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review 2018-09-23 18:39
The best explanation of the hows and whys of the air war over North Vietnam
Clashes: Air Combat Over North Vietnam, 1965-1972 - Marshall L. Michel III

During the eight years of its engagement in the Vietnam War, the airpower of the United States was involved in a bifurcated conflict. In the south American warplanes enjoyed an uncontested dominance of the skies, which they used to deploy American resources and surveil and attack the enemy. Air Force and Navy planes entering North Vietnam airspace, however, found themselves in a much different situation, as they faced an air defense network that grew increasingly sophisticated as the war went on. In his book Marshall Michel analyzes the air war fought over the skies of North Vietnam, detailing its twists and turns as both sides sought an advantage in a key front in the conflict.

 

As Michel notes, given the tactics and technology employed, the air war in North Vietnam "was the one area of the Vietnam War that has military significance in the global balance of power." There both sides deployed planes and weapons designed for a potential war in Europe between the Soviet Union and NATO. For the United States Air Force, this meant using F-105 fighter-bombers designed to strike their enemies quickly, relying upon speed for protection. Armed with heart-seeking and radar-guided missiles, they were designed without cannons in the belief that, in the new age of missiles, dogfighting was obsolete. This was soon proved mistaken, as the smaller and more agile MiG-17s posed a challenge for which the F-105s were poorly equipped. Armed with cannons as well as missiles the Navy's F-8s proved much more capable of meeting the threat, though their pilots were also frustrated by technical problems with the missiles and rules requiring visual confirmation before attacking, which often inhibited the ability to launch their weapons.

 

As the war went on, all sides adapted in response to what they learned. For the North Vietnamese, this involved developing an elaborate ground control interception (GCI) system that employed both North Vietnamese fighters and growing numbers of anti-air cannons and missiles. While both the Air Force and the Navy sought improved weapons and supporting technology, the Air Force's exclusive reliance on technical fixes contrasted with the Navy, which in 1968 established the Topgun School in an effort to improve dogfighting abilities. New aircraft were also introduced — the F-4 for the U.S., the MiG-21 for the North Vietnamese — which also represented an escalation in ability prior to the termination of the North Vietnamese bombing campaign by President Lyndon Johnson in March 1968.

 

When Johnson's successor Richard Nixon resumed the bombing in North Vietnam in 1972, the new lessons were employed in full. The Air Force found themselves launching ever-larger missions to bomb tough North Vietnamese targets, while North Vietnamese pilots adopted new tactics to contest control of the air. By now the superiority of the Navy's approach was becoming more indisputable, reflected as it was in the superior kill ratios of North Vietnamese places to their Air Force counterparts. As a result, once the war ended in 1973 the Air Force moved to establish their own Weapons School to teach the hard-won lessons of the now-concluded conflict and employ them to secure American air superiority in future wars.

 

As a former F-4 pilot who flew in Vietnam, Michel brings a firsthand familiarity to his subject. This he uses to interpret the mass of staff reports, expert assessments, and personal narratives that he draws upon to detail the various airborne engagements that defined the war. His is a dispassionate approach that favors analysis over dramatic narrative, yet his book engages the reader with its clearheaded insights and perceptive conclusions. While it suffers from the lopsided nature of his coverage favoring the Americans (understandable, given the relative inaccessibility of North Vietnamese records), this is nonetheless the best history of its subject, one that explains the hows and whys of the air war in North Vietnam better than every other book out there.

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review 2018-08-10 19:48
A blend of psychological (noir) thriller with domestic drama, with a conflicted
Saigon Dark - Elka Ray

Thanks to the publishers, Crime Wave, for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

This novel is a thriller that takes place within the domestic sphere and one of its unique features is that it is set (mostly) in Vietnam. The main character is a paediatric surgeon, Lily, whose family escaped to the United States when she was a child, and after studying Medicine decided to go back and work there. Although she is a successful professional, her personal life is not a happy one. Her husband, another doctor from a similar background to hers, has left her, and her youngest child, a little girl, suffers from a rare genetic condition, and she does not know how well she will develop. Tragedy strikes; the character seems unable to react rationally due to the pain and makes one disastrous decision after another. We all know that secrets have a way of coming back and biting us, and although Lily is quite lucky, not even she can escape the consequences of her actions, or can she? (I am trying not to reveal any spoilers).

