Memoirs of an Officer in Vietnam
by David Donovan
© 1985 McGraw-Hill
Paperback edition by Ballantine Books, 1986
Out of print.
"I knew when I stepped off the plane at Tan Son Nhut airbase that I would not be assigned to one of the big American army units in Vietnam. I was going to be posted to some Vietnamese village where I was supposed to try and help the people with rural development projects and with the defense of their villages against the communists. I had butterflies in my stomach; I knew I wasn't in for a picnic, but I felt prepared for the job, and I was excited about the opportunity to do good for the Vietnamese people. As it turned out, I suppose, I was six feet, one inch of naive American soldier."
Although the experiences of the author were not typical for U.S. servicemen stationed there, this is one of the best books on the Vietnam Conflict I've ever read. First Lieutenant David Donovan was stationed in a small, remote compound in the Mekong River Delta in 1969. There were only four other Americans stationed there, there was no artillery support, and air support was rare. Under these conditions, a lowly 1st Lt., advising a small Vietnamese militia unit, was effectively a king. This is his story, the story of how a young man suddenly transplanted into an alien place came to grips with having so much power over, and responsibility for, the village of Tram Chim and approximately 30,000 people in scattered hamlets on the Plain of Reeds.
This book gives a perspective you just can't get from the typical media treatments of Vietnam. This isn't some bizarre creation like Apocolypse Now or Platoon, entertaining but not necessarily an accurate representations of reality. Nor is it We Were Soldiers, an accurate depiction, but limited to one major event. Once a Warrior King is a history of one man's entire experience in Vietnam, from his first arrival to the day he left. Donovan takes you through all of his experiences as he learns his duties on the job, stuggles to perform that job, grows to respect the people in his "kingdom"--and those people learn to respect him, and then almost overnight gets suddenly transported back to his former life. This book won't help you understand why the United States fought in Vietnam. It won't give you insight into the failure of that involvement. You won't read about the heros or monsters you see portrayed in war movies. You'll read about one human being trying to do the best job he can under very difficult circumstances.
"I wondered exactly what it was I was doing here in this foreign place. I asked myself what it was I found so valuable that I was willing to risk death for it, what it was I found so valuable I was ready to kill for it."