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True Faith and Allegiance: An American Paratrooper and the 1972 Battle for An Loc

True Faith and Allegiance: An American Paratrooper and the 1972 Battle for An Loc by Mike McDermott. University of Alabama Press (http://www.uapress.ua.edu/catalog/CategoryInfo.aspx?cid=152), Box 870380, Tuscaloosa, Alabama 35487-0380, 2012, 208 pages, $29.95 (hardcover), ISBN 978-0-8173-1755-3.

 

In 1972 American troops found themselves in the midst of an extensive drawdown as President Nixon’s policy of Vietnamization neared completion. As their numbers on the ground decreased, a small contingent of American advisors remained in place to liaise with South Vietnamese ground troops, becoming the critical link between the latter and US airpower.

Army captain Mike McDermott, a paratrooper, was assigned as senior advisor to the 5th Airborne Battalion of South Vietnam. In True Faith and Allegiance, he provides a no-holds-barred, personal account of the Battle of An Loc, which took place from April to June 1972. The author’s firsthand insights into the battle trace his experiences from first contact with the enemy to his extraction under heavy artillery fire. McDermott’s performance during this battle earned him the Distinguished Service Cross (First Oak Leaf Cluster) and the Silver Star.

The action occurs nonstop throughout the book, and several of the author’s experiences on the ground are worth noting. First, McDermott develops immense respect for the Vietnamese paratroopers with whom he had the privilege to fight: “I was extraordinarily proud of the paratroopers of the 5th Airborne Battalion, and I valued my experience with those warriors more than I can say” (p. 145). McDermott paints a picture of the Vietnamese paratrooper as a tenacious soldier—violent and professional—who always places the mission above self-preservation.

Second, the author clearly indicates that airpower made the difference in this battle. Throughout the fight, McDermott used airborne forward air controllers to direct strike aircraft onto targets that he identified from the ground. The Air Force used its entire inventory to win this battle: B-52s, which rained mass destruction on the enemy; cargo planes, which delivered critical resupplies; and the AC-130 Spectre gunship, the “enemy’s worst nightmare” (p. 129).  McDermott represented a critical link between ground and air forces, one that continues to the present as joint terminal attack controllers supply expertise in close air support to ground commanders throughout Afghanistan and, earlier, Iraq.

Finally, on a more somber note, McDermott briefly discusses, at the beginning and the end of the book, his disenchantment with American policy makers of the time, the abandonment of his Vietnamese counterparts, and the post-traumatic stress he experiences to this day. Indeed, he candidly describes the nightly patrols around his home where he searches for an enemy that never comes. McDermott remains hostile toward those policy makers, declaring that the 58,260 individuals whose names appear on the Vietnam Memorial died in vain (p. 158). He does, however, take comfort in reflecting on the men who served next to him and in the reassurance offered by his wife, Chulan, on those sleepless nights.

The author’s saga reminds us that ground and air forces must continue to work in concert to realize national objectives on the battlefield. We must attend to the lessons from both history and the present day to avoid critical mistakes in future conflicts. True Faith and Allegiance tells yet another tale of the sometimes tragic effects of war on the human psyche when the battle is over. We must learn from the well-documented lack of care experienced by our brave Vietnam veterans and make sure that we provide for returning veterans as we come to the end of more than a decade of war.

 

1st Lt Brandon W. Temple, USAF

Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington

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"The views expressed in this book review are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."