Alpha One Sixteen...

...a Combat Infantryman's Year in Vietnam, from Casemate Books

Title:  Alpha One Sixteen

Author: Peter Clark

Publisher:  Casemate Publishing

ISBN:  978-1-61200-599-7

This is another fascinating experience of war in Vietnam, and this time tells us the experiences of a young infantryman serving with the US First Infantry Division, the Big Red One, in Vietnam during 1966.  After a year training in the US he went to Vietnam, where he was assigned to Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment (hence Alpha 1/16), based at the village of Lai Khe, a village north east of Saigon.

From his first year in the Army at home in the USA, he moves on to his arrival in Vietnam, and being one of the 'new guys'.  He had a learning process to go through, his new team mates and the lessons he had to learn about a soldiers life in the combat situation in Vietnam.  We hear how he struggled to get the jungle boots he needed, which proved be one essential item that was in short supply.  He had to learn how to cope with seeing civilians killed, and how he felt about that.  He talks through the various infantry weapons, including the early faults with the M16 rifle, in terms of reliability.  We also hear about what it was like to be on patrol in the thick jungle, keeping away from paths which may be booby-trapped.  Even off the paths, traps still caused casualties among his buddies.  He tells about travel by truck (or places where any road transport was too dangerous), by helicopter, the UH-1 'Slicks' or, his least favourite it seems, the C-130 Hercules.

Lots of stories that illustrate the life of a US infantry soldier in 1966/67, in camp, in action and when on R&R.  The author became a radio operator, an RTO to his commander.  As time went on he gradually became more aware of his vulnerability when in  combat, knowing the fear of injury and the instinct to carry out his duties as necessary for his role.  Getting to the final part of the book he relates the story of events of 16 June 1967 when he took part in an operation which led to numerous casualties, including his own wounding by mortar fragments.  This led to medical evacuation and multiple leg wounds which led to treatment that reads in a way that certainly made me cringe.

Peter was one of the lucky ones, he survived his combat experience and once recovered he served out a third year in the army based at home in the US.  His story is a fine insight into what it was like to be an infantryman in combat in Vietnam, a war I remember from seeing the news reports on TV when I came home from school.  It is also worth mentioning that the book includes a number of sketches the author made to capture some of his experiences, a very personal memory for each one.  Well worth reading for anyone with an interest in the history of the Vietnam War for the US Army..

Distributed by Casemate Books, who kindly provided my review copy.

Robin