Monday, July 18, 2016

Two Book Recommendations: Khe Sanh & China

You should know that Larry Woolverton is a friend of mine, so you understand my bias. I was with HQ, 26th Marines at Khe Sanh in 1967. For most of August and the first four days of September, I had the Radio Relay Team that was TAD to Combined Action Company Oscar in Khe Sanh Ville. Since there were only two radio operators, working four on and four off, I had my RR guys and myself cover the regular radio, a PRC-25. One of the operators, probably Larry, brought us up to speed in procedure. (Radio Relay is very different.) Larry was one of the radio operators with the CAC. He saw something I'd written on the Internet a few years ago and to my delight hunted me up. By the luck of the draw, I rotated back to the states on September 10, 1967 while he was there for the start of the siege and the fight for Khe Sanh Ville in January, 1968. That said, this small book is a gem. Larry's description of boot camp and ITR is absolutely right on, though since I went through Parris Island two years earlier, small details differ. (I did live in the famous San Diego Quonset huts in 1965 while in basic electronics school, so that part brought back memories as well.) Many of the scenes he describes at Khe Sanh I was familiar with. Went he came back from Vietnam, Larry was at places I'd been before Vietnam (Little Creek/Virginia Beach and the arty school at Fort Bragg) or afterwards, (Vieques, PR twice). This is a no-embellishment, straight forward account by a Brother Marine, who thankfully lacks my loquaciousness--which will leave you wanting more...

Below the next book review I posted some pictures of mine (plus one from the air of the CAC compound) of places Larry describes in his book.

Book Recommendation: Stilwell and the American Experience in China, 1911-45 by Barbara Wertheim Tuchman 
This terrific book by the late Barbara Tuchman is a must for history and military buffs, but especially for anyone who wants to understand the overthrow of Chiang Kai-shek and the Kuomintang by the communists after the WWII. I came away with a much higher appreciation for Stilwell's military talents, sense of duty and character. He could have successfully commanded in any of the theaters of the war, but do to the fact he was a china expert and fluent in Chinese, his talents were wasted on a mission impossible in China. This is not to distract from his great accomplishments, especially given that Chiang's unchangeable strategy was to hunker down, let the Americans win the war, and not fight the Japanese, preserving the troops and materials for the fight with the communists after Japan was defeated. Given that he was afraid that the reform of the Army and increase in effectiveness of his divisions would raise a rival to overthrow him, Stilwell had no chance of developing the Nationalist Army into an effective force to fight Japan, his main objective. Chiang was so out of touch and shielded from bad news, that he had no idea how bad the corruption and deterioration of the Kuomintang forces and government were. Tuchman is a terrific writer. She has a liberal political view, but spares no one in bringing out facts and excoriating the leadership of China, Britain and the US, including FDR. This is well worth reading.

This is an aerial view of the CAC-O1 compound in the Village of Khe Sanh from the CAC Oscar Vets webpage. To the right you see the triangular "Old French Fort" defended by the Vietnamese popular forces. Just to the left of that is a white building. This was where the Comm Shack was, that Larry (and I for a month) called home. Directly below is a large brown building with white ends. This is the Buddhist Temple he discusses.

The Buddhist Temple

The Comm Bunker

Two of my three TRC-27 Radio Relay units in the Comm Bunker. Out of the picture to the left was the PRC-25 radio. Note the Aussie-style bush cover I bought from a Vietnamese that, for some reason I thought was cool at the time. I still have it. Also the thermite grenades to destroy the TRC-27 if we were overrun. (Why they NVA would have wanted out obsolete RR gear I don't know.)

I believe this was the Catholic Mission he mentions.

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