I’m now reading Phantom Warriors: Book I: LRRPs, LRPs, and Rangers in Vietnam, a book by Gary Linderer, that I picked up this book at the local library for fifty cents. I’ve read it without any knowledge of the author or his books or any prior knowledge about what I was getting into. The book is a series of stories detailing particularly notable missions for the units identified in the title; the small-group, deep-cover patrols into enemy territory for the purposes of intelligence gather or raids against the enemy. Each chapter is unconnected to the others, dealing with a single patrol of a reconnaissance group. Many, but not all, of the stories involve incompetence higher up the chain of command which put the individual soldiers who execute the mission at risk. This becomes a major theme; the travails of the young special-forces warriors as they are used (and sometimes abused) by the (perhaps) lesser-soldiers who surround and command them.
The book is obviously written by a veteran for fellow veterans. The prose is heavy on the lingo of the time. This aspect is mitigated by an extensive glossary in the back which explains nearly all of both the technical, military terminology and the slang terms used by soldiers (and, in some cases, the young men) of the 1960s. The chapters are titled by the unit designation of the patrol that undertook the mission. The order isn’t chronological nor does there appear to be any other theme or meaning behind the progression of chapters. You could likely read the chapters in any order whatsoever without altering your experience or understand. Because of this, the language is sometimes repetitive. This does leave out a missing contextual aspect not covered by the glossary. Within most chapters, the mission is placed into the greater context by referencing associated battles or operations. For example, one chapter begins “In late May 1970, the U.S. Army and South Vietnamese allies were well into their famous raid against the NVA sanctuaries in Cambodia.” For veterans whose service overlapped the May, 1970 date and, particularly, anyone involved directly or indirectly with the Cambodia operation, this sets the stage for the story that is to follow. For the uninitiated, those for whom the “fame” of this raid is not apparent, the contextual link fails. A timeline or a map would have seemed an obvious inclusion in the book. While such information is easily available elsewhere, it would be nice not to have to stop and search for additional information while one is immersed in the book.
The writing itself is, while far from unreadable, not exactly great. There is an occasional sloppiness in construction* combined with an over-reliance on the aforementioned gimmicks to provide color and authenticity. As I said, the stories are occasionally repetitive (similar themes and even activities occur during most patrols) and other times uneven. As with other memoirs, the emphasis is on memorializing the fallen and those survivors who accomplished unsung heroics.
Apparently the author, himself, is something of a controversial figure. He was involved in an incident where a newly-transferred company commander was injured by a booby-trap. Linderer has since implied that the attack was by a U.S. soldier, a member of said company, and that the identity of the perpetrator is and was known by many. He explained that nobody has ever shared that information because it was known that the command style of the captain in question was getting his subordinates killed. Also, “LRRPs stick together” in a thin, tiger-striped line, if you will. In an entirely separate incident, Linderer has been criticized for misrepresenting** the actions of a patrol in which he, himself, participated . This seems to have turned into quite the internet-age controversy, and one where it would seem impossible to learn what is true an what isn’t. Does Linderer have a pattern of suspect behavior, or is this a vendetta launched against him by a single person? It all is probably best ignored so that one can take this book on its merits.
At the end of the day, these stories provide a vivid depiction of unique and uniquely dangerous operations that were part of the Vietnam War. Whatever complaints I have about it, it would seem to be an important record for those of us in the generations that have come in the years since that war ended.
Return to the master post for more Vietnam War articles. The next article returns to Squad Battles, looking at a larger-scale engagement involving the 1st Cavalry and Colonel Hal Moore’s 3rd Brigade thereof.
*I find it difficult to find a term for what I mean, so I’ll give an example. One passage states that a “cursory check revealed that all but one of the structures appeared to be empty at the time.” Does the fact that the check is cursory imply that its conclusions were apparent? However, if the check “revealed” something, cursory or not, would the structures actually be known to be empty? Frequently words seem tossed together to create a novel-sounding sentence without real consideration of what the resulting prose actually means.
**Linderer’s version that is reference may be a chapter from Part II of the Phantom Warriors books. I’m not sure though. I’ve read neither Part II nor the 101st Airborne’s official record which, it is said, contradicts the books narrative.