The title of Rice Paddy Recon is a bit deceptive, since the "recon" amounted to just a third of his 19-month tour. For me, it was the most fascinating third. What sells books and movies is the battle scene, preferably a big and bloody one. The Marines in a reconnaissance team have something different in mind: they want information, though they're certainly willing to shoot the odd VC or NVA soldier, especially if that might result in their taking a prisoner. (I was astonished by how often that happened, and even more by the number of enemy walk-ins, sick or weary soldiers who simply gave themselves up.) The team typically included six or eight men. They came in by helicopter and went out the same way, often under fire, sometimes by clipping themselves to a folding aluminum ladder, lowered through the jungle canopy, and riding that ladder all the way home. A fascinating read.
Forgive me for a bit of vanity: here is my history of the Flying Tigers in its Chinese translation. It was published last month for 60 yuan, which comes out to $9.02 at today's exchange rate, for a hardcover book! With dust jacket! And a red ribbon for a bookmark! (We haven't seen that in the US since the 19th century.) It has three reviews already, and one of them says that the translation reads very well, which is a huge relief. (Nobody ever asked me what a word or idiom meant, is very unusual for translators. Indeed, several years ago another translation was in the works, and I got a question or two almost every week for a while. Then, alas, the translator gave up.)
Three stars for Eugenie Buchan's meticulous research in the British archives for A Few Planes for China. I wish I'd had some of that material when I was writing my own history of the American Volunteer Group. But I'm afraid that her central thesis -- that it was Winston Churchill, not Claire Chennault, who created the AVG -- is nothing short of absurd. It just didn't happen that way! Still, Flying Tiger buffs should get the book. It's eminently worth reading, especially about the development of CAMCO, which served as the AVG's housekeeping unit and repair facility, after a fashion. (A relative of the author helped build Bill Pawley's factory on the China-Burma border, and she inherited material from him that is available nowhere else.) I will prize my copy, and for that reason I agreed to blurb it on the back cover. I wish Eugenie well, for a lot of material on this website came from her. But I do wish she'd paid more attention to the facts. I doubt that anyone reading this book will agree that Winston Churchill was the real Old Man of the Flying Tigers!
And yes, I did manage to slog my way through Ken Burns's The Vietnam War. See the Annals of Vietnam for more about that. Blue skies! — Dan Ford
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