Joe Parnar and Robert Dumont
ARRSE Rating
4 Mushroom Heads
An interesting book of some 254 pages of the authors experiences as a medic within the covert Special Operations Group (SOG) operating in what was the neutral territory of Laos and Cambodia and inside Vietnam. Their mission was to interdict the Ho Chi Minh Trail, acting as observers for other forces and having an ability to call down support from other units. There are many photographs and maps contained within the book. The photographs are obviously of the time and there reproduction reflects this. The maps are over detailed and difficult to interpret in places. There is a glossary of terms at the start of the book which is detailed in particular with the equipment and unit designations used.

The author details the reasons for joining the US Army at the time of the Vietnam War and the societal divisions in the USA at the time. The training he undertook as a new recruit and in effect a direct entrant to ’special forces’ from civilian life. He details some aspects of medical training which some readers may find quite distressing.

His ‘tour of duty’ in Vietnam alternates from periods of high stress covert warfare, and to periods which he relates of on base behaviours, that other forces, may have found unprofessional and at times indisciplined. This war varied in its approach from at the time high tech with the use of helicopters on a wide scale, technological surveillance to the ‘old fashioned’ solders way of transport using the two feet. The existence that US forces lived whilst in Vietnam appears to be a strange affair considering the environment that they operated within, enemy attacks on their operating base but the author relates that they would drive into local villages or indigenous forces encampments with little in the way of protection.

This was a ‘grunts’ war, covert teams led by Senior NCOs and junior soldiers with few commissioned officers with them. The team leaders were the ones in charge irrespective of rank, in fact, rank was ignored on operations, in that those who were trained and experienced to command not those with rank. That most teams did not have a commissioned rank with them, therefore the potential for conflict between the officer and a team leader did not in the authors experience arise to any great extent. The author as a soldier in the area of operations he was working in talks of many very brave soldiers and not just from his own army but also from the local indigenous forces who in effect later in the campaign were in effect left behind. That some soldiers were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honour during the time of his tour of duty is illustrative of the intensity of the conflict, where enemies could be just metres away and be due to the environment that was being fought in invisible to each other.

If you are looking for far more on the medics experiences in combat medical management and experience then this maybe a book lower on a list of books to read. I would recommend 365 Days by Ronald Glasser MD for a far more in depth description of medical care in Vietnam. It is a book that has been in circulation for a number of years and is still very appropriate even today.

This book, like others of this genre I have read in the past is slightly dis-jointed unlike others which flow easily for the reader, I am unaware whether this just an American publishing trait.

I award this book a generous 4/5.

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