Books by Otto J. Lehrack

Released: May 25, 1992

The record of a Marine battalion in Vietnam, 1964-69, by a former infantry captain. Lehrack's technique is to record various NCOs, privates, and line officers, then to distill their accounts and give them a chronology. He sets this worm's-eye view in wider context; for instance, he contrasts the notions of General Westmoreland with those of various Marine commanders. The Marines believed in building schools and distributing food; the Army thought those were civilian matters. But, in general, this account has much the flavor of other Vietnam reminiscences: pride of service, bitterness over the confusion of purpose, and, in many cases, the troubles that individual solders had readjusting to civilian life. Wallace Terry's oral history of black soldiers, Bloods (1984), was similar, except that Lehrack's work is largely apolitical and more focused. Several of the soldiers won Medals of Honor, and their accounts are here, as well as a distinctive rendering of the first Battle of Khe Sanh. We hear from point men, corpsmen, gunnery sergeants; there's gentle testimony from a chaplain who was spat on when he returned to the US. Representative here might be Sergeant Kenneth Ransbottom, who extended his tours and served for a total of 27 months. His rendering of the relocation of a Vietnamese village, the terror of the civilians, and the panicky, accidental violence that ensued is heartbreaking—a testament both to his own eloquence and to Lehrack's skill in capturing it. A disciplined, lucid view of ordinary soldiers in a bewildering and demoralizing war. Read full book review >