If you ever subscribe to the adage ‘less is more’ look no further than this exceptional book by Al Conetto in which he describes the events of November 1965 when men of 173rd Airborne Brigade came up against North Vietnamese regulars.
Mr. Conetto was there and recalls his own experiences and the wider story of the battle that took place in vivid style. He begins by setting the scene, using the backdrop of the World Series, offering the reader context through his formative years alongside the political events drawing the United States ever deeper into war. The author handles these elements with a deft sense of style, and he keeps the reader on board from first to last.
Once the fighting starts, the author continues with straightforward reportage laced with the truth of his own experience. The two combine to make a convincing history unencumbered by hyperbole or random tangents padding out the story. Other books like this will have used up paper pulped from a lot more trees, but Mr. Conetto sets down what he needs to say and leaves the rest to us, the reader, to work out for ourselves. I really like this book. The author has done his research and tips a decent nod to the combat classic from Hal Moore and Joe Galloway and, more presciently, the modern masterpiece by Fredrik Logevall; two books to treasure. He also finds room for Graham Greene, and this is precisely the sort of depth that separates the wheat from the chaff.
The natural appeal of this book is the huge element of first-hand experience, and I found much of this to be deeply moving, especially when Mr. Conetto deals with the aftermath of how the battle impacted on the lives of himself and his comrades. We meet some very impressive people – riflemen, machine gunners, medics, pilots and many others. They are all presented with absolute respect. But it is the medics, above all, who shine, none more so than the Medal of Honor recipient Lawrence Joel.
Why did I start with less is more? Mr. Conetto does a huge job of work in just a couple of hundred pages. This book has a big punch for such a small volume, but do not be fooled: it has all the makings of a classic, and I seriously hope the author is writing more. He really has a grip on what he is doing, and I am sure we have not heard the last of him.
There is another point. While I would expect a book like this to do well in the United States, as a foreigner I found it easy to engage with the history of a distant war. Only the best kind of books can do this.
Reviewed by Mark Barnes for War History Online
The 1st Battalion, 503rd Airborne Infantry, in the First Major Battle of the Vietnam War
By Al Conetto
McFarland & Company
ISBN: 978 0 7864 9925