245 of 250 people found the following review helpful
on May 5, 2006
A lot has been said about style, etc. that I agree with & won't repeat. Suffice to say James Webb was a platoon commander in Delta Co./1st Battalion/5th Marines: I was a grunt (said with pride) in C/1/5. When I first opened this book back in late '70s and saw the map of the An Hoa basin - the "Arizona territory", Go Noi (No-go) Island, Liberty Bridge, the Phu Locs - the hairs on my neck stiffened, and then I let out an "Alllright!!" (scared a few bookstore patrons, nbd).
When you're reading this you are walking down the same trails, setting up ambushes in the same spots, taking fire from the same tree-lines that Lt. Webb and this young (then)PFC walked & fought from. Hell, it was like goin' home for a visit!
I had the chance to meet James Webb during the dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and thank him for writing this personally. He still had the look in the eyes: quiet, deadly calm, with steel-trap analytical processes going on upstairs. At his swearing-in ceremony for Secretary of the Navy (he remembered this grunt from two chance meetings & sent me an invitation!), as soon as he was "official", he stopped the show, called up some of the men who had served with him back in An Hoa, and gave them the medals and commendations he had recommended so many years before but had never been given to them. Outstanding!
Jim has the courage of his convictions that he later resigned rather than acquiesce to a polically-motivated evisceration of the Naval service he was entrusted with. He exemplifies the Marine officer - I know of only one other, a Lieutenant in C co, that I had as much respect for, and sadly he didn't make it out alive. He's the real deal: this old grunt would assault the fire-and-brimstone-beaches of hell if James Webb was commanding!
109 of 113 people found the following review helpful
on September 17, 2006
Jim Webb served his time in Vietnam during one of my nearly three years in Vietnam. I found this book just after the original publication in 1979. It was as if I was reading a biography of my own service with the grunts in the 1st Marine Division. In the years since I have always admired his work, first as a Platoon and Company Commander in 5th Marines and then as Secretary of the Navy and as an author.
Fields of Fire fully described the green hell that was Vietnam for every Marine infantryman who served there.
If you want to get a feel for what that war was like, read this book. If you think you might want to go fight in a war, read this book.
98 of 103 people found the following review helpful
on July 1, 2006
I read Jarhead on a whim earlier this past week. Anthony Swofford, the author, is a gifted young writer. But the book left me feeling empty, even angry. There was an attitude about Swofford and many of his Marine Corps buddies that just rubbed me the wrong way. Whiney might be the right word. Furthermore, Swofford through the course of the book seems to have been in a serious, depressive state that probably required professional help. It does not appear that he received that help prior to being discharged from the Marine Corps. Based on several of the Jarhead reviews I read on Amazon, I then read James Webb's Fields of Fire. Granted, it was a novel and it was based on the Vietnam war, not the first Iraq war. But the book was much more satisfying. In fact, it was a terrific read. Webb's description of war, and how Marines of various backgrounds experienced and dealt with it, was unforgettable. Until now, I thought that Anton Myrer's epic Once and Eagle was the best war novel I had ever read. Fields of Fire rivals it. It is not nearly as lengthy as Myrer's novel, and the characters are not developed quite as well, but the prose and the realism are absolutely first rate. So, here's my recommendation. First read Jarhead. Its an easy read, its popular, and you can appreciate a great young writer from whom we will be hearing much in the future. Then read Fields of Fire. Webb, like Swofford, has also been there and done that. Together the books provide two very interesting compares and contrasts of the Marine Corps infantry in wartime situations. My bet is you will be much more satisfied with the latter.
