Thursday, November 30, 2017

Heard A While Ago: "Legend" by Eric Behm

Heard a While Ago: Legend: A Harrowing Story from the Vietnam War of One Green Beret's Heroic Mission to Rescue a Special Forces Team Caught Behind Enemy Lines by Eric Blehm, 2015 (Overdrive and print versions), Overdrive download. 

The Studies and Observation Group (SOG) was a super-duper secret commando unit during Vietnam that worked in western Vietnam and across the borders into Cambodia and Laos. The group members signed agreements to keep everything secret for 30 years. John Plaster wrote a history of the unit that came out in 1997. I bought the Plaster book for my library in '97 and ended up reading the book. The story of SOG was pretty fascinating and the work was especially dangerous because the soldiers could not rely on infantry and artillery for help. No US or ARVN infantry could rush to the rescue. SOG relied on their own stealth and rescue helicopters.

Roy Benavidez joined the SOG group as a Green Beret in 1967 or so. Benavidez had been in the Army or Texas National Guard since he was 18. Benavidez was a hard core, hard charging lifer who grew up working as a migrant worker with his family. When a 12 man SOG patrol was surrounded by the NVA in Cambodia Benavidez was at his base, heard about the trouble, and hopped on a helicopter to help. When Benavidez'z helicopter was hovering near the patrol Benavidez impulsively jumped to the ground and ran to join the patrol.

Benavidez was shot twice during the 70 yard run to one of the two sections of the separated patrol. During the rest of the battle he was wounded a few more times by shrapnel, another bullet, and a stabbed with a bayonet. He treated the other soldiers and himself, organized their defenses, used emergency radios to call for air strikes, and eventually carried a couple men to the rescue helicopters. Upon arrival at a U.S. base Benavidez was presumed dead. His blood loss and exhaustion left him aware of his surroundings but unable to move or speak. When Benavidez was being zipped into a body bag he was only able to announce his living presence by blowing and spitting blood out of his mouth and into the face of the man closing the bag.

Benavidez was incredibly driven and brave. Listening to the book made me think as much about the war's politics as on the ground fighting. The story of the rescue of the SOG team is plenty interesting but not enough to fill out  an entire book. Blehm focuses on Benavidez's military service but also gives us a general biography of Benavidez with plenty of background on the war itself. 

1. The library hosted a program in 2010 of Vietnam veterans. The program was in conjunction with a Wisconsin PBS program on Wisconsin Vietnam War vets. Tensions were still running high for some people at the event.
2. The bravery of both sides still gets lost. When do you ever want to mention the bravery or sacrifice of the other side when they are killing your friends, relatives, neighbors, etc.? But, the Vietnamese casualty rate was how much higher than the U.S.? 300%? Maybe more? Whether they cause was good and just is up to whoever decides but they certainly were brave attacking into such powerful enemies.
3. Then again, don't forget or excuse the atrocities of the VC and NVA. Benavidez's first tour in Vietnam was as a advisor. While there he witnessed the aftermath of the crucifixion of two children by the Viet Cong and saw the children's relatives weeping in front of the bodies. 
4. Then again, don't forget the atrocities of the U.S. Better to remember how such horrible situations can make for horrible actions by everyone.
5. Response of the anti-war crowd to returning soldiers. I've never read or heard of anyone admitting to yelling at returning service members or spitting at them. I've read more about that being a myth. But, there are plenty of stories that soldiers were ordered to wear civilian clothes when they returned to the U.S. Others had to deal with plenty of abusive jerks, spitting, and provoked fist fights.

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