21 Months, 24 Days ISBN# 9781499745542, by Richard Udden takes the reader from his enlistment hoping to avoid becoming a grunt as an inexperienced eighteen year-old kid, to an articulate curious soldier with unbounded energy learning on the run. Expecting an easy two years working in a trade, he was assigned infantry and sent to Vietnam to fight in a jungle he accurately describes in such detail the reader is with him experiencing the toughest life imaginable. Most every chapter contains photographs that show details he writes passionately about.
Because of his certificate in Machine Shop Technology, he hoped the Army would use that skill to assign him away from infantry, instead they made him a grunt. After advanced Infantry in Alabama they sent him to NCO school in Anniston, Alabama delaying his entry to Vietnam by five months! From Oakland Army Base in California, he boarded an airplane for Vietnam where he landed a day later. Assigned to A Company, First Cav Division, he looked around and felt he had “dropped down through a rabbit hole, to where there was no escape.” He would be stuck here for a year at nearby Bien Hoa Air Force Airbase.
Standing guard was grueling as he had to do seven days a week at night, where trip flares were in place in case VC approached. Once they tripped a wire connected to one, the whole sky would light up. If there were others approaching he could send up a parachute flare to illuminate a larger area. Barbed wire weaved through the area to prevent crawling or running through. Many weapons existed to handle any size of force including claymore mines, machine guns and calling in jet aircraft.
His loneliness grew as he kept sending letters home but had not received any in return though he knew they were writing. Much later he was able to receive their mail and gifts. Soon he was transferred to Fire Support Base called “Buttons”, twenty miles from Cambodian Border, with A Company known as “Ace High” where he received his own M16 rifle, helmet, and joined his fighting group of many experienced veterans. He was in awe of their appearance and proud to be a part of such a unit. Immediately he earned a nickname “Boston Bean” and became emotionally attached.
His first combat assault was when Ace High moved by helicopter into the jungle for about two weeks where they would resupply soldiers in the field. Flying over a jungle with six Hueys at two thousand feet at one-hundred-twenty knots they moved in, landed, and dug a large hole to sleep near and store their machine guns, ammo, and equipment. Leeches, bees, and termites attacked where they hadn’t sprayed insect repellent. This was living hell. In two weeks they were back having completed that mission.
March 1970 Udden states Nixon’s invasion of Cambodia and extension of the war, was to not to allow North Vietnam to take over South Vietnam because that would make us “look helpless and lose face in the world.” Many contend though, by extending the war, Nixon’s solution cost three million more Vietnamese and more than 20, 000 Americans.
Soon Udden was transferred to Firebase Candy for guard duty seven miles from the Cambodian border. He was informed the VC used Cambodia for rest, food, ammunition, and relaxation just as our troops used the VIP center. But artillery constantly bombarded the area “to soften up the VC and NVA soldiers just over the Cambodian border.” The noise bothered him so much he wanted a transfer to door gunner on a Huey. Soon they moved out of Candy to find action near the Cambodian border.
Udden was selected for Combat Leadership Training and even spoke with his family using a ham radio link that picked up his sagging spirits like “standing on the moon.” Rainy season was far more annoying than the heat of the sun.
Everyone liked Steve from California who was married just before Vietnam meaning he was not to do combat. Their Colonel was replaced by another whom the men despised for his annoying new orders that exposed them to more danger. Udden later saw a VC up close while foolishly reading a book on patrol. Both dropped to the ground. He felt vulnerable and angry at himself.
In his first real firefight a few days later while in the jungle in single file, VC machine gun fire hit the group. Dave was shot in the stomach and a Huey took him away. Udden changed that day. It hurt him personally and he felt the need for revenge of his military family. He recalled Biblical support for eye for an eye retaliation in the Old Testament. Three more men were killed shortly afterwards. When a howitzer sent a shell into their midst three more were hurt badly. He received a promotion to Specialist 4 and made Fire Team leader. A few months later Udden was promoted to sergeant.
While walking on patrol someone tripped a wire tied to a grenade in an artillery shell throwing him in the air with shrapnel in a thigh while Steve went down. No Medivac could reach there nor could volunteers despite hours trying. Steve’s death deeply affected Udden.
