TIGER BRAVO’S WAR is Rick St John’s chronicle of one year (1968) commanding the 101st Airborne Division’s B Company against two enemies: the human, and a tropical landscape strange, visually striking, and deadly. Haunted by staggering loss—over fifty percent of the original members died—this historical account stands out from similar books by virtue of the author’s dedication to shattering “romantic” illusions of war via brutal honesty. Deeply conflicted value systems and greed make war our world’s constant undercurrent. St John attests to humanity’s dire need to maintain compassion and sanity by showing the results of their absence.
Events covered range from December 1967 to December 1968: a bayonet charge in War Zone D; street fighting during the Tet Offensive; jungle turkey shoot; Cu Chi Battalion breakout; rescue mission to save a surrounded platoon. And, like a taste of home, an improvised rock ‘n’ roll show in the company mess hall, brief respite—steaks, cold beer—from beyond-grim duties. Bravo’s world, defined by “anything and everything that was within small-arms or mortar range,” consumed the soldiers’ capacity for feeling anything outside ruthless efficiency. Thoughts, memories, and hopes were evacuated and replaced with an overriding imperative: survive. Only two internal clocks ticked, the first counting down to a week of R & R—rest and relaxation at some isolated cove on the Pacific Rim; the second marking number of days until the tour’s end.
Commendably St John provides period photos, comprehensive bibliography, notes, battle maps, overall chart of the Vietnam Campaign, and closes with a list of those killed in action. In the Epilogue’s “Aftereffects: (Living With the War),” St John records reflections of his surviving Tiger Bravo comrades, stark registers of experience: “I knew it was unusual to sleep with a weapon in my hand, but did it for years afterward.” “I was accused of not having feelings by all who loved or knew me . . .” “For many years I didn’t tell anyone I was a Vietnam vet. But now I am so proud to be one.”
Vividly written and comprehensively detailed, TIGER BRAVO’S WAR teaches what political decisions and organized tyranny demand of men and women sent to defend us: heroic endurance, courage, comradeship and—tragically often—the ultimate sacrifice.
~William Grabowski for IndieReader