CODE NAME: COPPERHEAD by Joe R. Garner

CODE NAME: COPPERHEAD

My True-Life Exploits as a Special Forces Soldier
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 A gung-ho account of 27 years in Special Forces. Garner opens with the story of how his son, crossing the Canadian border in 1982, was detained for hours by agents who wanted to know where his father was. Finally, he was let go, ``but the alarm bells were ringing. A lot of cages had been rattled by the name Joe Garner.'' The elder Garner, by his own account, is something of a legend. He begins his own tale with his Special Forces (SF) training days at Fort Bragg in 1958, a period characterized by secrecy, weird training specializations, and plenty of tight-lipped macho toughness. Garner seems to have relished it all. Ten years later, in Vietnam and Laos, he was at first disappointed to see no front-line action for a year and even more peeved to be assigned the duty of taking care of Vietcong POWs. This section of the book, though, is one of its most interesting. The SF men are first trained to withstand enemy torture themselves: In one exercise, a man is paraded naked in front of one of his comrades skillfully made up to look like a woman (the recruit finally breaks down, pleading the Geneva Conventions); at times recruits were forced into steel boxes with a few inches of putrid water for hours and days on end. Later, Garner expresses some doubts over the way Vietcong POWs were interrogated--things weren't done, he knows, strictly according to the Conventions. Throughout this book there are fascinating glimpses of what it was like to be part of a unit perpetrating what the Defense Department could always call ``disavowable actions.'' For aspiring soldiers or readers with little interest in larger political themes. It doesn't analyze anything, but for all that, it's a pretty gripping account of dirty war.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-671-86435-1
Page count: 432pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1994