any form of outside support and charged enemy emplacements with total disregard for casualties). The book's description of several engagements also indicates that the Marines were much better at employing armor in a direct-fire support role than their Army brothers in Vietnam.
The Hill Fights: The First Battle of Khe Sanh
Edward F. Murphy
Like his other two book this one is rich in detail and loaded with personal accounts from Marines who did the fighting. "The Hill Fights" describes the fierce battles the occurred well before the famous siege of the Marine combat base at Khe Sanh. These battles are strangely ignored by other history books covering the Vietnam War. This book describes in chilling detail the horrendous problems the Marines encountered with the early-model M-16 rifle. This is another "must-read" book whether you were a Marine or not.
Utter's Battalion: 2/7 Marines in Vietnam, 1965-66
Random House Publishing Group
If you can get past the author's extreme dislike for the United States Army in general, and the Army personnel in Qui Nhon in particular, you will find this to be an informative, well written account of Marine combat in the early years of the war in Vietnam. Detailed and well researched, although the index could be better.
Code Name Bright Light: The Untold Story of U.S. POW Rescue Efforts During the Vietnam War
George J. Veith
The Free Press
A Division of Simon & Schuster
1230 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020
$25.00US (hardcover although Barnes & Noble is giving 10% off to move them)
Despite the rather lengthy and grandiose title, this book tells little of the "untold" story, and doesn't even do a good job of telling the known story. A good example is the Son Tay Raid of 1970. Mr. Veith states: "Much has been written about the massive effort to recover American POWs in the prison raid on Son Tay...". That's about all he has to say on the subject. Apparently he feels that since "Much has been written..." he needn't write any more. You would think that there must be some truly interesting stuff that has yet to be revealed about the Son Tay Raid. Apparently, Veith has not heard of any of it.
Mason was a helicopter pilot with the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) operating from the Golf Course at Camp Radcliff outside of An Khe. His story, the background for which was accrued over the course of 1,000 missions, is fascinating. A major drawback is the fact that Mason never clearly identifies the locations of some of the incidents described in the book.
The Hidden History of the Vietnam War
The author's bio indicates that he is a "designer of combat models" and the "inventor of more than two dozen board strategy games". Nowhere does it indicate whether he served in Vietnam or even in the military. The preface indicates that most of the book is comprised of articles that first appeared in the "VVA Veteran", the monthly publication of the Vietnam Victims of America Inc., an outgrowth of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, a leftist organization whose membership roles contain few Vietnam veterans.
While the book lacks the bombastic rhetoric of most leftist books on the war, it details the author's view of the war from his vantage point at Columbia University in New York City. The author attempts to cloak his opinions in scholarly language but his anti-war sentiment seeps through in practically every paragraph. Any information that would tend to contradict his opinions is treated derisively, while any information that supports his position is treated as absolutely genuine, no matter how suspect its source.
An indication of the questionable agenda of the book is found in Chapter 18 "Profile: Tim Brown's Vietnam". The author describes a battle that occurred in Quang Tin Province on May 10, 1968 at the two Special Forces camps of Kham Duc and Ngok Tavak. Prados claims that "Before it was over the Kham Duc-Ngok Tavak affair [sic] accounted for fully five to six Americans missing in action and thirty-two killed whose bodies were never found, the highest ratio of missing for any battle in Vietnam".
In point of fact the CACF1193 database shows that there are only 12 men listed as "Killed Hostile Action, Body Not Recovered" in the province of Quang Tin on May 10, 1968.
Despite the author's claim that "The same thing happened to the Kham Duc camp itself over the next few days", a search of the CACF1193 database indicates that for the next several days, all hostile deaths in Quang Tin Province with no body recovered were confined to soldiers of the 196th Light Infantry Brigade, in engagements well away from the Kham Duc area.
Furthermore, according to the CACF1193 file, no Americans are carried as Missing In Action as a result of this battle, contary to the author's claim.
In order to cast the results of various battles in the worst possible light, Prados frequently uses the phrase "killed or wounded", as in "the unit suffered 112 killed or wounded". He does not break down the number into killed and wounded. So it is entirely possible that "112 killed or wounded" meant 1 killed, 111 wounded, of which 110 required no hospitalization. But couched in Prados' language, it is impossible to determine the results of a battle. This is possibly a deliberate device on the author's part, intended to deceive the reader into believing that most of the casualties were killed rather than wounded. "Killed" sounds better than "wounded" when you are trying to make a negative case for the outcome of a battle.
