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North Texas Military Biography and Memoir Series

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North Texas Military Biography and Memoir Series

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Against the Grain

Colonel Henry M. Lazelle and the U.S. Army

James Carson

Henry Martyn Lazelle (1832-1917), born in Enfield, Massachusetts, the son of a farmer, orphaned at the age of four, and raised by a succession of relatives and family friends, was the only cadet in the history of the U.S. Military Academy to be suspended and sent back a year (for poor grades and bad behavior) and eventually return as Commandant of the Corps of Cadets. After graduating from West Point in 1855, he scouted with Kit Carson, was wounded by Apaches, and spent nearly a year as a "paroled" prisoner-of-war at the outbreak of the Civil War. Exchanged for a Confederate officer, he took command of a Union cavalry regiment, chasing Mosby's Rangers throughout northern Virginia. The early days of Reconstruction brought him to the Carolinas. Later he represented the U.S. at British Army maneuvers in India and commanded units and posts in the Far West and the Dakotas during the relocation and ravaging of the American Indian nations. Due in part to an ingrained disposition to question the status quo, Lazelle's service as a commander and senior staff officer was punctuated at times with contention and controversy. In charge of the official records of the Civil War in Washington, he was accused of falsifying records, exonerated, but dismissed short of tour. As Commandant of Cadets at West Point, he was a key figure during the infamous court martial of Johnson Whittaker, one of West Point's first African American cadets. Again, he was relieved of duty after a bureaucratic battle with the Academy’s Superintendent. Lazelle retired in 1894 as Colonel of the 18th U.S. Infantry at Fort Bliss, Texas, where his Army career had begun 38 years earlier. Along the way, he authored articles on military strategy and tactics, took up spiritualism, and published two books on the relationship between science and theology.

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A Different Face of War

Memories of a Medical Service Corps Officer in Vietnam

James G. Van Straten

A Different Face of War is a riveting account of a Medical Service Corps officer’s activities during the early years of the Vietnam War. Assigned as the senior medical advisor to the Army of the Republic of Vietnam in I Corps, an area close to the DMZ, James G. Van Straten traveled extensively and interacted with military officers and non-commissioned officers, peasant-class farmers, Buddhist bonzes, shopkeepers, scribes, physicians, nurses, the mentally ill, and even political operatives. He sent his wife daily letters from July 1966 through June 1967, describing in impressive detail his experiences, and those letters became the primary source for his memoir. The author describes with great clarity and poignancy the anguish among the survivors when an American cargo plane in bad weather lands short of the Da Nang Air Base runway on Christmas Eve and crashes into a Vietnamese coastal village, killing more than 100 people and destroying their village; the heart-wrenching pleadings of a teenage girl that her shrapnel-ravaged leg not be amputated; and the anger of an American helicopter pilot who made repeated trips into a hot landing zone to evacuate the wounded, only to have the Vietnamese insist that the dead be given a higher priority.

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Donut Dolly

An American Red Cross Girl's War in Vietnam

Joann Puffer Kotcher

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.

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Ground Pounder

A Marine’s Journey through South Vietnam, 1968-1969

Gregory V. Short

In early February of 1968, at the beginning of the Tet Offensive, Private First Class Gregory V. Short arrived in Vietnam as an eighteen-year-old U.S. Marine. Amid all of the confusion and destruction, he began his tour of duty as an 81mm mortarman with the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, which was stationed at Con Thien near the DMZ. While living in horrendous conditions reminiscent of the trenches in World War I, his unit was cut off and constantly being bombarded by the North Vietnamese heavy artillery, rockets, and mortars. Soon thereafter Short left his mortar crew and became an 81mm’s Forward Observer for Hotel Company. Working with the U.S. Army’s 1st Air Cavalry Division and other units, he helped relieve the siege at Khe Sanh by reopening Route 9. Short participated in several different operations close to the Laotian border, where contact with the enemy was often heavy and always chaotic. On May 19, Ho Chi Minh’s birthday, the NVA attempted to overrun the combat base in the early morning hours. Tragically, during a two-month period, one of the companies (Foxtrot Company) within his battalion would sustain more than 70 percent casualties. By September Short was transferred to the 1st Battalion 9th Marines (the Walking Dead). Assigned as an infantryman (grunt) with Bravo Company and operating along the DMZ and near the A Shau Valley, he would spend the next five months patrolling the mountainous terrain and enduring the harsh elements. At the end of his first tour, he re-upped for a second and was assigned to the 1st Marine Air Wing in Da Nang, where he had an opportunity to become familiar with the Vietnamese culture. Direct, honest, and brutal in his observations, Short holds nothing back in describing the hardships of modern warfare and our leaders’ illusions of success.