40 of 40 people found the following review helpful
on April 30, 2006
I started reading novels about Nam when I got home from the Army in 1977 and have read a lot of them. Without a doubt, this is the best one I have read - over and over again through the years. James Webb brings a squad of grunts at the end of the pipeline in Vietnam to life. Every man in the squad has a nickname: Snake (you will come to love him), Phony, Senator, Cannonball, Bagger, Waterbull, Wild Man, Baby Cakes, Ogre, etc. Each character is developed and the background of the main characters before they became part of the Corps is flashbacked to. The squad is commanded by a newly commissioned 2nd Lt. named Robert E. Lee Hodges, a real grit as Snake says, but one who knows how to call in artillery support when needed in a hurry. The utter futility of patrolling endlessly through the An Hoa valley as "bait", trying to draw an elusive enemy out to fight comes through loud and clear. The firefights are breathtaking and the sheer terror of having the perimeter overrun by sappers or being on an LP and hearing movement is unbelieveable. This book brought back so many memories of the 1960s it is like going into a time warp: from the popular music, to the figures of speech used, to the thoughts of the men as they count down their time before they can go back to The World. Unlike many other Nam novels this actually goes into the experiences of a couple of the men when they return to the States only to discover that no one acts like there is even a war on, treating them like outcasts. The incredible camaraderie of men in fighting holes protecting each other in battle as well as the racial tensions of the time in the rear areas comes through loud and clear. I have read all of Webb's novels and this one is his best. Two Nam books come to mind that are close to, but not quite as good as this one: Body Count and Close Quarters.
82 of 94 people found the following review helpful
After reading "The Nightingale Song", which covers Webb's career at Annapolis and Washington, I was compelled to read this book. A conservative person who fought valiantly but underwent a metamorphis after the war and became more liberal, this book was clearly a method to exorcise the pain of the war for Webb.
Unfortunately, I was traveling when I read this and read in many short periods. I became extremely engrossed in the battle tales but failed to connect with the characters as well as I would have liked. Irrespective, I would agree that this sounds like the most realistic book describing what it was like to be in the field in Vietnam. But Webb covered much more than just a platoon that suffers heavy casualties. A brief part of the book covers a young officer in Okinawaw who develops a love interest with a young Japanese girl with the relevant cultural issues that arise when he proposes.
The battle scenes are mezmerizing like the three men sent outside the perimeter stupidly by command who are terribly overrun and must lay wounded in the midst of the enemy all night. In many respects this book seemed to closely parallel the movie Platoon.
But the most unexpected part of the book was the dialog from the Vietnamese scout who was a former Viet Cong who defects only to have his family killed. This was great perspective on what was going on in the minds of the Vietnamese people who generally hated the Americans for their brutal treatment.
In summary, I think this is a very important book by a very decorated and brave individual that shows the mental conflicts and pain of war. I encourage you to read this if you want to learn of the brutality of war. But this is not a light read and will challenge your feelings of the war.
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on September 17, 1996
There is an element of truth in every good lie. While listening to a review of James Webb's newest book, Something to Die For, on NPR in May of 1991, it occurred to me that the James H. Webb, Jr. who recently had been SecNav was my Platoon Leader in Vietnam in early 1969 through 1 July 1969 when I was medivac'ed out of the field and into DaNang Naval Hospital for the second time in two months. While Jim had become a fairly successful lawyer/bureaucrat/writer, I returned to Purdue and finished my undergrad and MS degrees in Civil Engineering. Combat gives one a renewed sense of purpose and direction. I picked up a copy of Fields of Fire and noticed that the list of characters, any relationship of which to anyone living or dead being purely circumstantial, included a number of fairly identifiable idiosyncracies. When I located Jim Webb in Arlington, VA, I phoned him and we talked about common experiences and whatever happened to <N>, but we didn't talk about any of his four books, as I had not yet read Fields of Fire (1978), A Sense of Honor (1981), A Country Such as This (1983), or the then-new (Feb. 1991) Something to Die For--a rather prescient fiction about Ethiopia and Eritrea (read "Iraq and Kuwait"). When I later read Fields of Fire, I identified with the character PFC Will Goodrich, as I had been in the Peace Corps before entering the Marine Corps, was booted out of the Peace Corps because my family was "too militarily-oriented", had thought I could get into the Marine Corps Band or the Drum and Bugle Corps (NOT!), and ended up a fairly inept warrier and was medivac'ed out with leg wounds. Having been unable to read books, see movies, or deal with other veterans for some time after my war was over, I appreciated the analysis contained in Fields of Fire. Interestingly, in my mind I created a myth that Jim Webb had simply maintained a journal of our exploits and spilled them out to produce a very readably, terrifying, and realistic tale. My little brother, coincidentally a plebe at USNA and a student of Instructor First Classman James Webb in 1968, sent me a copy of Robert Timberg's "The Nightingale's Song" this year. The segments about Jim Webb and his development as an author are stimulating and enlightening to one who invented the myth of "pouring out a prize-winning book". Because of my exposure to the events and some of the characters, and because of my personal admiration and respect for the author, I rate this book (and his 3 others) very high
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
I've read Gustav Hasford's "The Shorttimers," and Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried." Both are excellent books and I heartily recommend them, but neither I think can compare to James Webb's classic "Fields of Fire."
