A Book Review by Rich Roberts

Up-Close & Personal, In-Country, Chieu Hoi, Vietnam, 1969-1970

A Book Review:  

Rich Roberts, International Union of Police Associations (Ret.)

This book is a fascinating and highly personal read.  While its title makes it clear that it is one man’s personal experience in the early years of a highly unpopular war, it has implications far beyond one man’s memory.

Blunt and straight forward, it provides small personal touches that give it an intimacy lacking in too many reports, analyses, and histories of that global event.  It is a totally unique compendium of the unrecorded aspects of a war that received so much coverage over so many years, coverage that lacked the personal touched provided by Bogison.

Serving as a sergeant in the military police, Bogison and his unit began immersed in in-country ambush operations unsuitable to their military police training, followed by service in riverine operations, again counter to their training.  Aside from the Vietnam experience, based on my many years of dealing with law enforcement officers throughout the country, I was not surprised that on leaving the Army, Bogison then served as a law enforcement officer rising to the position of Homicide Detective Supervisor, often a common transition for veterans.

Bogison pulls no punches regarding either colleagues or commanders, commissioned and non-commissioned officers alike.  His words for senior non-coms and commanders who entered the field well after he and his unit had faced combat who issued orders based on prior military strategies and tactic while ignoring the hard-earned experience and therefore advice of those who had all undergone heated battle under conditions inconsistent with conventional military thinking.  To paraphrase an old cliché “Generals always fight their last war despite the critical differences of the current one.  These failures on the part of commanders were in part due to the fact that supposed allies such as the ARVN and the Thais created problems through a lack of communications and coordination with U.S. commanders resulting in frequent incidents of “friendly fire”.

Most importantly, unlike other writings about ‘Nam, Bogison makes it clear that living in abysmally wet, muddy, insect infested conditions took as great a toll on their mental health as the anticipation of combat and their own deaths.  The hostile environment in which they were forced to live was as devastating as the enemy’s actions.

Toward the middle the book begins to slow down due to some excessively detailed descriptions of the military ordnance and equipment along with place names of little or no interest to anyone who hadn’t been there.  However, this is a very minor flaw since the book picks up steam again with his transfer to a specialty unit he called the “river rats”.  They were responsible for delivering and retrieving in country troops along the contested waterways subject to enemy fire as well as the hostility, and probable support native fishermen provided the VC.

Despite that minor point, it is important to note that in the beginning of the book Bogison has included a glossary of military terms and acronyms so readers unfamiliar with such terms can easily understand the details described throughout the book.  Another nice touch was the inclusion of pictures taken of the men in the field.  My only disappointment was while the captions identified the men, I would have liked it if the captions also provided a description of what they were doing at the time.

While this is an important read for the general public for its highly personalized view of that war, there are other venues that should seek it out for the lessons they might learn.  It should serve as a text book for all four military academies: West Point, the Naval Academy, the Air Force Academy and Coast Guard Academy as well as Officer Candidate Schools and ROTC contingents.  Prospective officers may then learn to listen to experienced field personnel prior to insisting they adhere to established policies stemming from prior wars until they have absorbed the realities of what the field personnel are currently facing. 

While I have already mentioned the book’s importance to NCO’s and commanders it is also a critical read for anyone one who deals with PTSD whether they are therapists or family members for the clearer understanding they will obtain.  It could be of equal importance to veterans of that war, especially those who were castigated by anti-war individuals and groups on the return as Bogison was.  Perhaps they won’t feel quite as alone and unappreciated all those year ago.

In total, while the book is an important read for those mentioned above, it is equally important for the general populace to read and understand what has happened then in comparison to our involvement in the Middle East, not only what it means for our troops serving over there, but in terms of its historical significance.  To quote Winston Churchill, “Failing to learn history will condemn one to repeat it.”

— Rich Roberts

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