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Steel My Soldiers' Hearts: The Hopeless to Hardcore Transformation of U.S. Army, 4th Battalion, 39th Infantry, Vietnam Paperback – May 6, 2003

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Steel My Soldiers' Hearts: The Hopeless to Hardcore Transformation of U.S. Army, 4th Battalion, 39th Infantry, Vietnam + About Face: The Odyssey of an American Warrior + Hazardous Duty
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone (May 6, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743246136
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743246132
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.3 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (93 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #358,215 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Steel My Soldiers' Hearts is retired Colonel David Hackworth's account of his tour of duty in Vietnam commanding the 4/39th, an infantry battalion operating south of Saigon in the Mekong River delta. Poorly led (the previous commander had based the battalion in the middle of a mine field), with frightfully high casualties (40 percent during the six months prior to Hackworth's arrival), and fighting in the most dangerous of terrain, the 4/39th was a dispirited and demoralized group when Hackworth assumed command in January, 1969. Upon arrival, Hackworth fired many of the senior officers and then put the 4/39th through "Combat 101," which made him so unpopular that at one point Hackworth was warned of a bounty some of his men had put out on him. Over the next five months, however, Hackworth would transform the 4/39 from "hopeless to hardcore," dramatically reverse the casualty rate, score some spectacular victories over the Viet Cong, and earn the undying respect of his troops. Here's a gung ho and earthy firsthand account of the Vietnam War that fans of We Were Soldiers Once... will appreciate. --Harry C. Edwards --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Soldier-Author-Columnist, as his Web site notes, Hackworth (About Face, Hazardous Duty) weighs in with a long, blow-by-blow account of his second tour in Vietnam, as a 9th Infantry Division battalion commander. (Hackworth denounced the war in 1971, went into self-imposed exile in Australia and later became a high-profile Newsweek military analyst.) He's definitely the star of this production, which is co-written with England but told in his voice, as he describes how he turned a group of decidedly unready infantrymen into an effective fighting force mainly through the strength of his tough personality. My idea of looking after the troops was not to spoon-feed them, Hackworth says, but to make them as hard as forged steel, deadly in their kill-or-be-killed trade. And he's not bashful about naming names: he gives credit to the officers and enlisted men who helped him and pillories ticket-punching and cowardly officers who stood in his way. The result is a readable, gritty, in-the-trenches tale, dotted with clever epigrammatic prose and filled to overflowing with reconstructed dialogue. The main source is Hackworth's memory bank, but he and England also combed through primary and secondary sources and made good use of interviews they conducted with many of his former troops. The portrait that emerges is of a battalion commander with integrity, guts, leadership ability and an abiding concern for the welfare of his men as well as, it must be acknowledged, a modest desire to self-promote.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

I believe we need more leaders like Colonel David Hackworth.
This book is a must read for anyone interested in the Vietnam war as it was not as we hoped it might be.
Gordon Cucullu
His willingness to serve his country and his fellow soldiers with bravery is apparent in this book.
LaVerna VanDan, RN, MSN

