Letter from Vietnam magazine – October 2011

The vagaries of war

One man lives, one man dies. There are an endless number of factors that contribute to survival on the battlefield, but no matter how skilled, how intelligent, how brave or how well-equipped, when it comes to which warrior lives and which warrior dies, there is often a seeming randomness to it all. Reporting for UPI from Vietnam in 1967, Tom Corpora had the opportunity to go on a long range reconnaissance patrol with Spc. 4 Danny Harmon, a gifted soldier specially selected to walk point. A few weeks later, Harmon’s four-man team was dropped near the Cambodian border to make a bomb damage assessment. Only years later did Corpora get the whole story about that patrol. In the pages that follow, he gives the gripping account of what happened on Harmon’s LRRP mission, how some lived, and some died.

Already a legendary 20th-century military leader in 1966, the then former chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, Moshe Dayan, was a private citizen when he decided he wanted to go to Vietnam to see how a modern war was being waged. Greatly impressed with United States’ firepower and technology, Dayan was much less impressed with American strategy and tactics, and as Marc Leepson’s feature (pg. 32) reveals, his warnings proved to be prescient.

When Charles Lutz served as a military intelligence officer in Vietnam in 1968, he fell in love with Southeast Asia. Combining his desire to return to the region and pursue a career in law enforcement, Lutz joined the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, which operated overseas. But before he got back to Southeast Asia and built an impressive career chasing international drug lords, Lutz had an odd, and still largely unknown, secret assignment from the Nixon White House during the antiwar May Day demonstrations in 1971 (pg. 46). A year later, as most of the U.S. ground troops were being pulled out of the war, U.S. adviser Thomas McKenna stood in the breech alongside South Vietnam army units desperately fending off the tank-led NVA Easter Offensive drive on Kontum. McKenna’s account of two critical days in May 1972 begins on pg. 38.

As Vietnam Editor Emeritus David Zabecki tells it, George Finley’s military-themed caricatures have long been staples decorating the walls of Army officers and orderly rooms. As an adviser in Vietnam in 1966-67, Finley soaked in the nuance and the nonsense of the Vietnam War and devilishly delivers them through his lighthearted vignettes in MACV Advisor, which we detail beginning on pg. 52.

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