The novel is told, in the first-person, from the point of view of Lily, and as was the case with a recent novel in the same/similar genre I read and reviewed, that might be a problem for some of the readers. It is impossible not to empathise with Lily, and although some of her reactions are bizarre, the author is very good at getting us inside her head and making us understand her disturbed mental state. Perhaps we think we would never do something like that, but we can understand why she does. Personally, I did not sympathise with her (or even like her very much) and at times felt very frustrated with her. I had to agree when one of the other characters told her that she was selfish, blind to other’s needs, and she never thought of anybody else. This is all the more evident considering her privileged existence in contrast to that of the general population, and how much of what happens is a direct result of her actions and her decisions, whilst others are victims of the circumstances with no options to escape. She seems to realise this towards the end, when even her son is more together than her, but all that notwithstanding, the action of the novel is gripping, and it is impossible not to feel curious about what will happen next and wonder if fate and karma will finally catch up with her.

The novel moves at a reasonable pace, at times we seems to be reading a standard domestic drama (about child-rearing and the relationship with her new husband), whilst at others it is an almost pure thriller, and we have blackmailers, red herrings, betrayals, and plenty of suspects. I think those two elements are well-combined and are likely to appeal to fans of both genres, although those who love hard thrillers might take issue with the amount of suspension of disbelief required to accept some of the events in the novel.

The ending is fairly open. Some questions (perhaps the main one) are resolved, but some others are not, and this might be frustrating for readers who prefer everything to be tied up in the end. There is a hint of some insight and growth in the character, but perhaps not enough considering the hard lessons she’s gone through.

There is some violence (although not extreme), serious issues are hinted at (domestic violence, poverty, bullying), and I particularly liked the realistic setting, and the way it depicts Vietnam, Hanoi and Saigon, the big social differences, and the expat scene.

In sum, a blend of psychological (noir) thriller with domestic drama, intriguing and heart-breaking at times, which takes place in an unusual and fascinating setting, recommended to those who don’t mind first-person narration and slightly open endings and who prefer their thrillers with more drama and less emphasis on procedural accuracy.

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text 2018-08-01 01:41
The Inspiration, Sorrow, and Triumph of the Vietnam Veteran

I met Steve Schaefer in the early years of this decade because of our shared association with Pillars of Honor, a Chicago-based organization dedicated to giving a day of honor to World War II veterans too weak to take their Honor Flight.  After my husband and I opened each program with World War II songs, Steve, the Pillars of Honor president, would give a few remarks, always introducing himself as a Vietnam veteran, the son of a World War II veteran.

 

It didn’t take long to connect the dots: Steve’s service had been inspired by his dad’s. And the younger Schaefer was every inch the elder had been, serving three tours in Vietnam and earning four Purple Hearts.

 

 

War has always produced heroes, a fact understood by young men of all time. Jurate Kazickas, a combat reporter who witnessed young Americans come under fire in Vietnam, wrote: “War, for all its brutality and horror, nevertheless offered men an opportunity like no other to be fearless and brave, to be selfless, to be a hero.” (1) Like Steve, many of the young men Kazickas met had been inspired by the heroism of the previous generation.

 

Those fighting on the other side were infused with their own historical perspective. When the Viet Minh defeated the French at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, they were hailed as national heroes. So it was hardly surprising that the Viet Minh remaining in the south after the civil war began were quickly given a new name by their enemies: Viet Cong, short for Viet Nam Cong San, the Vietnamese Communists. Vietnamese soldiers working for the southern government would be hard pressed to fight with any enthusiasm against the Viet Minh, their own Greatest Generation.

 

But if war provides an opportunity for heroism, it also, of necessity inflicts wounds. Viet Cong fighters and soldiers of the North Vietnamese Army were patched up by Communist medics in the south who were constantly on the run, changing locations almost as often as they changed bandages. One of these, surgeon Dang Thuy Tram, was moved to give her fallen patients poetic tribute in her diary: “Oh, Bon, your blood has crimsoned our native land. . . . Your heart has stopped so that the heart of the nation can beat forever.” (2)

 

Thuy and the American nurses featured in my book, Courageous Women of the Vietnam War, couldn’t help becoming emotionally attached to their patients, who, even if they had joined up to become heroes, were reduced to mere boys when wounded. Years after his hospitalization in Vietnam, Air Cavalry Sergeant Robert McCance wrote a note of thanks to his nurse, Anne Koch, acknowledging that he had then “really needed the touch of a mother’s hand.” (3)

 

Female medics on both sides of the conflict gave that motherly touch. But as Lynda van Devanter, US Army nurse in Vietnam wrote later, “Holding the hand of one dying boy could age a person ten years. Holding dozens of hands could thrust a person past senility in a matter of weeks.” (4)

 

Anne Koch. 

 

The war wounded these healers. Thuy was killed before it ended. Most of the American nurses survived but suffered decades of inner pain, which matched, or perhaps in some cases outstripped, the outward suffering of their broken, bleeding, dying patients, images that were often etched permanently in the nurses’ minds.

