Welcome to the Annals of Vietnam, a collection of articles, reviews, and images dealing with America's misadventures south and north of the 17th parallel. I have a particular interest in the early years, because that's when I was there as a reporter for the left-liberal magazine, The Nation, which was so financially strapped that it would even publish reports even from a Republican like me.
The University Press of Kansas has published Vietnam's High Ground, a really fine history of America's war as it was fought in the Central Highlands that made up much of the country's land mass, and that -- significantly -- also spread into Cambodia and Laos. Sparsely populated, and long shunned by the lowland Vietnamese, it was the perfect hideout and training field for North Vietnamese infiltrators all through the war. (Indeed, the first and final major battles of the war were fought in the Highlands.) Paul Harris of the British Army's academy at Sandhurst wrote the book from U.S. and Vietnamese sources, and -- a rarity in Vietnam histories -- salted it with excellent maps.
Especially good is his lengthy chapter on the battle for Landing Zone X-Ray on November 15-16, 1965. This was the incident behind Hal Moore's best-selling book, We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young, and the much-hyped Hollywood film adapted from it. (Joseph Galloway, a reporter who was present at X-Ray, is listed as co-author and no doubt did much or all of the actual writing.) It is in fact one of the best battle reconstructions I have ever read, rivaled only by S.L.A. Marshall's Pork Chop Hill.
Mr. Harris is not as impressed with then-Lt.Col. Moore's leadership as I was at the time -- Moore nearly lost a platoon as a result of his "premature and reckless" attempt to storm the Chu Pong massif. Moore's brigade was saved primarily by American artillery and aircraft muscle, even unto 96 sorties by Boeing B-52 strategic bombers from Guam. As a Brit, the author finds the US air effort "staggering in its immensity." (I was reminded of my year at the University of Manchester, where a pal had served in the Korean War. He told me in similar terms -- awe mixed with amusement -- how an American company was bothered by sniper fire, whereupon the captain called for artillery to obliterate the trees in which the sniper was hiding. In the British Army, of course, a sergeant would have detailed one man to locate and shoot the sniper.)
Equally good are Harris's account of 1st Cav's later battle at LZ Albany and his final, concluding chapter. Unlike most such summaries, that conclusion is worth reading on its own, and many readers will benefit by reading it first, as an introduction to this splendid history. But however you got about it, by all means read this book. If you can't afford it, make your library order it! Blue skies! -- Dan Ford
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Posted October 2017. Websites ©1997-2017 Daniel Ford. All rights reserved.