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

157 of 161 people found the following review helpful By byron e.holley,md on April 28, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I feel very qualified to review this book as I lived quite a bit of it serving as Col.Hackworth's Battalion Surgeon in Vietnam.Most of the battles occurred on my watch and I was involved in trying to save the casualties,friendly and enemy. Fortunately, under Hack's leadership our KIA's and WIA's plummeted to record low numbers and many of my infantry brothers feel, as I do, that we are alive today because of his shrewd understanding of the battlefield and how to approach it in a SMART way. Our previous CO clearly lacked the experience and knack for getting it done without lots of unnecessary casualties. Hack's prior tours in Korea and Vietnam were all building blocks which he stacked up in a very creative way to out-G the G (Guerilla). Being aware of lots of details about our combat operations, I was quite amazed at the amount of information Hack and Eilhys gathered over the past 4 years. I am now able to hear directly from the chopper pilots who flew us in and out of battle and to hear straight from the grunts like Tom Aiken who saw his life flash in front of him when he almost tripped a wired booby trap. This classic book, much in the way Hal Moore's We Were Soldiers Once did, looks deep into the memory banks of those of us who were there.What emerges is a captivating book which I believe will be a handbook for all future military operations fought on the ground. It is my privilege to have served under such a brilliant military leader and under a man who loved his men and his country in such a passionate manner. Pick it up and you won't be able to put it down. Byron E.Holley, MD, Battalion Surgeon, 4/39th Infantry Battalion, 9th Infantry Division, USARV
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28 of 28 people found the following review helpful By "wildcatt268" on June 21, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This is the first Hackworth book I have read; sorry I waited so long. Could not put it down once I started. I like his colloquial style of prose (whether his or his wife's, the result on paper was excellent), and the terminology and language rang true to in my memory. He nontheless took great pains to define terminology and explain essentials to the uninitiated, so anyone can and should read and understand this work. It was a narrative, but carried many strategic and tactical lessons in the midst of it. It was a combat saga, but the political and bureaucratic people and actions that adversely effected our war effort at every level in Vietnam received their due. Vietnam combat "lessons learned" did not have to be "relearned" at the expense of more lives under Hackworth's command. While he "led from the front" whenever possible, he also had the correct management/command style in letting his subordinate commanders--company,platoon,squad and fireteam--lead and be responsible at their own respective level and develop along the way. If only other field commanders had led (or been allowed to lead) infantry and combined arms in this manner in Vietnam, we would have "out-G'd the G" (as Hack puts it). His criticism of our military's strategy, innovation, imagination and tactics (or lack thereof) are well justified and have been expensively documented in our blood. Hackworth's emphasis on economy of force, stealth, surprise and violent initiation of action and counteraction (applied accurately and at the right time) were the only way to successfully conduct a war that had no geographic objectives, no ground to hold for any length of time. Attrition tactics can always be questioned, but it is unquestionably better to be well on the "winning" side of the kill ratio.Read more ›
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By David A. Pearsall on September 1, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've heard several comments made about about 'Steel My Soldiers Hearts' saying that Hackworth deals a whole lot with self- aggrandization. My answer is that from my perspective, he deserves every bit of praise and honor possible for writing a very truthful book about how the fighting in Vietnam SHOULD have been conducted.
As a combat veteran of Vietnam, I was most taken with his very truthful and accurate description of the many 'perfumed princes' whose goals were ultimately skewed and self-serving. Many commanders in Vietnam were more concerned about climbing the ladder and 'punching tickets' for future promotions than the welfare of the soldiers who served under them. Give Hackworth the highest of credit for two things: molding a tactically sound fighting force and caring enough about those serving under him that American lives lost were kept to a bare minimum as compared to lives lost by the enemy.
For any conflicts that this country may face in the future, the tactical leadership of this country should take a page from Hackworth's accomplishments and study it hard. Sadly, it appears as though the lessons learned in Vietnam have not made an adequate enough impression upon our current leaders.
A wonderful book written by perhaps one of America's last true warriors.
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39 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Barron Laycock HALL OF FAME on May 21, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've been a fan of Colonel David Hackworth's writing since reading his hilarious putdown of hapless, happy warrior Oliver North in a Playboy article entitled "Drugstore Marine". This book handily illustrates why he is held with such regard by his peers, and demonstrates once again that Hackworth is a guy that calls them as he sees them. In "Steel My Soldiers' Hearts", Hackworth recalls his own combat experiences in the darkest days of Vietnam, taking over command of one of the worst units then "in-country". Sent there in an effort by the brass to either prove his newfangled theories of insurgent warfare or shut up, Hackworth attempts to give his theories a fair chance of proving themselves.
However, the job would not be an easy one to accomplish. The troops, demoralized, undisciplined, and literally out of control, were experiencing some of the highest casualty rates in the conflict, and needed drastic intervention to turn them around. Their ability to seek out and successfully engage the enemy was dismal, and they foundered when circumstance suddenly changed, requiring a change in tactics. In the space of a few months, Hackworth wrought a radical transformation, and the statistics of the unit proved it. But to reach his objective of turning the troops around, Hackworth had to take some drastic action, such as firing most of the senior officers and tightening the screws on the troops until they finally heeled.
The results were impressive, and the casualty rates and most other statistics became much more positive. Hackworth had made his point and illustrated the utility of his rather unconventional ideas regarding small unit tactics in Vietnam.
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