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Posts Tagged ‘special forces’

A Review of The Green Berets

Posted by Scott Holstad on July 7, 2015

The Green Berets: The Amazing Story of the U. S. Army's Elite Special Forces UnitThe Green Berets: The Amazing Story of the U. S. Army’s Elite Special Forces Unit by Robin Moore

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love this book. I first read it many years ago in high school and it’s stuck with me ever since, so when I saw it in a used bookstore, I bought it and reread it and I’m glad I did. The Green Berets is journalistic nonfiction being marketed as fiction to protect the identity and locations of the people and places involved. Since this book was published in 1965, the north Vietnamese could have read it and done some damage with it if it named actual people or locations. Since it was published in 1965, you can guess that it’s about American military “advisers,” not actual servicemen as the war hadn’t started yet. But it had, secretly. This book has stories on green berets in Laos with local militias they’ve recruited and trained hitting the Viet Cong and the NVA (Viet Minh, as they’re referred to here). This book shows real life heroes in action, in harm’s way, far from safety, doing a lot of damage to Uncle Ho. Makes one wonder if Special Forces had been allowed to keeping fighting the war their way how differently things might have gone. There’s a sweet, but sad, love story in the book. There are some humorous moments. I think one thing that really has stuck with me over the years is the fact that this book started my disrespect for the South Vietnamese military, which was full of crooked pansies who wouldn’t fight at night, wouldn’t get up early in the morning to march, wouldn’t land their helicopters in “hot”” DZs, demanded to be in charge but when the fighting started, would run away and let the Americans do it. This surprised me, but as I’ve read dozens and dozens of books on the Vietnam war over the years, this fact is told over and over again. Yet I’ve never understood why. The northern Vietnamese army was tough as nails, to be feared, would charge into machine gun fire without thinking. The south Vietnamese army was a bunch of pussies. Why? They were supposed to be fighting to save their country. Didn’t they care? I have read accounts where some of them said let the Americans do it, we won’t. That’s a sick attitude. Frankly, it was a civil war and the US had no business being there. I’m glad the country’s reunified, even if it is communist. It’s just a shame that so many had to die. However, the book is not for the squeamish. There are accounts of Viet Cong atrocities that turn your stomach. But that’s war and it happened, so it had to be reported. I’m sure Moore could have made his book twice as big with all of the stories he collected while he was over there serving in the field himself, and I sometimes wonder why he chose the ones he did, but they’re all good. By the way, before the green berets let him tour with them, they made him become, essentially a green beret. He had to go to jump school, get scuba training, jungle warfare training, all of it. He earned his beret. Great book. Strongly recommended.

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A Review of Hunting the Jackal

Posted by Scott Holstad on October 19, 2013

Hunting the Jackal: A Special Forces and CIA Soldier's Fifty Years on the Frontlines of the War Against TerrorismHunting the Jackal: A Special Forces and CIA Soldier’s Fifty Years on the Frontlines of the War Against Terrorism by Billy Waugh

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I wanted to give this somewhat exciting book more stars, but it leaves out too much information to merit it. For instance, the author joins the military in 1947 and apparently fights in Korea, but the first we see of him is in 1965 Vietnam, after he’s joined the Special Forces and is hunting NVA units. There are a couple of exciting, if somewhat unbelievable, tales of his time in Nam, particularly when he thought he might catch Giap (which didn’t happen, obviously). He earned eight Purple Hearts and other assorted medals.

After he leaves the army, as a master sergeant (which is odd, considering the high level talks he allegedly has with colonels and generals), he joins the postal service and is bored stiff. Then, in the mid-70s, he’s recruited to go to Libya to train “elite” commandos for an impending war with Egypt. He’s also recruited by the CIA to take photographs and spy for them. Let me tell you, he doesn’t hold Arabs in high regard.

