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4.3 out of 5 stars
Mekong First Light: An Infantry Platoon Leader in Vietnam
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25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on January 31, 2005
I was in Joe Callaway's OCS class and was assigned, with him, to C Company, 2nd Battalion, 60th Infantry after graduation. We went through training raw recruits, and ourselves, to be a unit at Ft Riley then shipped over to the Mekong Delta. Joe has captured the demands of being an Infantry platoon leader in combat in an exceptioal way. The stress, both physical and mental, of combat operations is accurately stated in human terms. His dealings with the realities of combat are especially relavent to anyone preparing to be a combat leader. Men's lives hinge on your decisions and Joe's soul searching when one is lost is an experience shared by all leaders since we began warfare. I experienced the same feelings and stress. We had to deal with it and Joe vividly describes how he did.

I have recommended this book to other veterans of C Company and all have responded to it in a positive manner. If you want to know what a young man thrust in to a leadership role goes through, read this book.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on September 13, 2004
"Mekong First Light" is a remarkable story that will remind the reader of Ambrose's "Citizen Soldiers" and "Band of Brothers." The author's vivid, crisp and spare descriptions of what it was like for a platoon leader on point, his candid observations about the command decisions, and his brief but telling encounters with Westmoreland/Kerry are generous to the reader and clearly impart the notion that his are honest appraisals by a soldier without an agenda. Very Highly Recommended.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on January 24, 2005
With Mekong First Light, Joe Callaway has accomplished a very ambitious work not only on his harrowing experiences as an infantry officer in Viet Nam, but how he got there in the first place and how the experience affected his life since those two tours. The book vividly describes the reality of war: the violent loss of life and the mayhem of combat operations, along with a myriad of other factors that affect combat soldiers like lack of sleep, sunburn, bug bites and personal issues back in the real world. This depiction transcends Viet Nam, as it is easier to imagine the environment any combat soldier endures, especially the current conflict in Iraq.

While many autobiographical accounts of Viet Nam stop end there, Callaway is just beginning. He puts the entire experience in perspective, beginning with his description of growing up in semi-rural Alabama that has all of the homesy, poignant flavor of My Dog Skip, in stark contrast to his high school years in up-scale, trendy Connecticut...a lifestyle juxtaposition that left him more than a little dislocated socially and academically on the eve of the horror of Viet Nam which he would back into.

Aside from the Oscar-winning film drama, Coming Home, few Viet Nam stories have successfully captured life after combat, especially for the average Joe who survived the physical maiming to deal with the emotional ghosts. Callaway depicts how he re-entered "the real world", as vets called it and how he still deals with it today.

A special bonus is in the introduction, where Callaway offers one of the most complete, yet succinct, explanations of the historical perspective of how and why we ended up in such a quagmire in Viet Nam. As I am myself a collegiate Asian history major, I challenge anyone to do a better job. Throughout, Callaway does not hint of any political bias, except for a brief swipe at John Kerry's Viet Nam Vets Against the War activites. But then Callaway clearly understands that the personal experience of comabt is in itself is not about red or blue states, but only about physical, emotional and moral survival....a contest that doesn't end the day you leave the combat zone.

I read the book during the 2004 presidential campaign, amidst the debate over Iraq. While the wars are in many ways different, the similarities, especially at the personal level, are great. Hence, you can read it with another conflict in mind. My son is planning to take a high school seminar next year on the Viet Nam era. I will heartily recommend this book to the instructor as a heart-felt, provacative addition.

