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Reviewed by Peter Brush
By Otto J. Lehrack
Casement, Havertown, Pa., 2004

Ia Drang is sometimes referred to as the first large battle of the Vietnam War. In fact, Starlite occurred three months earlier. In this brief but well-told and well-researched account (it is the first book published on this battle), U.S. Marine veteran Otto J. Lehrack, who is also the author of No Shining Armor: The Marines at War in Vietnam (1992), corrects the record. The First Battle provides a good description of early U.S. Marine deployments to Vietnam. In August 1965, intelligence sources indicated that the 1st Viet Cong Regiment was massing for an attack on the new base at Chu Lai, south of Da Nang. To preempt that, the 4th Marine Regiment decided to attack the VC force on the Van Tuong Peninsula, in Quang Nam province. Operation Starlite was the first combined helicopter and amphibious landing in history. More than 600 VC were killed, as were 54 Marines. Although considered “destroyed,” the 1st VC Regiment reconstituted itself within months and continued to fight U.S. and South Vietnamese forces for the rest of the war. “Blood Debt” in the title means revenge, blood owed for blood spilled. After Operation Starlite, it became much harder for the United States to find a way to exit Vietnam.