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Bare Feet, Iron Will: Stories from the Other Side of Vietnam's Battlefields Hardcover – April 26, 2010
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From the Back Cover
War is not always black & white ...
The Vietnam war left an indelible mark on America. Not since our Civil War has a conflict so divided our people.
And, a generation after the war in Vietnam ended; many Americans remain haunted by its memory. More than three decades after the fall of Saigon, it is time to better understand the enemy we fought in Vietnam and the role their "Iron Will" played in its outcome.
The best way to do so is by sharing the personal experiences of the men and women who epitomized this Will--empowering them to live, fight, endure and prevail in their war with America.
And, by doing so...perhaps those still haunted by the Vietnam conflict can begin the process of exorcising its ghosts.
Stories never before told--from the Other Side of Vietnam's Battlefields ... as revealed in hundreds of personal interviews with enemy veterans & their war diaries.
About the Author
Lieutenant Colonel James Zumwalt is a retired Marine infantry officer who served in the Vietnam war, the 1989 intervention into Panama and Desert Storm. An author, speaker and business executive, he also currently heads a security consulting firm named after his father--Admiral Zumwalt & Consultants, Inc.
He writes extensively on foreign policy and defense issues, having written hundreds of articles for various newspapers, magazines and professional journals, including:
USA Today The Washington Post The New York Times The Washington Times The LA Times The Chicago Tribune The San Diego Union Parade magazine & others
His articles have covered issues of major importance, oftentimes providing readers with unique perspectives that have never appeared elsewhere. This has resulted, on several occasions, in his work being cited by members of Congress and entered into the US Congressional Record.
His thoughtful perspectives earned him an invitation to join the prestigious Committee on the Present Danger (CPD), of which the honorary co-chairmen are Senator Joe Lieberman, Senator Jon Kyl, former Secretary of State George P. Schultz and former CIA Director R. James Woolsey. The CPD is a non-partisan organization with one goal--to stiffen American resolve to confront the challenge presented by terrorism and the ideologies that drive it.
Colonel Zumwalt is featured as one of 56 US military professionals in LEADING THE WAY, a book by best-selling author Al Santoli, which documents the most critical moments of the interviewees' combat experiences from Vietnam to Somalia.
He has also been cited in numerous other books and publications for unique insights based on his research on the Vietnam war, North Korea (a country he has visited ten times and about which he is able to share some very telling observations) and Desert Storm.
Colonel Zumwalt received a presidential appointment to be the Senior Advisor to the Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs, in which capacity he served from 1991-1992.
Because of his expertise, he also was asked to participate in a very unique educational project conducted at a high school in Raleigh, North Carolina, where he voluntarily contributes time and resources to educating students on issues of international importance.
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It is not easy to understand that war…for one thing politics keeps getting in the way, and for another, it was a lifetime ago. We all seek answers, each in our own way. One man, this reviewer believes, has found the answers to the questions of who this enemy was, and how did he prevail. That man, who fought there, is Colonel James G. Zumwalt, USMC, Ret. Jim, the second son of Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, Jr., came home angry, and was made even more so when his older brother, Elmo Zumwalt III died in 1988 of multiple cancers caused by exposure to the toxic herbicide Agent Orange. Jim has written a book, Bare Feet, Iron Will – Stories from the other side of Vietnam’s Battlefields.
[Admiral Zumwalt was in command of Naval Forces in Vietnam, and as such had a role in the application of tactical herbicides in the southern part of the Republic of South Vietnam. His son, Elmo III, served in the Riverine Forces where the U.S. Navy patrolled and fought on, and along the many rivers, creeks and estuaries in the southern half of Vietnam. After the death of his son, the retired Admiral went to work researching the links to certain cancers after exposure to Agent Orange. His report to the Veterans Administration in 1990 formed the basis of the Agent Orange Act of 1991, through which tens of thousands of Vietnam Veterans have, and are receiving wartime compensation and medical care.]
Jim Zumwalt decided to do something about his anger. He wanted to know how a third world country could outlast the U.S. in a war where the U.S. forces were basically in control of the battlefields. How did North Vietnam and the Viet Cong, who found only small tactical victories, and never a strategic one, essentially get all it wanted, the absorption of the Republic of South Vietnam into a unified Socialist Republic of Vietnam. How and why had that domino fallen?
Zumwalt made many trips back to Vietnam and during those trips he conducted 200 interviews of Vietnamese Veterans of the Vietnam War, members of the North Vietnamese military, and the NLF/PLAF [the National Liberation Front and it military wing, the People’s Liberation Armed Forces of South Vietnam], otherwise known as the Viet Cong.
