We may have lost Simone Biles, but we still have Suni Lee, born Sunisa Phabsomphou in St. Paul, Minnesota, the child of Hmong refugees from Laos and a happy offshoot of America's misadventure in Southeast Asia, 1957-1975.* Like the Highlander tribes of South Vietnam, the Hmong were intrepid fighters alongside Americans against North Vietnamese invaders.
The eighteen-year-old was the fifth American woman to win the Olympic all-round gold medal in gymnastics, following Biles in 2016 and Gabby Douglas in 2012. (All three, as no woke news report fails to mention, are "women of color.") And she is one more proof if any be needed that legal immigration is one of this country's greatest strengths.
* [The first American killed in the Vietnam War was Special Forces Captain Harry Cramer in 1957; the last, Marine Corporal Charles McMahon and Lance Corporal Darwin Judge in 1975.]
Bait: The Battle of Kham Duc is an unforgettable account of a bloodbath in May 1968 when two regiments of North Vietnamese troops beseiged a Special Forces outpost defended by an unlikely combination of Green Berets, indigenous mercenaries, U.S. Marines, Special Operations Group (SOG) commandos and their fierce Nung bodyguards, American infantry, and other odd lots to a total of about 900 Americans, 3 Australians, and 500 indigenous troops, along with 272 civilians. Among them was a Special Forces lieutenant, James McElroy, the lead author of this book, which he wrote with Gregory Sanders, himself a Vietnam vet; each has a master's degree in history, and their account is carefully sourced even as it is intensely personal. One American officer endangered the defenders' lives through his "tactical incompetence"; another "considered himself a non-combatant and refused to carry a weapon." As for the indigenous troops, a majority were criminals given the choice of prison or the military, and predictably deserted their posts, while others -- especially the Nung -- fought and died heroically. I was continually astonished, reading this book, at the bravery of men fighting against hopeless odds, and likewise impressed by the terrible weight of American airpower. "Most readers," the authors justly say, "including most Vietnam battle veterans, have no concept of the magnitude of destructive power inflicted on the massed [North \Vietamese] troops at Kham Duc on May 12, 1968." They estimate 2,000 enemy dead -- far more than the official total -- as against 45 Americans, 207 indigeneous troops, and about 150 civilians killed, captured, or missing in action. The rather odd title, "Bait," refers to what the North Vietnamese hoped to accomplish at Kham Duc, for another Dien Bien Phu, and also to the post-battle spin put on the battle by the U.S. military in Saigon. Altogether, the book is a powerful counterpoint to the Ken Burns / PBS version of the Vietnam War. Even General Westmoreland comes out looking good. Note that the Kindle ebook is only $2.99 -- the price of a cup of coffee!
Other good books: Faustian Bargain: The Soviet-German Partnership and the Origins of the Second World War is an eye-opener. It wasn't just the Hitler-Stalin Pact of 1939! The two pariah countries trained and rearmed together for most of the inter-war years. Japan's Pacific War: Personal Accounts of the Emperor's Warriors is by far the best of war-memory collections I have read from the Japanese side. For more about these books, see The Warbird's Book Club. Blue skies! — Daniel Ford
Here are a thousand or so files on airplanes, pilots, and the wars of the past hundred years, grouped under these headings: