I don’t know about any of you, but I find myself reading military history books on various time periods. I have many interests in military history. One of my favorite topics is the Vietnam War. I just read the second of four books that I recently received on Vietnam. This most recent book, entitled Road of 10,000 Pains: The Destruction of the 2nd NVA Division by the U.S. Marines, 1967by Otto J. Lehrack, is an oral history of a series of battles that occurred in the Que Son Valley.
The Que Son Valley is located southwest of Da Nang. The Valley was important to the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) because it linked the western and eastern portions of South Vietnam and it was fertile area for rice production. It fell under the jurisdiction of the I Corps Tactical Zone of South Vietnam. From April to September of 1967, in an attempt to deny the Valley to the enemy, the Fifth Marine Regiment battled the 2nd NVA Division in a series of battles that cost the Marines more than 900 killed and thousands wounded. The Marines in return killed and wounded thousands of NVA soldiers and generally knocked the NVA division out of the war for a few months.
Lehrack organizes the book into chapters that cover the different battles. The chapters are written around the personal accounts of the soldiers who participated in the battles with narrative of the battle interspersed. It took me a little while to get used to this format because it was hard to understand how the individual accounts fit into the framework of the overall battle. I think it is hard to write an oral history of a battle or campaign that includes the perspective of the participants and that also gives the complete story of the battle or campaign. However, I think Lehrack is able to do both.
In my early years of study of the Vietnam War, I did not have a good impression of the NVA or the Viet Cong. I thought that we were far superior in training and equipment. This view has changed because of books like this one. The men interviewed by Lehrack describe how the 2nd NVA Division was a well-trained and well-equipped infantry unit. They had a superior rifle in the AK-47 (the M-16 was in its earliest form and had problems with jamming). The NVA tactics were to overwhelm the Marines – in a few instances they almost succeeded if it was not for American airpower and artillery.
Lehrack includes many photographs throughout the book. These portray the Marines in action and photos of the Marines who fought so bravely. He also includes some general maps of the Que Son Valley that delineate where the various operations occurred. I don’t know if this was possible, but I wish that he would have put more tactical maps in with the battle descriptions in order to get a better idea of the battle.
The book is an easy read at 276 pages, including a few pages at the end debunking some of the myths surrounding the war and its veterans. I found this brief section informative. For example, the atrocities committed in Vietnam were far fewer than in any other of America’s wars despite all of the claims made around My Lai.
The book is a wonderful tribute to those men who fought and died in a little known corner of South Vietnam.