After his Army life he married, had two children, and is a retired Control Systems Engineer. He attended a reunion with many of his war pals, visited Steve’s family, and honored the dead at the Vietnam Wall. His life stands as a tribute to many who served in our most controversial war.
BIO: Dan graduated Annapolis, navigated a Navy jet, was carrier qualified, and earned NAO wings in Florida, and then a ship to Vietnam. He resigned, turned peace activist, joined VVAW, and became a civil rights lawyer for Cesar Chavez's UFW, the ACLU, and private civil rights practice. His memoir, All the Difference, describes his change from a pawn in the military to a crusader for justice. http://www.danielclavery.com (Author website)
The Light Where Shadows End : A Book Review by Daniel C. Lavery for VVAW, A War Hero’s Inspirational Journey Through Death, Recovery, and a World Without Home by r.g. cantalupo (He uses no capitals in his name on the cover: New World Publishers, paper, 2015, 171 pages) A member of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, the author took part in the 1971 Winter Soldier Investigations where he confessed to committing crimes and atrocities. A Radio-Telephone Operator (RTO) with the 25th Infantry Division in 1968-69, Cantalupo (a nickname, actually H. H. Gregory), served in Vietnam and was awarded a Bronze Star with a Combat V and three Purple Hearts. He describes himself as a war criminal who fired white phosphorus mortars and called in napalm bombs on civilians using weapons banned by the Geneva Convention. He returns to the scene of his action in 2015 “to survive my looming suicide… to Trang Bang where Nick Ut photographed the ‘Napalm Girl’. That was also where he ordered villagers to lie down while they destroyed their village and where Lonny, Baby, San, Devil and I lay dying not for God, or flag, or country, but simply because we were “the chosen”, draftees offered up from poor black, brown, or white families by an upper-middle-class draft board that didn’t want to take sons from their own.
He describes his boot camp training droning into him like a mantra: “They are gooks, dinks, commies, savages, nothing resembling us, nothing close to human. And, it worked-when I was shooting at a cardboard man, when I was stabbing a dummy to death with a bayonet, when I was on the edge of terror--it was the only voice I heard. But four months in Vietnam had changed me. The kids along Highway 1 chanting “G. I. Numba One” as they begged chocolate bar or cokes looked no different than the kids from my tenement—Asian versus black, or Puerto Rican or Pollock or Jew—hungrier maybe, more desperation in their eyes, but under the grime and stink, they were no different than the kids I grew up with carrying hopes and fears and dream. And so I heard a different voice—my own… How long does it take to kill a man-- from inside? …How long before I was no longer a man but a rifle. A bullet, and I inside a soulless body?
After his good friend Lonny is killed when he makes eye contact with an enemy soldier who is badly wounded and groaning in the Elephant grass, Cantalpo raises his rifle: "I put his head in the crosshairs, held my breath, and put my finger on the trigger guard. I didn’t squeeze the trigger. I couldn’t. Not anymore. Lonny was dead. Nothing I could do would bring him back. Not killing this soldier. Not killing the whole fucking North Vietnamese Army. Lonny was dead. Shot in the throat and chest by his own men. Friendly fire. Friendly. As if killing was somehow friendlier if done by your own men. And who was to blame? The soldiers on the perimeter who opened fire from fear of being overrun? The C.O. who sent us out? General Westmoreland? Nixon? Kissinger? The Pentagon? The Army? The rich? The whole fucking US of A? My mother? My war-hero father? Yes, everyone was to blame. Everyone carried Lonny’s blood on their hands. I lowered my rifle. I was done. I was done with killing, done with death, done with war. For a long moment, the wounded soldier held my eyes, then he turned and slowly crawled away."
