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X-Ray Visions

When Bill Beck saw the December 2010 issue of Vietnam and our presentation of sketches by North Vietnamese Army combat artist Le Duc Tuan, he asked if we would be interested in taking a look at some sketches of his own, portraying his experiences as an assistant machine gunner in November 1965. What Beck, and the men of the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile), led by Lt. Col. Hal Moore, experienced at LZ X-Ray in the Ia Drang Valley is firmly embedded in military lore. The battle’s details are known to millions through the book and film We Were Soldiers Once…and Young. Awarded a Silver Star for his actions at Ia Drang, Beck was seared by the carnage he saw there and the deaths and severe wounds suffered by his comrades. In a note to Moore about his sketches, Beck wrote: “This is something I have wanted to do for some time—for my own sanity, I am sure. It’s the kind of stuff that keeps me up at night!” Beck’s stunning documentation of one of the war’s pivotal battles has never before been published. In this issue we present a portfolio of his sketches (pg. 30). Beck’s entire collection will be on our website,, on the anniversary of the first day of the Ia Drang battle, November 14.

Vietnam Editor Emeritus David T. Zabecki marks Ia Drang with his recollections (pg. 40) of how, as cadets at Pennsylvania Military College in November 1965, he and his classmates were touched by the news of the death of 1963 PMC graduate Jack Geoghegan at X-Ray. It was a chilling portent of what lay ahead for Zabecki and many of his classmates in the months to come.

In our cover story, Paul Davis offers an exciting firsthand account of an Air Cavalry troop in action in the Song Re Valley during Operation Pershing in 1967. And retired Brig. Gen. Stanley Cherrie recounts how, during the U.S. troop drawdown in 1971, deviation from standard procedures to accommodate South Vietnamese support troops left his cavalry troop vulnerable to a mysterious Viet Cong terror weapon.

After former Marine Lieutenant and Navy Cross recipient Karl Marlantes’ first novel Matterhorn rocketed into bestseller orbit last year, it was fair to ask how he could top that. His just-released work of thought-provoking nonfiction, What It Is Like to Go to War, may fill the bill. In an excerpt that begins on pg. 48, Marlantes examines through his own experience how lying in Vietnam, as a means of physical and psychological survival, became the norm rather than the exception.