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Looking for a Hero

Staff Sergeant Joe Ronnie Hooper and the Vietnam War

Peter Maslowski

Publication Year: 2005

Widely acclaimed as the Vietnam War's most highly decorated soldier, Joe Ronnie Hooper in many ways serves as a symbol for that conflict. His troubled, tempestuous life paralleled the upheavals in American society during the 1960s and 1970s, and his desperate quest to prove his manhood was uncomfortably akin to the macho image projected by three successive presidents in their "tough" policy in Southeast Asia. Looking for a Hero extracts the real Joe Hooper from the welter of lies and myths that swirl around his story; in doing so, the book uncovers not only the complicated truth about an American hero but also the story of how Hooper's war was lost in Vietnam, not at home.

Extensive interviews with friends, fellow soldiers, and family members reveal Hooper as a complex, gifted, and disturbed man. They also expose the flaws in his most famous and treasured accomplishment: earning the Medal of Honor. In the distortions, half-truths, and outright lies that mar Hooper's medal of honor file, authors Peter Maslowski and Don Winslow find a painful reflection of the army's inability to be honest with itself and the American public, with all the dire consequences that this dishonesty ultimately entailed. In the inextricably linked stories of Hooper and the Vietnam War, the nature of that deceit, and of America's defeat, becomes clear.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v

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pp. 1-6

Joe was a squad leader in a unit officially designated Company D, 2nd Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, but informally known as the “Delta Raiders.” The Raiders were an unusual front-line rifle company. Hastily formed during the massive manpower buildup for Vietnam, many of its men were originally trained not as infantrymen but as...

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Chapter 1

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pp. 7-30

As a kid, Joe Hooper spent hours at the Skyline Drive-In or the Lake Theater in his hometown of Moses Lake, Washington, watching Murphy dispatch Germans in To Hell and Back, or gun down bad guys in the endless horse operas that Murphy starred in....

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Chapter 2

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pp. 31-63

Joe and his good friend Gary Foster were in Hong Kong, enjoying shore leave from the uss Hancock, and they took a taxi to the skid row area along the Kowloon waterfront, where they walked around, swilled too much cheap beer, and then got “stenciled.” Gary got two tattoos on his back, another on...

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Chapter 3

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pp. 54-84

After leaving Sandra and Robert, he moved to Burbank and spent four months doing low-end factory work in nearby Glendale. By May of 1960, he later told his childhood friend Tom Johnson, “he was bored and he didn’t have a good job and he didn’t know what he wanted to do.”...

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Chapter 4

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pp. 85-117

“He just had that charisma,” said Artillery Forward Observer Mike Watson. “Everybody just trusted him. You felt good around him. I believe if he told those guys to lay down their weapons and attack with their bare hands, they would have done it. Captain Mac was the best military leader I’ve ever seen,...

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Chapter 5

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pp. 118-159

The intercontinental movement began in mid-November 1967, when advance teams began base camp preparations at Phuoc Vinh north of Saigon for the 3rd Brigade and at Cu Chi to the northwest of the capital for the 2nd Brigade. The 25th Infantry Division, which occupied the sprawling...

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Chapter 6

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pp. 160-191

Another gi had a similar thought. After humping the boonies for dreary hours, he suddenly stopped and called to his lieutenant. With a hand encrusted in scabs, scratches, and sores, the soldier pointed to a delicate flower with soft red petals, saying, “That is the first plant I have seen today which didn’t have thorns.”1...

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Chapter 7

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pp. 192-219

What with the bright orange hunting-style vest he was wearing, Eugene “Raider Rob” Robertson looked out of place on a battlefield. But there he was on February 15 in a nasty firefight, plunking away with his m-79 grenade launcher just about as fast as he could load and aim...

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Chapter 8

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pp. 220-264

Staff Sergeant (then Sergeant) Joe R. Hooper, United States Army, distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity on 21 February 1968, while serving as squad leader with Company D, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 501st Infantry, 101st Airborne Division, near Hue, Republic of Vietnam. Company D was assaulting...

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Chapter 9

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pp. 265-305

No joy, no jubilation, not even any sense of victory pervaded the Raiders’ NDP. Dazed, trembling, and exhausted as their collective parasympathetic nervous system kicked in with a vengeance, the Raiders endured a miserable night. A light drizzle fell and the temperature dipped into the upper...

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Chapter 10

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pp. 306-344

The USO wanted her to be one of four young women to greet four soldiers flying into Los Angeles to help celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Junior ROTC. Standing last in line because she was the tallest of the four women, and wearing high boots and a tight miniskirt, Carollyn watched as the first three girls paired off with the first three deplaning soldiers. Peering...

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Chapter 11

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pp. 345-385

It was Christmas of 1969, and she was on her third uso tour, rediscovering that the information packet she received was correct: the “welcome you receive from troops in the field will more than compensate for any undue hardship endured by you . . . thousands of men eagerly await your arrival...

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Chapter 12

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pp. 386-419

The battalion was at Camp Eagle for a stand-down when Sergeant Mark S. Hawk received word the captain wanted to see him. Friends called him Steve, or usually just Hawk. Since the company was short of lieutenants, Hawk had been serving as the 2nd Platoon leader for several months. After...

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Chapter 13

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pp. 420-459

The duffel bag contained a copy of the annulment papers with Balbine, Joe’s recent Silver Star, a couple of pictures of him and Bob Hope in Vietnam, clothes, and X-rated magazines. According to Red and Anna, Neeltje was his “Dutch girlfriend,” who seemed like a surrogate Carollyn. She was not only blonde, busty, and “very nice” but also “had one or two children.”...

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Chapter 14

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pp. 460-494

Some of Joe’s friends believed that va administrators hounded him into resigning. “Joe was driven out of his job,” said Larry Frank, who worked with him in Seattle. “He was harassed.” He drank hard, too hard, but “that’s exactly what the va is there for, people with problems like Joe’s. They handled...

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pp. 495-497

The cemetery was born in mid-1864. Three years earlier, in one of the first major movements of the Civil War, Union troops stationed in Washington slipped across the Potomac River and occupied Arlington, Virginia. The Union commander, General Irvin McDowell, converted Arlington House...

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Appendix: Joe Ronnie Hooper’s Medals

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pp. 499-500

Awards and decorations displayed on his uniform for an official Army portrait taken on June 8, 1971:1...

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pp. 501-503

To all those listed in the Bibliographical Essay who shared their personal papers and consented to interviews we send a robust “Thank You!” In every case we approached these people as strangers and, at least from our perspective, left as friends. Although each of these individuals was vital in reconstructing...

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A Few Words Concerning the Text

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pp. 505-506

We have done a very modest amount of editorial work to make the text easier to read by avoiding the constant use of [sic], brackets, and ellipses. For example, we corrected most misspelled words and grammatical errors, except in what Joe Hooper wrote, where we left the original intact, correcting only...

Abbreviations and Acronyms

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pp. 507-508


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pp. 509-590

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Bibliographic Essay

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pp. 591-597

This bibliographic essay discusses only the unpublished primary sources used in the book. Published sources, both primary and secondary, are cited only in the notes....


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pp. 599-618

Image Plates

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pp. 619-632

E-ISBN-13: 9780803204768
E-ISBN-10: 0803204760

Publication Year: 2005