Blackjack 33: with Special Forces in the Viet Cong Forbidden Zone Mass Market Paperback – 1 Aug 1999
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From the Inside Flap
"You have to react instinctively. In this game there's no second place, only the quick and the dead."
In Vietnam, Mobile Guerrilla Force was the only American unit that truly carried out guerrilla-style hit-and-run military operations. Armed with silencer-equipped MK-II British Sten guns, M-16s, M-79s, and M-60s, the men of the Mobile Guerilla Force roamed for weeks at a time through steamy triple-canopy jungle in areas owned by NVA and VC, destroying base camps, ambushing enemy forces, and gathering the intelligence Saigon desperately needed.
In 1967, James Donahue was a Special Forces medic and an assistant platoon leader for the Mobile Guerrilla Force's fiercely anti-Vietnamese Cambodian mercenaries. On mission Blackjack-33, they were to act as bait and lure VC and NVA regiments into decisive engagements so that they could be targeted and destroyed by the 1st Infantry Division. Well, the MGF did its job, but the 1st Infantry Division refused to show up. . . .
Now, with the brutal, unflinching honesty only an eyewitness could possess, Donahue relives the deadly adrenaline rush of firefights conducted on the run and medical operations performed under fire, capturing the savage courage and sacrifice of these proud U.S. and Cambodian warriors.
About the Author
James C. Donahue joined the Marine Corps when he was seventeen years old and served with the Corps through the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. After being discharged, he enlisted in the Army and volunteered for Special Forces. As a Green Beret, he served with the 6th and 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and with the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) in Vietnam. His many military awards and decorations include the Silver Star, three Bronze Stars, the Purple Heart, two Air Medals, the Combat Medical Badge, and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry.
He was seriously wounded on July 18, 1967, and returned to the States where he earned a bachelor s degree in anthropology and a master s in social sciences. In 1983 AMVETS selected him as the Outstanding Civil Servant in the nation. He has written two previous books, Blackjack-34, which was awarded the Freedom Foundation s George Washington Honor Medal, and Mobile Guerrilla Force. Donahue and his wife live in Lakewood Ranch, Florida, and have two grown children."
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Top customer reviews
The incredible account of just one operation carried out by these men and their Cambodian counterparts shows the true grit that was present in the US soldier behind the lines in the war. the action is some of the best described in a book of this type I have ever read, with the reader truly feeling implanted into the battle alongside the author and his comrades.
It is also tinged with sadness at the end as many of the Cambodians were murdered by the Khmer Rouge later on, a sad ending for people who gave so much to a war that was not their own.
I think this is a very special book accounting a great and patriotic side to the US war in Vietnam which has been largely overlooked after the conflict.
Similar to SOG's hatchet forces, the Mobile Guerilla Force was, I think, a company sized operation designed to take the fight into the enemy's 'secret zones' and to locate base camps and concentrations of units or materiel and to wreak havoc and sew doubt among them. They basically inserted into the enemy's back yard and patrolled for a fortnight, fighting dozens of engagements, raiding enemy strongholds, bringing to bear the 'great equaliser' of US air power and then making themselves scarce before they could be fixed and overrun by the numerically superior main force NVA or local VC. The 'mobile' in their name was very much the key to their survival.
So far so typical of many other similar books on the market you might be thinking. And you'd be right: there's certainly no shortage of LRRP, SEAL, Recondo and other US special forces titles from the Vietnam period available (not to mention other countries and other wars...'The Jungle is Neutral', 'Devil's Guard', 'SAS: The Jungle Frontier'). Of those accounts, SOG and its precursors such as the Mobile Guerilla Force are as fascinating, hair raising and visceral as any. But what makes Blackjack 33 stand out for me, and means I'll be purchasing all of Donahue's other books as soon as I've submitted this review, is his level of detail, his insights and his engaging style.
He brings the slog, terror, sounds, smells, threats and beauty of the jungle and of combat to life as well as anyone I've read. With Blackjack 33 you really do start to see how massively skilled and disciplined the men must be and how animalistic the soldiers' instincts must become to patrol successfully. Donahue describes with great clarity and detail exactly what is happening around him, what he's seeing, hearing and smelling - medical treatment of wounds and illnesses, tracking and counter tracking techniques, booby trapping, kit maintenance, entire radio conversations rendered as if you're a bystander - you are a witness on the spot to all of his and other peoples' actions - and at the same time he is explaining the reasoning and thought process behind every procedure and every decision he must make as team leader. This level of intimacy really draws you in and involves you and helps establish a very familiar rhythm to the daily patrol. Excellent stuff.
The author doesn't try to get into too much fine detail nor doies he over extend the descriptions.
This isn't a book I'd rave endlessly about but it was a book I felt was value for money, and passed the time on a couple of flights in a pleasant manner.
Donahue was part of Special Forces, an elite unit in the US Army who worked with native Cambodians against the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army. Donahue, a medic, informs us of the entire mission, including the parts where he himself was not involved. But it is in writing about the parts he was involved in where he kindles the most interest.
Donahue writes well, and after the initial slowish start the book races on. He skillfully builds up his relationships with his team (both US and Cambodian) until the reader has a good idea of the people involved. Donahue leaves no stone unturned - he details his actions as a medic just as well as his actions of a soldier. He tells tales of mines, firefights in the jungle and the Cambodian way of life.
This is a great book - one possibly more for the Vietnam book veteran than the novice, but good all the same. It has a great epilogue that tells you what happened to some of the people in the book afterwards, adding a good final touch to a good story.
Four, well-earned stars. JB
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