While he strongly states that this book was a life's passion to expunge his soul, Callaway is deserving to be heard again. His integrity and sensitivity permeates his writing, and he is capable of telling a good story. Perhaps he can build on the stories of his youth in Enterprise, AL with more My-Dog-Skip parables or equally poignant tales. Well done, Joe Callaway!
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on October 28, 2006
Captain Callaway gives us a citizen soldier's perspective of the horrors of war and the folly of America's involvement in the Vietnam War. Joe Callaway was a kid who no one thought would ever amount to much but enlisting in the Army as a private, he would eventually become an effective combat platoon leader. I appreciate his honesty in sharing with his readers the pain he experienced in losing so many friends and his retrospective thoughts on the war, the army, lost friends, leaders, and returning to a different America. Thank you, Joe for writing a very personal book and for helping us connect with the emotions and difficulties of that time and war.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on August 30, 2007
As a retired Army officer who served during the Vietnam Era (but not in Vietnam) and in Desert Storm I highly recommend this book. The section of the book explaining how we were led into the morass of the Vietnam war is superb. I have reread the last several chapters many times as CPT Callaway so eloquently explains his personal feelings about war. I especially loved his chapter to his sons. I am haunted by this book and how it portrays the similarity (my thoughts after reading his explanation of how we got into Vietnam) between our entry into Vietnam and our entry into Iraq. I commend CPT Gallaway for an excellent piece of literature.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on September 16, 2007
Joe Callaway has managed to write a book that tells the real truth of how it was for him and the rest of us in the Mekong Delta. He is able to capture the truth of the Vietnam War experience, the truth of the political issues surrounding the war and the true compassion that he felt for the soldiers who served with him. When I read "Mekong First Light" I was overwhelmed by the realizm and sincerity contained in Joe's words. His description of the infantryman's life in the Delta is not sugar coated or glamorized. It is sometimes sad, sometimes funny, sometimes peaceful and sometimes catastrophic but always real. I have read many books about the Vietnam War and "Mekong First Light" is on the top shelf among the very best. Ernie Parker, A Co., 2/60th Infantry.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Anyone who is interested in unravelling the confusion and complexities of the single greatest disaster in American foreign policy should read this indispensable book.

Despite looking like a novel, a novel it is not. What it is, is a 'bird's eye' view, an almost detached retrospective of an individual's rôle in the Vietnam war; a humanising of a conflict so often regarded as the antithesis of that - inhuman. Starting from the viewpoint of an average, unremarkable individual, this autobiography progresses into something much more profound, a story of human growth; development and metamorphosis. From his experiences and courage the author was eventually transformed into a remarkable, and anything but average human being, and this book catalogues that physical, mental and spiritual journey.

In addition to the details of what life was like on the ground, this book's strength is undoubtedly the author's ability to put the pieces of an enormously complex puzzle together, to correlate the seemingly impossible. He succeeds in stringing many seemingly incoherent facets of the Vietnam War together into one huge coherent structure. Threading these memories together Calloway eventually leads the reader to a greater depth of understanding of the war, than had he simply tried to shock us with the grisly details and heart-rendering episodes of that sorry affair. Because Calloway took the more intelligent route, what we have is altogether much more readable, more profound and essentially a much more sincere account. Overall an excellent book.

(+)
i. A quick read.
ii. Largely unbiased, well-rounded, insightful, complex and honest.
iii. Nice pre-amble, good foundation to essentially personalise an impersonal war.

(-)
i. Requires much better editing and organising. Within the same paragraph the topic often changes.
ii. Needs work on the continuity. Again, as above sometimes the progression and ideas are very erratic.
iii. This imprint's paper is shockingly poor, not good for highlighting nor marking noted, very cheap feel.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on July 16, 2012
I have read Mekong First Light several times, and Captain Callaway brings to life my personal experience of Vietnam, and all the horrors that I have been haunted by since my service in 1967 and 1968. The experience I had was one of my own choosing and I did not have to serve as I did. I was in a secure area of my Division Base Camp and duties when I arrived in country were KP, policing the area day in and day out, and burning shit. Now how is that for serving your country?

As a type A personality and perhaps because I was Hispanic my superiors were going to suppress my career in the military. I was an above average student and capable of working in the Division Field hospital. I could not believe I was drafted to a duty of waste. With time I would land a pretty good job becoming the Colonels jeep driver. Not bad duty, but I still wanted responsibility where I would derive some personal satisfaction. I had a sense of moral obligation where I was actually serving, and doing my part during my Vietnam experience.

