ONCE A WARRIOR KING: Memories of an Officer in Vietnam by David Donovan

ONCE A WARRIOR KING: Memories of an Officer in Vietnam

Email this review


Small patrols, slashing combat missions and night ambushes animate this gripping account of an idealistic U.S. Army first lieutenant's leading a four-man team in securing a rural area on the Mekong Delta in 1969. We follow Donovan from his arrival at Tram Chi, from Special Warfare School in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, into his first night patrol, during which the main event is his falling into a village canal ""covered with shit, disease, worms, and the general effluvia of decades of village life."" The high-flown ""general effluvia"" warns you that this will not be an account by a common ""grunt,"" such as Pfc. John Ketwig's violently emotional worm's-eye-view . . . And a Hard Rain Fell (below). Donovan's team is to run its own little war and survive the best it can. His incompetent Captain Jackson explains: ""Out here you have to get up every day and just do what you think's best. Never look back. Too much thinking can get you killed."" A blinkered careerist, Jackson's stupidity gets many people killed before he's shuttled off to a desk job. Meanwhile, Donovan and his team look at men not out in the field with them as ""an undercaste, pussies, men without the blood of warriors. . .(W)e held ourselves to be better men."" As ""advisors"" he and his men lead native troops but nonetheless are looked upon as the supreme local power. ""I began to accept my elevated status, and I began to use the powers in my hands as if they were mine by right. . .and if I didn't do it, I had the definite impression that very little would get done. . .I was a Warrior King."" Soon he's not only running the war but administering the law. His team becomes involved in civil operations, development of village schools, health and maternity clinics, agricultural projects, law enforcement programs, and meanwhile the VC have put a price on his head. Back home Donovan was disgusted by public thanklessness toward Vietnam veterans, and put the war out of mind as much as possible while doing graduate work and starting a family. As with Ketwig, his final scene at the dedication of the Vietnam Veterans War Memorial wall in Washington, D.C., brings a rush to the eyes that goes straight through your heart's walls.

Pub Date: June 24th, 1985
ISBN: 0345479076
Publisher: McGraw-Hill