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Page 32
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Charlie 1/5 Cav

By Al Wellman (reviewer)

[Printer-Friendly Version]

Charlie 1/5 Cav: An Airmobile Infantry Company's 67 Months in Vietnam
by Steve Hassett

(Deeds Publishing, 2022)

The airmobile 1st Cavalry Division was explicitly organized for combat in Vietnam with tactics emphasizing missions by observation, transport, and gunship helicopters. Author Steve Hassett was an infantryman with Charlie Company of the 5th Regiment from September 1966 to August 1967. In the years following that experience, he researched the history of Charlie Company from its arrival in Vietnam in August 1965 until it departed in April 1971.

In this book, Hassett uses a chronological historical framework as the setting for perceptions of the men serving with Charlie Company in Vietnam. The book includes recollections from postwar reunions, letters written by men at the time, and excerpts from other published accounts, including websites like the "Vietnam Wall of Faces." Charlie Company was in the Central Highlands from August 1965 until moving to I Corps in January 1968. In November 1968, Charlie Company moved again to the Cambodian border to defend Saigon until it returned to the United States in April 1971. For readers unfamiliar with the locations of landing zones or operation code names, the book includes an appendix providing map coordinates for battles and incidents through a website maintained by the University of Texas Tech.

Hassett describes the topography and vegetation of landing zones and battlegrounds. He and others recall individual experiences from the monotony of packaged combat rations and foul-tasting water through an occasional hot meal, cold beverage, or visit to An Khe's "Sin City" brothel. Accounts emphasize the seemingly endless hot, humid days wearing dirty, perspiration-drenched uniforms while carrying heavy equipment up steep hills through mud and impenetrable vegetation infested with leeches, biting insects, and snakes. Focus is on the unforgettably terrifying moments of booby traps, ambushes, mortar and rocket barrages, or friendly fire confusion.

Recollections of seeing friends dismembered, hearing their bodies absorb bullets, or feeling life leave their bodies while trying to carry them to safety may be disturbing to veterans trying to forget similar experiences. One hopes that including the names, ages, and hometowns of those killed in these accounts may dissuade inexperienced readers from embarking on similar adventures. There are several accounts of the deadly frustration experienced by men carrying early M16 rifles, designed with metallurgical improvements to reduce cleaning requirements, but firing ammunition loaded with a new type of gunpowder leaving residue, causing the rifle self-loading mechanism to malfunction and sometimes leaving an empty cartridge case stuck in the barrel during combat crises. There is an appropriate emphasis on the military policies of burning villages, destroying food crops, and declaring free fire zones, which eliminated any possibility of "winning the hearts and minds" of the Vietnamese people.

This book deserves popularity, encouraging a second edition. Subsequent editions might benefit from including an appendix of acronym definitions. As familiar as those terms may be to those reporting their experiences, they will be confusing to later generations hoping to learn from those experiences.

Al Wellman is an amateur historian with combat experience off the coast of North Vietnam during the withdrawal of United States military personnel.

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