 

After the war, the eerie silence between the two enemies once locked in mortal combat represented oceans of hurt; all attempts to move past the war seemed hollow when veterans on both sides were suffering. The southern Vietnamese soldiers were given absolutely nothing except, in many instances, a one-way ticket to a cruel reeducation camp. If they were fortunate enough to emerge alive, mere shadows of their former selves, they saw that the new government had obliterated all memorials to their dead comrades.

 

Post-war life was also bitter for the victors. The rumored riches in the south had been exaggerated and the new country’s economy disastrously unable to provide for its people, much less its fighters. Many female veterans hoped that victory would bring an opportunity to raise a family in peace. But the long, grueling years of war left too many unable to bear children even if they could find someone amid the surviving males to marry them.

 

Most American female veterans went on to live outwardly normal lives but they, like their male counterparts, received no recognition for many years. This was, perhaps Steve Schaefer’s biggest wound and one that should have earned him—and all the other vets—an additional Purple heart. The inability of family and friends to comprehend what they had experienced, on the one hand, and the lack of respect from strangers on the other, exacerbated the inner pain overwhelming these veterans.

 

But perhaps the most inspiring stories of the Vietnam War occurred at this point. While post-traumatic stress is as old as combat, the suffering of Vietnam veterans gave it a name. A brotherhood of the war-wounded was formed and, as my book illustrates, a sisterhood as well. Lynda van Devanter founded the Women’s Project at the Vietnam Veteran’s of America. Kay Bauer, a US Navy nurse who was targeted by domestic terrorists after the war, created a PTSD program for female Vietnam veterans in Minneapolis, her hometown. And Diane Carlson Evans, who wrote my book’s forward, spearheaded the difficult ten-year project to honor all the women veterans of the war with their own memorial in Washington, D.C. The unveiling of that memorial on November 11, 1993, was a time of honor, personal healing, and numerous reunions between female medics and their patients.

 

 

Many Vietnam veterans, male and female, would eventually succumb to the effects of Agent Orange. Steve Schaefer was one of these. But like so many veterans of that war, Steve had found a way to move forward in his life long before it ended. He led local veteran’s associations and helped the homeless for decades, and in his final years worked tirelessly to give tribute to the generation that had inspired him.

 

  1. Courageous Women of the Vietnam War, 89.
  2. Courageous Women of the Vietnam War, 129.
  3. Courageous Women of the Vietnam War, 119.
  4. Courageous Women of the Vietnam War, 145.

 

 

Top photo: Jurate Kazickas. 

Bottom photos, left to right: Dang Thuy Tram, Bobbi Hovis, Lynda van Devanter, Kay Bauer. 

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text 2018-06-30 02:54
A diary, a memoir, and a war.

Dang Thuy Tram is pictured on the far left, Lynda Van Devanter second from right. 

 

Because one of my goals in writing Courageous Women of the Vietnam War was to understand the conflict from multiple perspectives, I tried to feature women from different sides within each chronological segment. In the section labeled "Richard Nixon's 'Peace'", I included the story of Communist surgeon, Dang Thuy Tram, and American nurse, Lynda Van Devanter and found them to be movingly similar.

 

In 1969 Dang Thuy Tram was a three-year graduate from medical school and Lynda van Devanter a newly trained nurse. These young women could have put their skills to use in relative safety but chose instead to serve their countries -- North Vietnam and the United States, respectively--by going into a war zone: South Vietnam. 

 

The United States had just sworn in a new president whose campaign promise had been “an honorable end” to the Vietnam War. Precisely what Richard Nixon meant by those words would not become clear till much later, but nothing he said before his inauguration or anything he did afterwards could shake the resolve of the leader in North Vietnam who remained determined to see Vietnam united. In the same month Nixon began his presidency, Thuy, already working with the VC in the south and longing to be accepted into the Communist party,  copied a speech from Ho Chi Minh in her diary:

 

…This year greater victories are assured at the battlefront. For independence—for freedom. Fight until the Americans leave, fight until the puppets fall. Advance soldiers, compatriots. North and South reunified, no other spring more joyous. (1)

 

Ideology also spurred Lynda into the war. On night, during her last year of nursing school, she made up her mind to join the army and go to Vietnam, believing that the US was “pursuing a course that President Kennedy had talked about in his inaugural address: we were saving a country from Communism.” (2)

 

There were brave boys fighting and dying for democracy…And if our boys were being blown apart, then somebody better be over there putting them back together again. I started to think that maybe that somebody should be me. (3)

 

Thuy traveled down the dangerous Ho Chi Minh trail and landed in the Quang Ngai Province, an area with a history of intense resistance to foreigners. On June 9, 1969, just six months after Thuy recorded Ho’s speech in her diary, Lynda became one of those foreigners, working 244 miles away at the 71st Evacuation Hospital in Pleikuk.

