Hard to Forget, by Steven M. Yedinak, Ballantine Publishing Group, New York, 1998, $6.99 paperback.
Steven Yedinak was an unlikely candidate to lead a mobile guerrilla force (MGF), one of the most effective fighting forces ever assembled for duty in Vietnam. From a large Catholic family, he was the first family member to attend college. He went to Gonzaga University, one of 287 land grant colleges at which freshmen and sophomores were required to be trained by the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC). Staying in ROTC through one’s junior and senior years led to a commission as a reserve officer with a three-year service commitment.
As Yedinak neared the end of his basic ROTC training, he was encouraged to stay and become a commissioned officer. He was promised relatively low pay, housing, opportunities for education, training, travel and retirement–all in all, a strong career incentive for a young college student. Yedinak possessed many desirable soldierly attributes, plus some that were less desirable. He was adventurous, athletic and fearless. He was also headstrong, walked on the wild side and openly displayed his dislike of authority.
Commissioned a second lieutenant in the infantry, Yedinak volunteered for parachute training. Then, attracted by the promise of an organization that–while highly disciplined and trained–welcomed men with initiative and drive, he became a Green Beret. After his initial Stateside assignment, during which he was offered and accepted a Regular Army commission, he joined the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) in Vietnam. His first impression of Vietnam, like most of us who served there, was garnered on the hot, steamy tarmac of Ton Son Nhut Air Base, where the stench of decay in a Third World environment filled his nostrils in a way that he never forgot.
His first assignment was as an assistant operations officer (S-3) on the C-Team at Bien Hoa, supervising all Special Forces operations in III Corps. On the next level were the B-Teams, located with provincial headquarters. The fighting echelon belonged to the A-Teams, in which U.S. Army officers and NCOs supervised and advised ARVN troops combating the VC and NVA.
After a short period at Bien Hoa, Yedinak assumed command of an A-Team, then became the assistant commander of the MGF, which was commanded by Captain Bo Gritz, one of the finest guerrilla fighters in the U.S. Army. The MGF, as constituted in 1966, was different from conventional recon operations. It consisted of Green Berets leading well-trained, superbly disciplined and equipped Cambodian guerrillas deep into NVA secret base areas–without artillery or close air support and with little hope of any helicopter medevac.
Most of Yedinak’s book details the highly successful Blackjack-31 mission, which in little more than a month survived 52 enemy engagements, captured prisoners, booby-trapped base camps and gathered intel-ligence on NVA movements. It inflicted severe damage on NVA operations in War Zone C while sustaining only minor casualties. Yedinak’s description of the operation is outstanding. After extraction from behind NVA lines, where he had expected to die, he suffered recurring nightmares for years–an experience common to veterans who lived through similar harrowing operations. The last 40 pages of Yedinak’s book detail the steps he took to overcome the nightmares, and they may prove therapeutic to other Vietnam veterans. This is a well-written, fascinating look at an operation that has been highly classified until recently.
Steven M. Yedinak retired from the U.S. Army as a lieutenant colonel after 26 years of service, including two Vietnam tours with the Special Forces and the 101st Airborne. His book is highly recommended.
Colonel Calvin G. Bass
U.S. Air Force (ret.)