Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Book Recommendations

Book Recommendation: Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War by Karl Marlantes
I have had this excellent novel on my shelf for some time, but put off reading it due to the length. Recently, I ran into a friend, a retired Army LtCol, who suggested I read it and tell him what I thought. He found it discouraging that so many screwed up officers were depicted. So I read it. Like the author, I am a Vietnam vet; however, I was doubly fortunate. First, the Corps decided---I wasn't asked in 64--that I was going to be a Radio Relay Tech and sent me to electronics school. That meant while I was with an infantry regiment, the 26th Marines at Khe Sanh, I was with Rgt. HQ for my time in Vietnam, except for a month when my team was assigned to the Combined Action Company in Khe Sanh Ville. Secondly, Khe Sanh was pretty quiet in 1967 when I was there; I rotated home on September 10th, about four months before Tet, when things got interesting. (They was scared to attack while I was there!) So my combat experience was mostly hugging the ground at Da Nang, or Phu Bai and praying one of the incoming rockets or mortars didn't drop on me. Lt. Marlantes, conversely, was a line company infantry officer. He holds the Navy Cross, three other medals for valor and two purple hearts. This more than attests that he was in more "shit sandwiches" than are depicted in his novel. So I have not the experience to judge the accuracy of his descriptions of ground combat in the bush, but they have the ring of absolute truth to me. There is a helpful glossary at the end for the non-vet, which I didn't need, though some terminology had changed between my time and his. The thing I found most surprising was the level of racial tension depicted. In my time, there was some on Okinawa before I went down to Nam. I was in an outfit where a black staff Sergeant Russell was, I felt, marginalized by the other senior NCOs due to his race (comments were made) and I thought he was the best NCO they had. And there was a place called Four Corners where white Marines did not dare to go on liberty. But I saw none of it at Khe Sanh in 67, and Marine buddies, black and white who were grunts told me that it was nonexistent in the line companies at the time. Everyone was too busy killing NVA and trying to stay alive. But I don't doubt Marlantes. By the time I got to Lejeune in 68, things were worse there and I heard they were much worse after I got out.
            The thing that struck me about this novel was that I kept wishing those PC elitists who feel all warm and fuzzy about lobbing for women in combat should read it and imaging their daughters--or themselves--in one of the assaults by Bravo Company depicted in this book. But they won't, and their kids will never serve. Other folk's kids will die so they can feel good about being for equality. I highly recommend this book. And yes, Colonel, the Marine Corps has some great officers and NCOs I'd follow anywhere, and some not worth what we paid them. Just like other walks of life.

Book Recommendation: Great Marines of Virginia: Great Marines Book Series, Volume 1 by Meriwether Ball 

Having read and enjoyed Meriwether Ball's interesting book "The Puller Chronicles," I was delighted to get a copy of her latest book. This is a selection of short, well-written biographies of Marine icons--and Marines who should be icons--who were raised or lived in Virginia. It will be of interest to all Marines and military historians, and should stimulate interest in digging further into the lives of these Marines, especially those with heroic experiences who are little known today. I look forward to her next book. (I'm sending her my bio in case she gets around to doing a book called "Average Marines who did Nothing Special.")

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