Item description for FIRST BATTLE: Operation Starlite and the Beginning of the Blood Debt in Vietnam by Otto J. Lehrack...
The First Battle is a graphic account of the first major clash of the Viet Nam War. On August 18, 1965, regiment fought regiment on the Van Tuong Peninsula near the new Marine base at Chu Lai. On the American side were three battalions of Marines under the command of Colonel Oscar Peatross, a hero of two previous wars. His opponent was the 1st Viet Cong Regiment commanded by Nguyen Dinh Trong, a veteran of many fights against the French and the South Vietnamese. Codenamed Operation Starlite, this action was a resounding success for the Marines and its result was cause for great optimism about America's future in Viet Nam.
Those expecting a book about Americans in battle will not be disappointed by the detailed descriptions of how the fight unfolded. Marine participants from private to colonel were interviewed during the book's research phase. The battle is seen from the mud level, by those who were at the point of the spear. But this is not just another war story told exclusively from the American side. In researching the book, the author talked with and walked the battlefield with men who fought with the 1st Viet Cong Regiment. All were accomplished combat veterans years before the U.S. entry into the war.
The reader is planted squarely in America in1965, the year that truly began the long American involvement. Operation Starlite sent the Viet Nam War into the headlines across the nation and into the minds of Americans, where it took up residence for more than a decade. Starlite was the first step in Viet Nam's becoming America's tar baby.
The subtitle of the book is: Operation Starlite and the Beginning of the Blood Debt in Viet Nam. Blood debt, han tu in Vietnamese, can mean revenge, debt of honor, or blood owed for blood spilled. The Blood Debt came into Vietnamese usage early in the war with the United States. With this battle, the Johnson Administration began compiling its own Blood Debt, this one to the American people.
The book also looks at the ongoing conflict between the U.S. Army and the U.S. Marines about the methodology of the Viet Nam War. With decades of experience with insurrection and rebellion, the Marines were institutionally oriented to base the struggle on pacification of the population. The Army, on the other hand, having largely trained to meet the Soviet Army on the plains of Germany, opted for search-and-destroy missions against Communist main force units. The history of the Viet Nam War is littered with many "what ifs." This may be the biggest of them.
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Reviews - What do customers think about FIRST BATTLE: Operation Starlite and the Beginning of the Blood Debt in Vietnam?
Marines in the first ground battle in Vietnam. Feb 20, 2006
I am not sure what the other reviewers were reading, but this book was not that interesting. I could even have rated it lower. The material for the book was the first Marine campaign in the war called Operation Satellite. A clerk made a typo and renamed it Operation Starlite. Regardless of the name, the setting was close to the DaNang military airport. The Marines thought that the VC were resting a large troop of soldiers to launch at the airport. In fact, the VC regiment was resting and regrouping and was not going to attack the American airport. Through a series of air strikes, helo and naval landings--the Americans fought a regiment of Viet Cong and killed 600 at a cost of 54 of their own soldiers.
The book goes through the story of the battle and what happened. I don't particularly care what segment (squad, etc) went what way, what they used for weapons, etc. A large part of the book describes this and the book has no flow and doesn't excite the reader to pursue further. I did, and found much the same throughout the book. Also, the book is generally pro-VC and makes no mention what some of the VC did to their fellow countrymen. This was a tough read at only 200 pages.
For those interested in battles and plotting them on the map, this book may interest you. For those who lost family, this may also be of interest. For the great majortiy of lay readers, there are better Vietnam stories elsewhere.
The First Battle Oct 2, 2005
I actually would rate this book a 4.75, but I'll have to settle for a 5. My wife and I have just returned from a return trip to I Corps with fellow Marine veterans and Captain Ed Garr, mentioned in the book, as one of the guides. I really enjoyed the book overall and I thought "setting the stage" was well done. I visited the Operation Starlite battlesite for the first time and saw one of the rapidly deteriorating Amtrac's that the Vietnamese have recently covered and hold up as a symbol of America's defeat in Vietnam. The book did a great job of filling in the holes and fleshing out my memories. The book was clinical in a positive sense but could, I think, have benefited from more indepth, first hand accounts. All in all, an enjoyable book that even my wife could read without getting annoyed because of the tendency of accounts of Marines to be rather raw. Good job Otto Lehrack.
