Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Book Review - Road of 10,000 Pains

The following book review of Road of 10,000 Pains, the Destruction of the 2nd NVA Division by the U. S. Marines, 1967 was written by R.R. Keene and is appearing in the May 2010 issue of Leatherneck, the official magazine of the Marine Corps Association.

Director Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland,” another remake of the Lewis Carroll novel, has the main character Alice falling through endless tunnels often exiting where she fell in. It reminds one of Tim O’Brien’s 1979 best-selling Vietnam War novel “Going After Cacciato.” There is a chapter, “A Hole on the Way to Paris,” where the characters escape the tunnels by “falling out.” An admirer later wrote, “This allusion to Alice in Wonderland helps reveal the story is fiction.”

What bold bovine scatology! It is typical rhetoric of the “Woodstock Generation”: a generation of lost, narcissistic, delusional social poltroons who were afraid they would have to do something that would require courage, moral fortitude and their discomfort; namely to serve in Vietnam.

Fortunately, there were others of the same era, men with deep reservoirs of tenacity and astounding self-sacrifice. Author and Vietnam veteran infantry officer, Marine Lieutenant Colonel Otto J. Leh¬rack’s “Road of 10,000 Pains” does not rely on fiction, which cannot face the reality of well-written factual accounts of battle, especially when the Marines who were there give accounts in their own words about pitched and bloody battles along four miles of Route 534 for seven months in Vietnam’s Que Son Valley.

Road of 10,000 Pains is a very good book. And its author is not only a good writer, but a wise one who, having interviewed countless veterans of the fighting, provides the necessary narration that binds it together. His judiciously selected quotes make this account one of the best books about the Vietnam War to date.

Lehrack points out: “Tom Brokaw’s ‘Greatest Generation’ was indeed great. … However, the images of countless thousands of volunteers flooding recruiting offices are misleading. Only 33 percent of those who served in World War II were volunteers; the other two-thirds were drafted. In Vietnam, by contrast, 78 percent of those who served were volunteers.”

And nearly 100 percent of those Ma¬rines and corpsmen fighting the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces in the Que Son Valley in 1967 were volunteers. What makes the valley fighting account chillingly unique is perhaps a matter-of-fact declaration by a former Viet Cong officer who, over dinner in 1999, told Lehrack: “‘In the Que Son Valley in 1967, we killed more Americans than at any time or place during the war.’”

“It was lush, green and fertile,” writes Lehrack, “with fairy-tale beauty. … One Marine said it was as beautiful as an orchid and deadly as a flytrap.”

Yes, it was deadly, and Lehrack uses nearly all of the 304 pages to replay the fights on a multitude of operations such as Union I and II, Adair, Pike, Cochise, Swift and Essex.

Lance Corporal Paul Malboeuf, 3d Battalion, Fifth Marine Regiment, gives us a sample: “ ‘I fired across a 180-degree arc across my entire front. … And then all of a sudden my a-gunner [assistant gunner] said the rounds were falling out of the barrel. We had cooked the barrel. The a-gunner was hit, so I changed the smoking-hot barrel with my bare hands. … I got hit with a concussion grenade that blew me up in the air and off the gun. … I thought I had bought the farm, but I didn’t have any holes. … I was trying to take care of Lance Cpl. Ernesto Sanchez, who was hit with small-arms fire and got a sucking chest wound. ... He asked if he was going to make it, and I told him that he was, and he died in my arms.’”

Lehrack also emphasizes some bitter ironies when he writes of Marine equipment during the Que Son Valley campaigns. “The Marines fought a desperate campaign in the Que Son Valley for most of a year with a defective rifle, the ‘experi¬mental’ model of the M16. Equipment was in such short supply that sometimes they had to recover the flak jackets, and even the boots, from the dead for reuse by the living.”

Corporal Bill Clark: “‘The M16s were failing. When I was up near the dike, I saw three NVA in the tree line. I got off one round before mine jammed. It looked like the Civil War out there, with all the guys using ramrods. I cleared the jam and fired but only got one round off, and it jammed again. … I remember thinking … if they rush me, I’m in trouble. When I got back to the LZ, there was a pile of weapons from our wounded and dead and I got one of them. It didn’t jam as often.’”

“The truth about the Vietnam veteran is this,” writes Lehrack, “Vietnam veterans served with as much honor, courage and commitment as any of America’s warriors who went before them or who followed.”

Sergeant Harold Wadley: “‘Some will remain eighteen, nineteen, or twenty in my memory. They never grow old. Out of one blood-soaked, shattered tree line and paddy, where unselfish, devoted Marines once answered to the roll call of Aukland, Baptist, Braswell, Horvath, Herman, Irving, Rosales, Stutes, Wilson, and Wolf, would come a beautiful blessing called Catherine Stutes. She was barely six months old and had never seen her father, Sgt. Wil¬liam Stutes, when he died hanging onto my boots, trying to get up when another North Vietnamese round hit him.’”

LCpl Harvey Newton: “‘We fought for our lives and for the Marines next to us. … From the standpoint of a nineteen-year-old lance corporal earning a base pay of about $120 per month, this was one helluva way to spend your summer.’”

Lieutenant Rick Phillips: “‘The next morning, the enemy dead were in large piles, and the Marines still held the position. It was that kind of a battle, and God, those Marines were magnificent!’”


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