Phase Line Green: The Battle for Hue, 1968, by Nicholas Warr, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Md., 1997, $29.95.
The battle for the Citadel of Hue during the Tet Offensive of 1968 is universally considered by writers and historians as the hardest-fought and bloodiest battle of the war. Nicholas Warr does not dispute that claim. He saw it and lived it, up close and personal. Phase Line Green is a first-person account of that struggle.
As a relatively new Marine platoon leader, just arrived in Vietnam, Lieutenant Warr assumed command of the 1st Platoon of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment. Known as Charlie One, the platoon consisted of 51 Marines and was an essential element in the company’s strategy for assaulting the Citadel.
At the battle’s outset, Marines had not participated in urban combat since the battle for Seoul, Korea, in 1950. The battle was not the typical jungle fighting they had trained for or experienced in nearly three years of combat in Vietnam. In a sense, it was on-the-job training, and it cost the Marines dearly in lost lives–especially given the limited use of our staggeringly superior supporting arms.
Warr discusses at length the rules of engagement, which placed fire restrictions on the palace walls. It was vicious house-to-house, street-to-street fighting, and the Marines paid a heavy price for every foot of real estate captured from the NVA.
Warr recounts his own experiences, mincing no words. He spares no one in the telling, including himself. His description of desperate suicide charges against a well-entrenched and numerically superior enemy leaves little to the imagination. He relates the story of ordinary men asked to accomplish the impossible, in the time-honored tradition of the Marine Corps. In Warr’s words, “We had a mission to accomplish; to stop our inexorable forward progress for more than a moment would be like taunting history.”
Warr is at his best describing his fellow Marines: the laconic radioman, the platoon sergeant who loved his men and his Corps and was horribly wounded at Hue, the Texan who died trying to save his buddy, the “Gunny,” and all of the unforgettable acts of courage and self-sacrifice of the Marines of Charlie One.
Read it as history or read it as adventure. Either way, Phase Line Green is a moving chronicle of action and courage.
William L. Myers