The First Battle: An Outstanding Work of Military History Sep 4, 2004
Otto Lehrack has described, analyzed and ultimately explained in fewer than 200 tightly yet lucidly written pages the reality and significance of Operation Starlite--a battle that took place in August 1965 and was, as the title notes, the "First Battle" of the Vietnam War between U.S. troops and Viet Cong Regulars . The description of the battle itself is set in a carefully and clearly established historical framework and geographical setting while throughout the text the reader is given insightful "color commentary", including relevant and invariably interesting facts about the personal history of the key unit commanders on both sides as well as the operational doctrine, training and tradition, unit history and behavior in combat of both the Marines and Viet Cong who fought this critical engagement.
A significant part of the appeal of this excellent book lies its methodical "zoom in" approach, commencing with the reader's high-level historical and geographical orientation in Chapters 1 and 2 entitled, respectively, "Inching Toward the Abyss" and "America Touches the Tar Baby." These chapters together total only 18 pages yet set out the best capsule account of America's long slide into the Vietnam War I have read anywhere. The opening sentence of Chapter 1 is chilling both in retrospect and, whether or not so intended, in its implicit parallels with current events: "The United States came to this pass in baby steps, characterized more by Cold War fears, hubris and inattention than by level-headed policy examination."
Having given us a high level zoom view, First Battle narrows the focus somewhat and moves to an informative and substantive discussion of the Marine's entry into the geographical area in Southern I Corps where the battle was fought, including an excellent discussion of the establishment of and operations at the Marine's Chu Lai base, and, tightening the focus again, moves to the engagement itself, addressing in logical sequence the intelligence that led the Marines to conclude the 1st VC Regiment was on the Van Tuong peninsula south of Chu Lai base, the command process leading to the Marine's decision to undertake the operation, including a helicopter reconnaissance flight over the peninusula whose "brevity and apparent casualness" did not fool the VC, the Marines'decision to undertake and the planning for a surprise assault combining amphibious and helicopter elements and the conduct of the assault itself. These chapters also provide specific description of and insight into the planning of the VC who, though warned by the reconnaissance and able able to determine the Marines' objective, nevertheless "seriously underestimated the speed with which the American Marines could mount the attack." Lehrack develops this point nicely and it reappears as a theme throughout the book both in connection with the fast-moving operations of the Marines in Starlite and the later flexibility and ingenuity shown by the VC and North Vienamese forces in adapting to American tactics and capabilities as the war continued. Lehrack has documented the text in a highly professional manner and the text itself artfully interweaves facts from a variety of primary and secondary sources to tell the story of Starlite. In this regard, Lehrack conducted extensive interviews not only with Marines participating in the engagement at all levels of command but, very significantly, with numerous members of the VC 1st Regiment. (It was apparently during these interviews that he came to understand the Vietnamese concept of "blood debt" that appears in the title of the book and, as he explains it, sheds light on the conduct of the VC and North Vietnamese both during and after the war.) The descriptions of the key small unit engagements that took place in the context of the battle now called Operation Starlite are vivid and filled with detail that illuminate both the nature of the action and the character of the combatants themselves, which one can only conclude was remarkable on both sides. There is insufficient space to do justice to the excellent discussions of these engagements in First Battle. Suffice it to say they make for a "good read" and are clearly informed by the author's research, including review and assessment of command logs, after-action and interrogation reports, his walks of the battlefield and interviews and conversations with the participants on both sides and, finally, his own combat experience as a Marine infantry company commander in the Vietnam War.
This is an excellent book and I recommend it highly. One cautionary note...if you're not familiar with the lexicon of Marine and VC operations in Vietnam, make sure you identify the glossary set out in Appendix 2 (page 188) of the book before you start reading so that, as you read, you can refer quickly to its brief but clear definitions of terms.
An Incredible, fast moving operation Aug 1, 2004
Otto Lehrack's, The First Battle, Operation Starlite and the Beginning of the Blood Debt in Vietnam, is a well-written account of the U.S. Marines' first major operation of the Vietnam war. Lehrack brings the story to life through the eyes of Marines in the mud, compellingly describing action during the operation without pulling punches, and keeping historical context accurate.
A very readable, fast moving, incredible story, the author went to extraordinary efforts to interview US Marines, the South Vietnamese ARVN, and the 1st Viet Cong Regiment, to make sure the operation's details accurately depict command and grunt level decisions. The reader can almost taste the fear, hear the shooting, and feel the pain of war. Lehrack brings human realism to the forefront, making accounts of the battle a struggle of real people.