After skipping ahead to the early 90s, he’s stationed in Khartoum, Sudan where there are apparently tons of terrorists. He comes across “Usama” bin Laden, but he’s such a low level target in 1992, that he doesn’t really think anything of it. Instead, he’s after Carlos the Jackal, the world’s most notorious terrorist. He gets actual pictures of Carlos, the first any have been made of him in 10 years, and then sits in an observation post taking more pictures. We’re supposed to be leading up to an exciting climax here, but we then learn the French have taken Carlos in because they have a warrant, the US doesn’t, and we handed him over to them. It’s REALLY anti-climactic.

Later in the book, he discusses 9/11, but not much. He’s clearly anti-Clinton, and I guess pro-Bush, so there you have it. In 2001/2, at age 72, he joins Special Forces in Afghanistan to hunt the Taliban and bin Laden. He’s amazed by all of the new high tech war weapons, such as drones, and puts forth his belief that bin Laden died from a drone strike. I don’t know when this book was written and I don’t know if the author is still alive, but I’d be interested in hearing his opinion after knowing the facts of bin Laden’s actual demise. This last part of the book leaves you feeling fairly empty though, because nothing happens. Nothing. His Special Forces team occupies a deserted Afghan school. He’s very cold. They smell bad. Ooooh!

There’s almost no background information on Waugh in this book, some of the stories seem exaggerated, he leaves out lots of details because they’re classified (he apparently went to 64 countries as a CIA operative, but talks about three of them), he served, apparently, in Iraq and the Balkans, but we hear nothing about that, just like we hear nothing about Korea. WTF? Why did he pick and choose four or five scenes from his 50 years of combat to share? He could have made this book four times as long and 10 times more interesting if he had chosen to include more information. Oh, he also gets married to a wonderful girl and then we hear nothing more about her. He’s also fairly narcissistic. The soldiers in Afghanistan “worshiped” him. He’s a legend in his own mind. I really wanted to like this book, and parts of it were exciting, yes, but so much is left out that I can’t recommend it at all. I feel like I’m doing the author a favor by giving it three stars…..

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A Review of The Secret War Against Hanoi

Posted by Scott Holstad on September 5, 2012

The Secret War Against Hanoi: The Untold Story of Spies, Saboteurs, and Covert Warriors in North VietnamThe Secret War Against Hanoi: The Untold Story of Spies, Saboteurs, and Covert Warriors in North Vietnam by Richard H. Shultz Jr.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The author of this book used declassified material to give readers an inside view of “The Secret War Against Hanoi.” Unfortunately, it’s almost all from the operational level, or I guess more accurately, from a top down perspective. What I mean is we learn about special forces (SOG) fighting in the Vietnam area (N Vietnam, S Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia), but with almost no personal stories behind what went on. Instead, we get directives and papers argued about and with the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), the State Department, the Defense Department, and the White House itself. It’s a book about politics and the resulting failures of SOG due to bureaucratic bullshit. It took years for a covert war to get off the ground, and just when North Vietnam started to publicly admit they were feeling the heat, the White House pulled the plug due to political reasons.

The book covers four main areas within SOG, including psyops, maritime ops, efforts to “cross the wire” to the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos, and frankly, it’s a book about frustrations and failures. It was disappointing in that regard, because I’ve read plenty of books about SOG heroism in Vietnam, and that’s rarely reflected in Schultz’s book. In fact, it would have helped to add some stories of courage or valor or even cowardliness to give the reader a better feel for what he’s getting at, but the author doesn’t do this. Instead, you have military and civilian commanders running around subverting each other at every opportunity and it gets old after awhile. The jokers never learned to work together and they never learned in general. It’s amazing SOG accomplished anything with these people in charge. Sadly, the author portrays most SOG operations as blunders and failures. The truth is, there are no real metrics with which to measure SOG success — people went in to territories they weren’t politically supposed to be with no identifying information. We don’t know the true number of dead and missing SOG vets. It’s a pity.

This book is fairly dry and it gets boring and repetitive quickly. There’s a lot of information overlap between the chapters. I think a better book to read about the subject is John L. Plaster’s “SOG: The Secret Wars of America’s Commandos in Vietnam.” It’s sad and tragic, but it gives you a real feel for what took place and just who fought these battles.

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