Prados mentions an attack on an ARVN bridge guard at the "Phy Ly bridge" which the author claims spanned the "Suoi Ca River" on Highway 1 near LZ Hammond. A search of the topographic map for the area (6837-3) reveals that there is no village of "Phu Ly", and that the "river" Prados refers to as the "Suoi Ca" (the term is Vietnamese for "stream") is actually the Suoi La Tinh, which crosses Highway 1 four kilometers north of LZ Hammond. The bridge guard would hardly be in a position to be "responsible for the defense of LZ Hammond" as Prados further claims.
After finding glaring errors of fact such as that detailed above, I can only conclude that the rest of the book is just as sloppily researched and therefore of little historical value.
Dirty Litttle Secrets of the Vietnam War
James F. Dunnigan & Albert A. Nofi
Thomas Dunne Books
175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 1999
ISBN: 0-312-25282-X $15.95US (paperback)
I read this book from cover to cover twice. I'll be damned if I can find even one dirty little secret of the Vietnam War. There is a large amount of statistical data, but since the authors do not use citations, there is no way to check the sources of their claims. Some of the data seems in line with other sources, but some is contadicted by the CACF1198 database in the possession of the National Archives. Most of the information in this book was well known to anyone who served in Vietnam and in places (especially the glossary) the actual amount of information is pretty sparse.
The Tunnels Of Cu Chi
Tom Mangold & John Penycate
This might well have been classified under "fiction". The authors, two Brits who seem incredibly gullible, wrote the book mostly from the perspective of the North Vietnamese. In so doing they have invented a number of engagements that simply never occurred. None of their more lurid tales are backed up by after action reports from the units involved.
An example of the silliness of this book is the authors' assertion that the VC infiltrated spies to work in the 25th Infantry Division mortuary in order to get accurate casualty statistics. In fact, the US command published accurate casualty figures weekly.
In another silly tale, the authors describe the ambush and disabling of two tanks belonging to the 1/69th Armor by an "all girl guerrilla squad". All of the girls in this merry little "band of sisters" had were rifles and they were firing at the tanks from 500 meters distance. Disabling two tanks with rifles strains credulity. No mention of this engagement appears in the after action reports for the 1/69th Armor or the 25th Infantry Division.
No mention is made, oddly enough, of the incident in which an M-48A3, from C Co 1/69th Armor, fell into a tunnel, exposing the largest tunnel complex discovered in the Cu Chi area. How they missed that one is a mystery.
The book also has a decidely anti-American bias.
Rumor of War
Despite the fact that it is about Marines (aren't you tired of hearing about how they won EVERY war single-handed?) this is one of a handful of great books about the everyday life of infantrymen in Vietnam.
The Perfect War: Technowar in Vietnam
James William Gibson
This book is full of unsubstantiated accusations of war crimes. The author never lists the unit, the date, or the names of individuals. It is full of the type of second-hand information typical of the exploitative books written about the war. It is a good bet that most of the information the author presents was gleaned from wannabes who never served a day in Vietnam of even the military. It amazes me how gullable some authors can be.
Fields Of Fire
Yet another book about Marines, but this is a truly great book. It was one of the first books to be written about the war and Webb was not only a good Marine, but he is an excellent writer as well. Thorougly engrossing reading.
Sand In The Wind
This one is about Marines also, but it is an excellent book.
The 13th Valley
John M. Del Vecchio
Finally, fiction about GIs. Want to know what life was like for a grunt in the 101st Airborne Division? Read this book. The plot is entertaining and realistic. It centers around and infantry company's patrols into the Khe Ta Laou Valley in southwest Quang Tri province. The 646 page book focuses on several members of an infantry rifle squad and offers valuable insights into what life was like not only in actual combat, but also in those welcomed-but-annoying periods when nothing was happening. The dialogue is generally good, but at times the converstations of the protagonists seems strained. Although a work of fiction, the places actually exist, and events mentioned actually occured.
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