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The Hill of Angels
A memoir/history of a much-beleaguered Marine outpost of the DMZ.
Throughout much of 1967, a remote United States Marine firebase only two miles from the demilitarized zone (DMZ) captured the attention of the world’s media. That artillery-scarred outpost was the linchpin of the so-called McNamara Line intended to deter incursions into South Vietnam by the North Vietnamese Army. As such, the fighting along this territory was particularly intense and bloody, and the body count rose daily.
Con Thien combines James P. Coan’s personal experiences with information taken from archives, interviews with battle participants, and official documents to construct a powerful story of the daily life and combat on the red clay bulls-eye known as "The Hill of Angels." As a tank platoon leader in Alpha Company, 3d Tank Battalion, 3d Marine Division, Coan was stationed at Con Thien for eight months during his 1967-68 service in Vietnam and witnessed much of the carnage.
Con Thien was heavily bombarded by enemy artillery with impunity because it was located in politically sensitive territory and the U.S. government would not permit direct armed response from Marine tanks. Coan, like many other soldiers, began to feel as though the government was as much the enemy as the NVA, yet he continued to fight for his country with all that he had. In his
riveting memoir, Coan depicts the hardships of life in the DMZ and the ineffectiveness of much of the U.S. military effort in Vietnam.
Stories from a Cold War Correspondent
For over a quarter of a century, award-winning journalist Henry Bradsher reported stories from around the world. In this lively and engaging account, Bradsher recounts episodes from a distinguished career that took him to the Himalayas, the jungles of Bhutan, Kremlin caviar receptions, China’s Forbidden City, and the battlefields of Vietnam. Throughout, Bradsher emphasizes the unpredictability of a correspondent’s life and the strains, perils, and privileges of standing witness to momentous world events. In South Asia, Bradsher reported the Dalai Lama’s escape from Tibet in 1959 and the last five years that Jawaharlal Nehru led India—with a side trip to hunt tigers in Nepal with Queen Elizabeth. In Moscow he covered the downfall of Nikita Khrushchev, and he later suffered the KGB bombing of his car in response to his tenacious reporting. His incisive coverage from Hong Kong led Chinese officials to label Bradsher as “the most despicable” journalist. But after a power shift, they welcomed him as the first American journalist allowed to work in China in over a year. Bradsher predicted and reported Bangladesh’s independence struggle, and he worked in the Middle East, covering Egyptian-Israeli peace arrangements. Access to the events that shaped the Cold War also led to Bradsher’s meeting many world leaders, including Nehru, Khrushchev, Leonid Brezhnev, Zhou Enlai, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Anwar Sadat, and Menachem Begin. Although Bradsher’s reporting riled officials in Moscow, Beijing, and even the United States—prompting Henry Kissinger’s attempts to thwart the publication of his reports—history has proven its accuracy. Bradsher’s relentlessness in his own work accompanied a profound respect for fellow journalists worldwide who endanger themselves to keep the public informed.
These are tales of what it was like for young men to go from the bucolic hills of New Hampshire to a land wracked by war and violence. The result is a collection of more than fifty accounts, showing the variety of experiences and reactions to this dramatic period in American history. Some soldiers were drafted, some volunteered; some supported the war, but many turned against it. Common to all the stories is the way in which war changes men, for good and ill, and the way in which the Vietnam experience colored so much of the rest of these writers' lives.
Seven Years of Vietnam War Reporting
In 1961, equipped with a master’s degree from famed Columbia Journalism School and letters of introduction to Associated Press bureau chiefs in Asia, twenty-six-year-old Beverly Deepe set off on a trip around the world. Allotting just two weeks to South Vietnam, she was still there seven years later, having then earned the distinction of being the longest-serving American correspondent covering the Vietnam War and garnering a Pulitzer Prize nomination.
In Death Zones and Darling Spies, Beverly Deepe Keever describes what it was like for a farm girl from Nebraska to find herself halfway around the world, trying to make sense of one of the nation’s bloodiest and bitterest wars. She arrived in Saigon as Vietnam’s war entered a new phase and American helicopter units and provincial advisers were unpacking. She tells of traveling from her Saigon apartment to jungles where Wild West–styled forts first dotted Vietnam’s borders and where, seven years later, they fell like dominoes from communist-led attacks. In 1965 she braved elephant grass with American combat units armed with unparalleled technology to observe their valor—and their inability to distinguish friendly farmers from hide-and-seek guerrillas.
Keever’s trove of tissue-thin memos to editors, along with published and unpublished dispatches for New York and London media, provide the reader with you-are-there descriptions of Buddhist demonstrations and turning-point coups as well as phony ones. Two Vietnamese interpreters, self-described as “darling spies,” helped her decode Vietnam’s shadow world and subterranean war. These memoirs, at once personal and panoramic, chronicle the horrors of war and a rise and decline of American power and prestige.
The U.S. Marine Corps and Combined Action Platoons in Vietnam
After relatively successful military interventions in Iraq in 1992 and Yugoslavia in 1998, many American strategists believed that airpower and remote technology were the future of U.S. military action. But America's most recent wars in the Middle East have reinforced the importance of counterinsurgency, with its imperative to "win hearts and minds" on the ground in foreign lands. In both Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. military has studied and experimented with the combined action platoon (CAP) concept used from 1965 to 1971 by the Marine Corps in Vietnam.
