Platoon: Bravo Company, by Robert Hemphill, Sergeant Kirkland’s Museum and Historical Society, Inc., Fredericksburg, Va., $24.95.
It is impossible to read Robert Hemphill’s Platoon: Bravo Company without remembering the movie Platoon. Hemphill commanded Oliver Stone’s platoon and two others as commander of B Company, 3rd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, 25th Division, from October 1967 to February 1968. There are some noticeable similarities between the book and the movie, which both take place in the same time frame.
Captain Hemphill, better known in the book by his radio call sign, “Bravo Six,” was responsible for the safety of 160 soldiers. The book traces Hemphill’s progress in taking over Company B and molding it into a reliable, competent unit.
The 1968 Communist Tet Offensive came in like a lion but went out like lamb, according to Hemphill. The VC destroyed his men’s barracks and fought fiercely for the villages in Hemphill’s area. When American forces counterattacked, an enemy battalion in bunkers held off an entire U.S. battalion for a week and managed to destroy two attached tanks and nine armored personnel carriers before finally being overcome.
Hemphill’s story showcases the almost unlimited firepower available to American units in combat. But there were setbacks to this high-tech method of fighting. For example, in the middle of one firefight, Hemphill was repeatedly interrupted by his brigade commander who was flying over the battlefield in a Bell UH-1 Huey, demanding an immediate situation report. Before Hemphill could respond, the division commander, in a Huey higher up, demanded, “Get off Bravo 6’s net and let him fight his battle. Out.” On another occasion, a well-meaning helicopter crew shot up Hemphill’s command post.
While Hemphill depicts Bravo Company’s success in action, he also reveals the breakdowns in his division–the nervous tankers who deserted him in the middle of a battle, the sergeant who tried to beg out of a patrol because he thought his number was up and the occasional officer who couldn’t hack it on the battlefield.
Platoon is an excellent book for anyone interested in a company-level view of the war in Vietnam.