Webb's book is from the James Jones school of realism. The book has the stinging ring of authenticity and no wonder, Webb was a Marine officer in Vietnam himself and won the Navy Cross, a Silver Star and two Bronze Stars so he definitely knows of what he writes.
But this isn't just a book written by an officer about officers. His portraits of the enlisted men are just as real and are full blooded characters. Some are tough, mean and unlikeable, but hey, that's real life for you.
And just like real life, you'll find yourself bonding and getting close to these characters and when some are killed, you are affected.
Be warned: "Fields of Fire" isn't a happy story. The ending is tragic but given the setting of the story, it's entirely appropriate.
Mr. Webb has done himself and the Marines who served in Vietnam a great honor.
Semper Fi Mr. Webb.
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on September 16, 1999
I cannot praise this book high enough, but I can try.
About a year ago, maybe more, someone in my apartment building threw out a bunch of books. As an avid reader, I went through them. Fields of Fire caiught my eye, and I read the blurb. Vietnam had always intrested me, as it was so fantastically differant from any other war. Also, I thought that it would help me to get to know my uncle, who was in Nam, and I did not know well.
To be honest, I did not have high hopes, but started into it anyway. I couldnt put it down.
Recently, I was digging through my library, and came upon it again, joyfully, and have been re-reading it once more. A fantastic, well-writen, realistic novel, it allows you to experience the life, sympathize with the grunts, and shake hands with the charectors, who are done so realistically, it's almost frightening.
Realistic enough that it's a sad ending. As someone in a previous review said "Everyone ends up casualties." Ironic as well. The people you love die, and the ones you hate eventually turn into people you like.
A terrifying glimpse into the past for a junior in high school. And yet, at the same time, a growing experience, which allows you to perhaps view things mroe realistically. A must read for studying the time period, or if you are just in the mood for a good novel.
As my copy proclaims upon the cover "One of the great war novels of our generation." Very true. I commend James Webb, and eagerly search for his others books, though still hold this close to my heart.
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on May 29, 2000
"Fields of Fire" is an amazing journey back to a time of confusion and significance. Through the experiences of a group of diverse, interesting characters, Webb transports the reader to the chaotic environment of Vietnam when the U.S. was exerting its' last gasp into the mutated conflict known as the Vietnam War. The realistic dialogue and beautifully woven descriptions draw the reader into that world of madness and give a glimpse of what it must've been like. The book explores many of the issues surrounding the war; race relations, corruptness, moral dilemmas and the constant clashes between career soldiers and the new breed of drafted grunts. Webb puts the Marine Corp itself on display in this book, and reveals it as a living, breathing organism which is all the more endearing for surviving its' flaws during its' greatest test. Webb's choice to concentrate on a Marine platoon, and specifically a squad, is an interesting one because obviously these units don't act in a vacuum. That there is almost no interaction with the surrounding units is one thing, but the fact that Lt. Hodges (who is in charge of the 3rd Platoon) is predominantly featured interacting with the main characters of only one squad is remarkable. We never even meet Hodges' immediate superior- the Company's Captain, other than a couple vague descriptions. This approach helps keep the story on a personal level and I think successfully portrays the conflict from the most basic element of the conflict; the lone infantryman.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on June 4, 2004
Having been through the thick of it, and survived I reluctantly read "yet another Nam book" this one hit me. What a great piece of writing! I lent it to a friend, who was also in country and he never gave it back. So I picked up another copy for the shelf. I still read it from time to time. Whew! Took me back. I could feel the sweat dripping and the searing heat and cool flights at altitude back to base. I even tasted the red grit again. Alright I'll quit trying to pump it up... just read it. Highly recommended if you weren't there... it will take you there.