He recounts his horrendous injuries from a mortar exploding a few feet away that hurled his body into the dark sky and then crashed down leaving him covered in warm blood and a nurse nicknamed “Peaches” helped him through hours, days and weeks of care with whom he says he seriously fell in love. “And then I rose. Above my body. Above my life. Is this my soul parting from my flesh, my spirit rising toward eternity, flying through the tunnel of white light toward people I loved? I rose in darkness, in shadow, the body below me—my body—graying to a shade, the medic slowly dimming to a hazy silhouette. I rose, but my wounds did not fly away on angel’s wings, nor did I see my mortal life bleeding into light as if I were eternal. I merely slipped in and out of a world filled with fire and burning pain—“
A film crew from Vietnam TV International recorded his anguish following his journey toward reconciliation meeting with former members of The People’s Army against whom he fought. They share the truth of where the People’s Army hid in tunnels awaiting to attack and use a map to describe each of their locations in battles. After awkward embraces and they shake hands and say goodbye through the pain such a meeting engendered. The war’s legacy in Vietnam, Cantalupo says, includes “leaving hundreds of thousands of unexploded bombs to kill more children,” as well as “fourth generation birth defects and genetic mutations caused by our massive spraying of Agent Orange.” That situation “will not allow for my reconciliation. This was the most profoundly moving memoir I have read on Vietnam showing how a man changed from a war criminal to a sensitive human being aware he was lucky to have survived and gained an inspiration and an awakening that changed his life.
BIO: Daniel C. Lavery graduated Annapolis, navigated a Navy jet, and then a ship to Vietnam. He resigned, turned peace activist and became a civil rights attorney for Cesar Chavez's UFW and the ACLU. His memoir, All the Difference, describes his change from a pawn to an advocate crusading for justice. HTTP://www.danielclavery.com(Author website)
Just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed your book. I jotted down a few things that resonated for me.
My dad was a Beta at University of Cincinnati.
Reef Points! How can we ever forget them!
Rifle range. Who can forget those Marines!
Heinz Lenz was still there for me, too. (I think he died only in the last couple of years?)
Joe Duff. He still coached baseball, but he and I never crossed paths. I made the plebe and varsity sailing teams while I was there (1967-1971), but was not the athlete you were. But those T-tables plebe year were a Godsend! And for the sailing team, it was for BOTH fall and spring sets.
Joe Bellino. I loved watching those games. And Roger Staubach, how lucky you were to be there during his era, too. Roger came and talked at our pep rally in 1967 before the Army/Navy game. (He was trying to make it with the Cowboys at that time.) We won that year and received "carry on" like you did.
Like you, I thoroughly enjoyed being on the "plebe detail" second class year. As luck would have it, the very next summer the Academy decided to put first class in charge of the detail, so I got to do it again!
Pensacola. Great times! I certainly wasn't the "ace of the base," but finished high enough (4 of 30 that week) to choose any pipeline I wanted (helos, jets, or props)---and they were all open that week.
My A-7 primary instructor in T-34's nearly shot me for picking helos, but guys from '68 and '69 were telling us how much fun they were having flying them (while we were still back at the Academy). Plus, I found that whenever I climbed above 5000 feet, I lost the real sensation of flying. I also found that to be true as a second class midshipman flying in the back of an F-4 at Oceana (the "Diamondbacks"). In helos I knew I would spend most of my flying career at 500 feet and below. (In Desert Storm we frequently flew at 10 feet and as fast as that Blackhawk would go!) I never regretted my decision.
Army helo pilot Hugh Thompson. What courage! (I used his example in my first book, Inspiring Leadership: Character and Ethics Matter, now used in the Leadership/Ethics curricula at Villanova and Regent Universities.)
Olongapo! Amazing place. If you closed your eyes, you actually thought the Rolling Stones were playing---or any other big name group for that matter. And those kids diving for pesos! The helo hangout was the Roofadora Club, as I recall.
Our helo squadron aboard the USS Constellation in 1974 made three daily trips ("liberty runs") to Bagio, Manila, and Clark AFB while we were in port at Cubi Point/Subic. We charged a dollar per person (which went to the rec fund). Needless to say, we were the most popular squadron on the ship, especially among the Filipino stewards! LOL.
And last but certainly far from least, your amazing work as a lawyer for the UFW. What a legacy for you! You can be justifiably proud of those years!
Anyway, Dan, thought you should know how much I enjoyed your book. One of these days we'll have to meet for lunch.