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Early on the ground


Green Berets in the Vanguard
(Chalmers Archer)

Chalmers Archer must have been a remarkable soldier, for he was a Green Beret at a time when the U.S. Army Special Forces was almost entirely a lily-white outfit. His book belongs on the shelf of every student of the Green Berets.

It's not a knock-you-dead combat yarn like Jim Morris's "War Story"--Archer didn't really serve what you could call a combat tour in Vietnam. He was there much earlier, knocking about Southeast Asia in the years before there was a Vietnam War (or American War, as the Vietnamese prefer to call it). He was in Laos, Thailand, the Philippines, and of course Vietnam when the Green Berets were first staking out their claim to fame, and when men like Archer created the jungle-training practices that would make Special Forces the most effective American combat arm in South Vietnam.

To me, the most interesting anecdote is the account of the American training mission that was attacked by the Viet Cong as it graduated its first class of Vietnamese Special Forces. Officially, Captain Harry Cramer died of an accidental explosion, and he wasn't even listed on The Wall (the Vietnam war memorial in Washington, D.C.) until 1983. In fact, as Archer recalls, Cramer died in a mortar attack, and he was the first American to be killed in that long war--21 October 1957.

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