The propulsive history of American soldiers under siege in the last days of the Vietnam War.
Keith (Blackhorse Riders: A Desperate Last Stand, an Extraordinary Rescue Mission, and the Vietnam Battle America Forgot, 2012), a decorated veteran of three tours in Vietnam, explains that by 1970, as part of Nixon’s “Vietnamization” strategy to conclude the war, lightly fortified “fire support bases” were increasingly positioned to lure the North Vietnamese Army into mounting cross-border attacks from Cambodia. At FSB Illingworth, a hodgepodge of ill-equipped infantry and artillery units, along with a cavalry unit with inoperable tanks, were well-aware that the FSB had not been moved in far too long; in effect, the luckless soldiers were being used as bait. Their suspicions proved correct during a massive pre-dawn NVA assault, which Keith depicts with precise chronology and gruesome detail. The author highlights both the bravery of individual soldiers and the impractical planning that pervaded the conflict. He suggests that the battle’s survivors still feel they were treated shabbily by the command structure: “They do not see their victory as an accomplishment, except in terms of making it out alive.” Yet, to the officers behind the confrontational strategy, the few-dozen casualties were deemed “ ‘acceptable’ if the action had destroyed the enemy’s capability to conduct operations in this sector.” But Keith also claims that news of the engagement traveled far up the chain of command. His extensive research produces impressive verisimilitude, and the moment-by-moment accuracy of his battle re-enactment makes up for occasional purple prose—e.g., “the entire company…were on the hot seat again, and the NVA was turning up the flames.”
A respectful account of a battle that was “a perfect microcosm of what the Vietnam War was becoming in the early days of Vietnamization.”