His interviewees are surprisingly candid. There is no perceivable gloat, for the war was even more harsh for the Vietnamese people of both countries, than for ours – after all, it was fought there, a half a world away from the United States. What shines through the interviews is a quiet pride that the sense of duty to see through to the end of this effort to “reunify” the two Vietnams was achieved, albeit at great cost in human lives, misery and suffering. The interviews are frank, apparently honest, and will leave the reader asking how could an educated people fight under such primitive conditions.
Perhaps the most telling is the first interview in the book, that of a North Vietnamese doctor, tasked with taking his hospital down the Ho Chi Minh Trail by truck until the American bombs destroyed the trucks and nearly everything in them – medical supplies, surgical instruments, and the like. When they got to their destination by foot, at the junction of the Thailand, Cambodian and Vietnamese borders, they dug a bunker under the earth, and thirty kilometers away they planted a field with vegetables as a source of food, and vitamins, and some medicines. The Army gave them a bag of rice, which was barely enough to sustain the personnel of the hospital. Worse was when the hospital was full of sick and wounded. Finding a water source was an issue. So was protecting themselves from US and South Vietnamese air strikes. But the B-52 raids were the worst. They developed a design for a single person bomb shelter that would provide the kneeling individual the best chance to survive a near miss. What little metal they had, mostly cook pots, unexploded ordnance and some shrapnel, was fashioned into primitive scalpels, and other surgical tools.
And it worked. They even performed brain surgery on some who had head wounds. All in a hole in the ground, and often while their enemy was near, or they were being bombed, or sprayed with Agent Orange. How? Why? Bare Feet, Iron Will!
In another interview, Zumwalt sits with the author of the first book written about the Vietnam War by a North Vietnamese combatant, Bao Ninh’s The Sorrow of War. The discussion centers motive to fight. Ninh said, “As a man at seventeen, I had a duty to fight. Our country was divided in two – a festering wound to our nationalistic spirit. We were motivated to fight for unification - our young people rallying under the flag of nationalism…Americans were motivated to fight communism…but we were not communists…I did not feel I was a communist. Americans were fighting nationalists in Vietnam – not communists. But soldiers are the same from country to country. While they have their individual rallying cries, in the end, when we face death, we are really all the same.” [p.211]
That was not what we were told. That is not what our government told us, that is not what our press and media told us. Indeed, the evening news was rife with the term “communists” not with “nationalists.”
Zumwalt inserts a quote from one WW II era U.S. government official who said, “I have never met an American, be he military, OSS, diplomat or journalist, who did not reach the same belief: that Ho Chi Minh was first and foremost, a Vietnamese nationalist.” [p.211]
In other interviews, Zumwalt meets with the commander of the tunnels of Cu Chi which were located outside of Saigon, and discovered that he had ordered an assassination attack on his father, Admiral Elmo Zumwalt; and with the man who claims he captured downed Navy pilot and now US Senator John McCain in a lake in downtown Hanoi.
Other interviews recount the same concept of nationalism, and effectively, he allows the reader to reach the conclusion that these people were not motivated any differently than those in our own Civil War…that the cause to reunite the common peoples of two nations into their historic nation was the goal. It was not political ideology that drove them to war, it was nationalism, and a strong nationalism at that. It resulted in Bare Feet, Iron Will.
Zumwalt says it was a difficult book to write, citing the connections to his emotions regarding his father and brother, and indeed, all who served in the Vietnam War as he did.
Reading the book was nearly as difficult for it is a personal memory for all who served. This reviewer came away with a new perspective on the war. Where the reviewer had felt betrayed by the U.S. government, the realization of the profound nationalism borne by the enemy as their motivation, not a political motive, exacerbates that betrayal. It explains even more the Paris collapse by the U.S. negotiators, but even worse, it confirms that we should not have been there at all, not in Paris, not in Vietnam.
But we were, and we have those memories, and experiences, good and bad, and we have our compatriots who stood beside us, fought, lived, died beside us, came home with us, and endured with us. We have that. It will have to do.
This reviewer is thankful for Jim Zumwalt’s eye-opening look at the enemy. It is a fascinating, educating, elucidating and well-constructed compilation of what the enemy went through to win their reunification and how their nationalism motivated them to persevere.
The message in his book is reminiscent of conversations I had with my Dad, a World War II veteran. Growing up, I often asked, "How did the Americans win the war"? His answer was simple. "Determination and Ingenuity."
The GI had a job to do. He was determined to do whatever it took, for however long it took, to defeat the Germans and Japanese. This determination gave rise to an incredible level of ingenuity that continued well after the war.
The qualities exhibited by Americans in the 1940's are the same qualities exhibited by the Vietnamese in the 1960's and 1970's.
Excellent read - 5 Stars!