 

Both Thuy and Linda were involved in life-saving surgeries and both found triage emotionally difficult. Lynda stated it bluntly: “Essentially we were deciding who would live and who would die.” (4) She later described her first experience of a “mal-cal”—a mass casualty situation:

 

The moans and screams of so many wounded were mixed up with the shouted orders of doctors and nurses. One soldier vomited on my fatigues while I was inserting an IV needle into his arm. Another grabbed my hand and refused to let go. A blond infantry lieutenant begged me to give him enough morphine to kill him so he wouldn’t feel any more pain. A black sergeant went into a seizure and died while Carl and I were examining his small frag wound. (5) 

 

When Thuy’s team decided to not operate on a dying patient, she “conformed to the majority’s opinion” but poured regret into her diary:

 

He died with a small notebook in his breast pocket. It held many pictures of a girl with a lovely smile and a letter assuring him of her steely resolution to wait for his return. On his chest, there was a little handkerchief with the embroidered words Waiting for you. Oh, that girl waiting for him! Your lover will never come back; the mourning veil on your young head will be heavy with pain. It will mark the crimes committed by the imperialist killers and my regret, the regret of a physician who could not save him when there was a chance. (6) 

 

Thuy never wavered in support of her government’s war aims. While the war was absolute hell for most Vietnamese people, it wasn't hard for Ho Chi Minh's followers to keep their motivations stoked. The US, in their minds, was simply following China and France as the most recent colonizer and the southerners, they thought, were wealthy traitors. Each new Viet Cong or NVA death increased Thuy's hatred for the enemy and her desire for victory.

 

Every American death had the opposite effect on people like Lynda; it was difficult for the average American serving in Vietnam to maintain their ideological reasons for supporting the war. How was their presence promoting democracy, exactly? Increasingly haunted by the deaths of far too many young Americans under her care, Lynda wrote home, “We should either pull out of Vietnam or hit the hell out of the NVA. This business of pussyfooting around is doing nothing but harm. It’s hurting our GIs, the people back home, and our image abroad.” 

 

The war had a devastating effect on the lives of both women. It ended Thuy’s--she was shot by an American bullet sometime in June, 1970. Lynda boarded her “freedom flight” that same month but returned home to face the hostility of strangers, the misunderstanding and indifference of friends and family, and years of untreated PTSD. 

 

But their stories were destined to have major post-war impact. When Lynda wrote her moving war memoir, Home Before Morning, in 1983, it became a bestseller, inspired the award-winning China Beach series, and illuminated the unique plight of American Vietnam War nurses.

 

Thuy’s diary was found by an American military intelligence officer who took it home but brought it back to Vietnam in 2005 where it was published that year. There were plenty of war memoirs and biographies in Vietnam by this time, but Thuy’s diary revealed the voice of a flesh and blood human being who questioned her own motives, grieved for the lost, and hoped for an end to the war; she was not a hero carved in marble spouting all the correct sentiments. Last Night I Dreamed of Peace became a bestseller and was translated into English in 2007.

 

War inflicts wounds not only on those who fight in them but on those who dedicate themselves to heal wounded warriors. Thuy and Lynda paid dearly for choosing the role of healers but they became the voices of their generations, and in speaking from their frame of reference, helped countless readers understand the war from the other side.

 

1. Courageous Women of the Vietnam War, 125. 

2. Home Before Morning: The Story of an Army Nurse in Vietnam by Lynda van Devanter, 49. 

3. Courageous Women, 137.  

4. Courageous Women, 138. 

5. Courageous Women, 142. 

6. Last Night I Dreamed of Peace: The Diary of Dang Thuy Tram99-100.

7. Courageous Women, 145. 

 

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text 2018-05-17 16:14
Amazing!!!
Courageous Women of the Vietnam War: Medics, Journalists, Survivors, and More (Women of Action) - Kathryn J. Atwood,Diane Carlson Evans

Okay, first of all, let me say that before this book I knew next to nothing about the Vietnam War. For the past three years, Kathryn J. Atwood has sent me each of her books to review. So, after I received this book in the mail, I dove right in, eager to fill in the gaps.

Reading “Courageous Women of the Vietnam War” has been quite an education for me. Not only did it recount how America was drawn in and why, it went all the way back to the roots of war. Reading the stories of the Vietnamese girls and women, who yearned for nothing more than to be free, touched my heart. They simply wanted to live in a world untouched by war. Then learning how many American women voluntarily went over as nurses and even journalists, was extraordinary. Not only did they set foot in an uncharted territory, they did it knowing that some back home did not support them or their sacrifices. But it was the story of Phan Thi Kim Phuc and her journey to freedom that has stayed with me, and inspired me to do further research. I really highly recommend all of Kathryn’s books, but especially this one, because the Vietnam War is an important part of history and it should never be forgotten. 

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