Monday, November 3, 2008

Vietnam: No Regrets - Personal Story!

Vietnam: No Regrets
One Soldier’s Tour of Duty
By J. Richard Watkins
Aventine Press
ISBN: 1593303033
193 Pages

Goo-oood Morning Vietnam! In an almost journalistic, diary style, J. Richard Watkins presents his own story in Vietnam: No Regrets – One Soldier’s Tour of Duty.

When a boy becomes a man in Vietnam, we cry with him. We feel his fear. We hear his prayers. And we rejoice when, after it is over, it is to his mother’s arms he first goes. For by now, his greatest fear is whether or not the unconditional love will still be there for him. Or will his parents be able to see right away how he has changed, what he has done? And will they turn away in disgust from this man that is still their son? As I read the Epilogue of the most comprehensive coverage I have thus far read from a soldier’s viewpoint, only then did my tears run. For after all that he’d been through, this soldier’s greatest fear was indeed whether he would or could go back within the warmth and comfort of his family and friends without their seeing, somehow, what he had done. There¾in the jungles of Vietnam and Cambodia.

For the majority of time, Watkins was a radio transmission operator whose duty was to communicate with the artillery batteries to call for artillery support when needed. That meant that he was always with the commander of the unit…and he was always right at the front! Watkins’ non-fiction narrative is packed with memories, fresh in his mind, though he left Vietnam in 1970. If I were reading it without knowing the date of its being published, I would have thought he was there, writing for a newspaper, or in a journal. His message is frank, open, and honest. His views are his own, but he’s willing to share them. These are the facts, as he knows them, and he’s willing to state them loudly and clearly!

For the average person back in the States, I never knew, for instance, that the Infantry was the man on the line. “The army’s rule of thumb was that out of every ten soldiers in-country, nine of the ten would be giving support to the ones that were actually in a real combat situation.” (p.69) What that means in actual numbers was that it was only about 40-50,000 men who actually fought on the front lines—it was “the Infantry and then there was everyone else.” Those are the men who trudged through the jungles hunting the enemy. They are the men who stood duty during the monsoon rains through which they could not see the man next to them. They were the men who risked their lives—the “same” men moving from place to place. Now there was a turnover within the Infantry. Most had tours of three months. Watkins, for an unknown reason, was there six months before he got his first R&R. He had gone over his immediate superior’s head to ensure he was able to leave.

It was not the first time I had learned that many men died in this war due to actions by their superiors. One of the most incredible stories shared by Watkins was when a new officer volunteered for them to immediately leave on a rescue mission to try to save a group of Green Berets, even though they had just returned from an extensive patrol. Once there and in the midst of battle, the reality of this officer’s decision became apparent even to him as they ran out of water, food and other necessities and he had to send for emergency support. The new officer had acted without regard to the safety and needs of his own men! And everybody knew it long before he did!

A major contribution toward the value of Vietnam: No Regrets is inclusion of pictures. Additionally, his almost-journalistic approach to reporting on the beauty of Vietnam from the air, as well as actually riding in the helicopters, and in his openness on sharing his times away from base—both in the jungles and out, make for a more informative reading. I think I enjoyed most his quick decision to “find” his way to see his best friend who was in the Marines and how he hopped rides to get there and back. I could almost envision the look of surprise, shock and pleasure when they stood looking at each other once Watkins had found him! Finally, his open inclusion of the heartache caused by a “Dear John” letter should make any woman who ever considered writing one to a serviceman immediately change her mind!

Watkins shares that he quickly learned “tomorrow was promised to no one.” (p. 79) He shares that when you are in the midst of battle, you want to be gone; but once you are out, you miss the adrenaline and want to be back. It works for the time period in which you do battle. But his greatest advice, received almost as soon as he was there, was to be sure to leave everything behind when he left. Watkins remembered that advice, and as his tour ended, he worked hard to ensure that he was able to do that!

Perhaps this book illustrates that those men will never be able to truly forget their time in Vietnam. Vietnam: No Regrets is graphic in its violence, the need to seek out and destroy the enemy while ensuring that their own men were not hurt. It includes mistakes made, but it includes prayers lifted up in both supplication and gratefulness. Watkins made it through Vietnam and has shared a major part of his life as a member of Alpha Company 1/27 Wolfhounds, Twenty-fifth Infantry Division. Thank you!

It seems to me that young men leaving for the service, going into war, would benefit from this book. But would it be preparation? According to Watkins, probably not, because what was experienced in battle must be experienced to understand it! Still, Watkins presents an effective balance in his book and, in my opinion, has presented a major contribution to the story of Vietnam. For those who are searching for answers about a war that many will not even talk about, this is a Must-Read.

G. A. Bixler
IP Book Reviewer