I did just that, and found my way to "B" Bravo Company 2nd Battalion 60th Infantry, 9th Infantry Division. I volunteered for the field as a "Combat Medic." Captain Callaway, describes how the company I would eventually join was over run and lost several men. We would not meet until 42 years after the fact in a hometown veterans group, "Vietnam Veterans of Diablo Valley" in Danville, California. This is where through a fortuitous meeting we would discover we had served in the same Battalion, 2nd of the 60th 9th Infantry Division. The only difference, he was young Lieutenant of "C" Charlie Company and with time would be elevated to Captain.

I am thankful for the life Captain Callaway brought to the experience for so many of us in the field, to allow our families and friends appreciate what we went through. As Captain Callaway describes, the experience was brutal, the fire fights the smell of cordite had its affects on so many, and what they endured. As I hear the sound of a helicopter when I am out of doors, the whopping, whirling sound of the rotor takes me back and runs a chill up my spine. Mekong First Light is a must read. I appreciate Captain Callaway's honesty and how he blends a bit of history with the actual happenings of the war.

I am forever grateful, "The Foot Steps We Trace Will Never Be Forgotten"

Frederick L Granados, Combat Medic - Bravo Company 2nd Battalion 60th Infantry
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on June 10, 2014
This review is in response to Wardhall.

First of all of I recently met Joe Callaway as I had been looking for him for a long time. I stay in contact with him for my Uncle Paul Dilley whom was his platoon Sergeant in Vietnam, and by the way still very much alive at 85! Uncle Paul is on the front cover of the book being the first soldier of the three in the photo. My Uncle states emphatically that everything in the book about the 9th Inf. Div. is very accurate and correct. However, the only thing he misstated was my Uncle being a NCO Club manager in Germany, while he was actually in the Berlin Brigade. The only reason Joe put that in was as that is what he was told that by several platoon members. I'm sure if he would have known my Uncle was still alive living a 100 miles away he would have talked to him about different things that happened. My Uncle stated that when he first got to Vietnam 2Lt Callaway was all gung ho, but being a Marine you should know that from good NCO's come good officers. My Uncle stated that once LT. Callaway understood that if you didn't listen to the Sergeants you wouldn't stay alive,. He then became one of the best PLT Leaders he ever had, and that he truly cared for his men. You said something about him possibly seeing very little combat? Well I can tell you from talking with my Uncle and I do it every day, "he states that almost every day they were in a firefight, and remembers the 4th of July 1967 while being pinned down in a mangrove that LT. Callaway called for a fire support mission and that if they didn't get it, a lot of people were going to get killed". Lt. Callaway was told that the artillery was already designated for other targets. My Uncle then tells me that "LT. Callaway somehow got a fire support mission at 12 noon from every 105 and 155 in the 9th ID". "Uncle Paul said the mangrove just disappeared". I don't know exactly what ceremony they went through while sailing to South Vietnam but if I were at his house I could tell you as the certificate is in a frame and could post the pictures that he has of that ceremony. You stated he seems to be very self centered. Nothing can be farther from the truth as he worked his ASS off helping my Uncle with his VA benefits driving the 100 miles each way to check on him and see that the VA was doing for him what they were supposed to, and works selflessly helping other vets get their benefits. Being a retired Army MSG and getting older we all remember things differently as I'm sure you remember things different than other Marines who were at the same place and time. Also you talk about him slamming different officers, having around 1,000 books on WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and the war on Terror there are plenty of authors who have slammed their superiors. Also I would never personally attack an author. If I didn't like the book I wouldn't go on a rant as you did. "Semper Fi to you sir"
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on October 2, 2013
I was one of those raw recruits that were led by LT. Joseph Callaway with C Company 2nd and 60th infantry 9th division. Mekong First Light was how it was in the jungles and rice paddies of Vietnam.From the early training at Fort Riley and the 21 day travel by ship and finally arriving in Vietnam, LT. Callaway led us for six months with his professionalism and smart decision making. I will forever be grateful for his leadership getting us through such a difficult time in our lives. This book has helped me now many years later to come to terms with my experience which has been very difficult to talk about. Any one who was there would understand.Once you pick this book up you will never put it down.
Thanks Joe,
John Schneider
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