photo of John Shook beside Vietnam Memorial

One Soldier by John H. Shook

Who, or what, was the real enemy in Vietnam? The ever-elusive, jungle-wise Viet Cong and their NVA allies? The oppressive heat and torrential rains? The leeches, mosquitoes, and the jungle itself? Or the army whose regulations made you carry a .45 even though the firing pin was broken? Perhaps, each in their own way, they all were… and John Shook battled them all.

In One Soldier, he recounts his experiences and describes how he faced—and overcame—all the enemies a machine-gunner encountered in the Nam. Straight-from-the-shoulder, Shook tells of search and destroy patrols and night ambushes and slogging through a rice paddy, wondering when the first shot was going to come. You’ll be at his side during bull sessions on getting a “million-dollar” wound that would mean a return to the States and in firefights that turned his M-60 machine gun from a shoulder-numbing burden into a staccato, lead-spewing lifesaver.

Most of all, One Soldier is a story of combat, written in the immediate, gut-wrenching language that men at war resort to: “A burst of automatic rifle fire rips through the hooch inches above my elevated perch. Knowing exactly where my rifle hangs I reach out for it but grasp only air and wooden wall. … The firing in both directions is heavier now. There is yelling on the bridge. It is a black night, a void of vision punctuated by muzzle flashes and the crisscrossing streaks of tracers… Is that your 16?’ I yell. ‘What the f—. Who cares?’… ‘Where was your rifle when this s— started?'”

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Marines on Patrol

U.S. Marines in Vietnam: Small Unit Action 1966 by Captain Francis J. “Bing” West Jr.

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Grade Level from the Flesch-Kincaid Readability Score is 6.2.

The battle scenes are dramatic but are too graphic for middle school readers in our opinion.

And the text of the book is much easier reading than the blurb below:

Vietnam, summer 1966. On a steep mountainside 20 miles inland, a reconnaissance platoon of 18 men holds off hundreds of enemy soldiers for over 12 hours. In a four-day scouting mission near the demilitarized zone, a small patrol ambushes and destroys a Viet Cong base camp. This was the action behind the headlines in Vietnam.

From routine night raids to full-scale assaults, Small Unit Action in Vietnam presents a compelling perspective on the courage, dedication and patriotic enthusiasm of U.S. Marines in the early stages of the war.

Originally published as a strategic training manual, this remarkable and moving document is an authentic eyewitness account of nine separate actions at the company and battalion level. Most books look at the broad picture of the war. Small Unit Action in Vietnam sharpens the focus to show the individual battles as they were actually fought. Captain West’s book describes with taut precision the lightning judgments, tactical decisions and moments of bravery of individual soldiers fighting a deadly enemy in an overwhelmingly hostile environment.

Through his vivid descriptions—of the rugged terrain, the movements of the units, the use of support troops and artillery, the ruses and psychological ploys so crucial in defeating a brilliant, determined and resourceful foe—we experience with stunning clarity the challenges of combat on the front.