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Life and Death in the Central Highlands

An American Sergeant in the Vietnam War, 1968-1970

James T. Gillam

In 1968 James T. Gillam was a poorly focused college student at Ohio University who was dismissed and then drafted into the Army. Unlike most African Americans who entered the Army then, he became a Sergeant and an instructor at the Fort McClellan Alabama School of Infantry. In September 1968 he joined the First Battalion, 22nd Regiment of the 4th Infantry Division in Vietnam. Within a month he transformed from an uncertain sergeant—who tried to avoid combat—to an aggressive soldier, killing his first enemy and planning and executing successful ambushes in the jungle. Gillam was a regular point man and occasional tunnel rat who fought below ground, an arena that few people knew about until after the war ended. By January 1970 he had earned a Combat Infantry Badge and been promoted to Staff Sergeant. Then Washington’s politics and military strategy took his battalion to the border of Cambodia. Search-and-destroy missions became longer and deadlier. From January to May his unit hunted and killed the enemy in a series of intense firefights, some of them in close combat. In those months Gillam was shot twice and struck by shrapnel twice. He became a savage, strangling a soldier in hand-to-hand combat inside a lightless tunnel. As his mid-summer date to return home approached, Gillam became fiercely determined to come home alive. The ultimate test of that determination came during the Cambodian invasion. On his last night in Cambodia, the enemy got inside the wire of the firebase, and the killing became close range and brutal. Gillam left the Army in June 1970, and within two weeks of his last encounter with death, he was once again a college student and destined to become a university professor. The nightmares and guilt about killing are gone, and so is the callous on his soul. Life and Death in the Central Highlands is a gripping, personal account of one soldier’s war in Vietnam.

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We Were Going to Win, or Die There

With the Marines at Guadalcanal, Tarawa, and Saipan

Roy H. Elrod, edited by Fred H. Allison

In 1940, native West Texan Roy H. Elrod joined the Marine Corps. A few years later his unit, the 8th Marine Regiment, went into the fight at Guadalcanal, where he commanded a platoon of 37 mm gunners. They endured Japanese attacks, malarial tropical weather, and starvation rations. His combat leadership earned him a Silver Star and a battlefield promotion. On D-Day at Tarawa his platoon waded their 37 mm cannons ashore, each weighing nearly 1,000 pounds, through half a mile of bullet-laced surf to get to an island where the killing never stopped. His was the only platoon to get its guns ashore and into action that first day. At Saipan, Elrod commanded a platoon of 75 mm halftracks, but he was riddled with shrapnel from an enemy artillery shell that took him out of the war. Fred H. Allison interviewed Elrod, drew upon wartime letters home, and provided annotations to the narrative of this young Marine infantry officer, a job that had an extremely low survival potential.

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With the Possum and the Eagle

The Memoir of a Navigator's War over Germany and Japan

Ralph H. Nutter

Ralph H. Nutter was the lead navigator for Eighth Air Force raids over Germany when he was assigned as Maj. Gen. Curtis “the Eagle” LeMay’s group navigator. Later, as the strategic air war over Europe was winding down, the ace navigator was transferred to B-29 Superfortress duty with the Twentieth Air Force in the Pacific, where he was picked by Brigadier Gen. Haywood "Possum" Hansell to be his bomber navigator. After LeMay succeeded Hansell as bomber commander, Nutter returned to navigation duty with LeMay. Hansell and LeMay were two of our country’s leading combat commanders in Europe and the Pacific. They pioneered the concepts of strategic airpower and high-altitude daylight precision bombing. With the Possum and the Eagle affords a rare insider’s perspective on aviation leadership and strategic issues, melded with extraordinary accounts of courage under fire.

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Yesterday There Was Glory

With the 4th Division, A.E.F., in World War I

Gerald Andrew Howell, edited by Jeffrey L. Patrick

In 1946, World War I veteran and self-described “buck private in the rear rank” Gerald Andrew Howell finished a memoir of the experiences of his squad from the 39th Infantry Regiment, 4th Division, and their “moments of horror, tragedy, humor, amour, [and] promiscuity” in Europe. This was “the old Army as it used to be,” Howell explains—the saga of the “down-trodden doughboy.” A few months later Howell was dead, his manuscript unpublished. Jeffrey Patrick discovered the memoir and the author’s correspondence with publishers and took on the task of bringing it to publication at last. Yesterday There Was Glory is an unpretentious account of men at war, from training camp to the occupation of Germany. It includes graphic descriptions of the battlefield, of shell fire, gas attacks, and lice. “Between the attacks the men would lay in their wet holes and pray for relief. But no relief came,” Howell remembers. He recalls much more than the horrors of combat, however, chronicling the diverse collection of heroes, professional warriors, shirkers, and braggarts that made up the American Expeditionary Forces. Howell and his comrades longed for wounds that would allow them to escape the war, but resolutely engaged the Germans in hand-to-hand combat. They poked fun at their comrades, but were willing to share their last can of food. They endured difficult marches, pursued “mademoiselles” and “frauleins,” and even staged a “strike” to protest mistreatment by their officers. They were as “ribald as any soldiery in any army,” Howell admits, but “underneath this veneer, they were really patriotic, steadfast and sincere.” Patrick provides an editor’s introduction and annotations to explain terms and sources in the memoir. Howell’s account preserves the flavor of army life with conversations and banter in soldier language, including the uncensored doughboy profanity often heard but seldom recorded.

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