Consisting of twelve Marines, a medic, and dozens of inexperienced local militiamen, the American contingent of CAPs lived in South Vietnamese villages where they provided twenty-four-hour security and daily medical support for civilians, and fostered social interaction through civic action projects, such as building schools, offices, and wells. Defend and Befriend is the first comprehensive study of the evolution of these platoons, emphasizing how and why the U.S. Marine Corps attempted to overcome the inherent military, social, and cultural obstacles on the ground in Vietnam. Basing his analysis on Marine records and numerous interviews with CAP veterans, author John Southard illustrates how thousands of soldiers tasked with counterinsurgency duties came to perceive the Vietnamese people and their mission.
This unique study counters prevailing stereotypes and provides a new perspective on the American infantryman in the Vietnam War. Illuminating the fear felt by many Americans as they served among groups of understandably suspicious civilians, Defend and Befriend offers important insights into the future development of counterinsurgency doctrine.
An American Red Cross Girl's War in Vietnam
Donut Dolly puts you in the Vietnam War face down in the dirt under a sniper attack, inside a helicopter being struck by lightning, at dinner next to a commanding general, and slogging through the mud along a line of foxholes. You see the war through the eyes of one of the first women officially allowed in the combat zone. When Joann Puffer Kotcher left for Vietnam in 1966, she was fresh out of the University of Michigan with a year of teaching, and a year as an American Red Cross Donut Dolly in Korea. All she wanted was to go someplace exciting. In Vietnam, she visited troops from the Central Highlands to the Mekong Delta, from the South China Sea to the Cambodian border. At four duty stations, she set up recreation centers and made mobile visits wherever commanders requested. That included Special Forces Teams in remote combat zone jungles. She brought reminders of home, thoughts of a sister or the girl next door. Officers asked her to take risks because they believed her visits to the front lines were important to the men. Every Vietnam veteran who meets her thinks of her as a brother-at-arms. Donut Dolly is Kotcher’s personal view of the war, recorded in a journal kept during her tour, day by day as she experienced it. It is a faithful representation of the twists and turns of the turbulent, controversial time. While in Vietnam, Kotcher was once abducted; dodged an ambush in the Delta; talked with a true war hero in a hospital who had charged a machine gun; and had a conversation with a prostitute. A rare account of an American Red Cross volunteer in Vietnam, Donut Dolly will appeal to those interested in the Vietnam War, to those who have interest in the military, and to women aspiring to go beyond the ordinary.
A Marine Legal/Infantry Officer in Vietnam
Religion gave these writers agency and credibility, says May, and they appropriated the language of Christianity to establish a common ground on which to speak about social and political rights. In the process, these writers spread the principles that enabled slaves and free blacks to form communities, a fundamental step in resisting oppression. Moreover, says May, this institution building was overtly political, leading to a liberal shift in mainstream Christianity and secular politics as black churches and the organizations they launched became central to local communities and increasingly influenced public welfare and policy.
This important new study restores a sense of the complex challenges faced by early black intellectuals as they sought a path to freedom through Christianity.
The G.I. Bill and the Vietnam Generation
The original 1944 G.I. Bill holds a special place in the American imagination. In popular mythology, it stands as the capstone of the Greatest Generation narrative of World War II, a fitting reward for the nation’s heroes. Given the almost universal acclaim afforded the bill, future generations of warriors might well have expected to receive similar remuneration for their sacrifice. But when soldiers of the Vietnam conflict shed their fatigues and returned home to civilian life, they found that their G.I. Bills fell well short of what many of them believed they had earned.
In this first legislative history of the G.I. Bill during the Vietnam Era, Mark Boulton takes the story of veterans’ politics beyond the 1944 G.I. Bill as he seeks to uncover the reasons why Vietnam veterans were less well compensated than their predecessors. In crafting their legislation, both conservative and liberal politicians of the Vietnam era wrestled with fundamental questions about the obligations of American citizenship. What does it mean to serve one’s country? What does society owe those civilians it puts in uniform? Repeatedly, in answering those questions, lawmakers from both ends of the political spectrum found reasons to curb the generosity of the benefits offered.
The G.I. Bills should play a central role in our understanding of the Vietnam veteran’s post-service lives, just as they do for World War II veterans. Taking the story of the G.I. Bills beyond the World War II generation allows for a more complete understanding of the veteran experience in America.
The Memoir of a Vietnam-Era Draft Resister
When Jerry Elmer turned eighteen at the height of the Vietnam War, he publicly refused to register for the draft, a felony then and now. Later he burglarized the offices of fourteen draft boards in three cities, destroying the files of men eligible to be drafted. After working almost twenty years in the peace movement, he attended law school, where he was the only convicted felon in Harvard’s class of 1990. This book is a blend of personal memoir, contemporary history, and astute political analysis. Elmer draws on a variety of sources, including never-before-released FBI files, and argues passionately for the practice of nonviolence. He describes the range of actions he took—from draft card burning to organizing draft board raids with Father Phil Berrigan; from vigils on the Capitol steps inside “tiger cages” used to torture Vietnamese political prisoners to jail time for protesting nuclear power plants; from a tour of the killing fields of Cambodia to meetings with Corazon Aquino in the Philippines. A Vietnamese-language edition of FELON FOR PEACE will be published later this year.