In war, any war, heroes spring forth out of sudden need and spontaneous reaction. The courage of heroes lies dormant but waiting in a deep reservoir in our souls. It lives inside us all but seldom reveals itself until the occasion calls for nothing less. It springs from the potent concoction of adrenaline, fear, need, and love.
Michael Putzel has written The Price They Paid: Enduring Wounds of War which tells the story of C Troop 2/17th Cavalry – the Condors - a group of men, really mostly just boys, who in the face of great danger, stabbing fear, and overwhelming need came to each others aid time and time again. Mr. Putzel tells also of their revered commanding officer, Major James T. Newman, the central character of the book whose natural leadership talent released that reservoir of courage. It is a book about the battles and horrors of war, extraordinary esprit de corps, and incomprehensible courage and bravery, ending in private struggles and personal suffering for many when they came home and tried to get on with a normal life.
In The Price They Paid, you are taken on an incredible journey along side these men as they face the most prolonged horrific helicopter warfare ever seen; then along side many of them as they each struggle afterward to make sense of how they had been changed by it.
Widely and deeply researched, I liked how the author presents much of the book in the principle characters own words and memories while also revealing new historical facts about the political decision to launch the central battle of the book – Lam Son 719.
The Price They Paid is deeply personal and profoundly human and honest in it’s telling. I recommend it wholeheartedly and without reservation. I found it a page-turner that I just couldn’t put down. By way of disclosure, I am a veteran of C Troop 2nd Squadron 17th Cavalry and one of the characters in the book. Even so, I was deeply moved by this book and more importantly changed by it.
As a Veteran combat helicopter pilot, I found Michael Putzel's "The Price They Paid" to be very readable, honest, and credible in all respects. In the first half of the book, his focus is on the combat experience and its immediate impact upon the participants. Having participated in the Battle of An Loc, an engagement in which aviators encountered intensity at a similar level to Lam Son 719, I felt that the descriptions of both the activities and the emotional responses were very similar to my own experience. The second half of the book deals more with "downstream" reactions of participants. In the book, nearly all of the selected players are deemed to be afflicted with PTSD. This would seem to be a judgment call as PTSD remains poorly defined. In saying that, I make no judgments regarding Putzel's apparent conclusions regarding the subject. All of us who have experienced the emotional trauma of witnessing the deaths of comrades and friends in combat have had to deal with subsequent emotional adjustment. At what level such adjustment reaches the level of a disorder or dysfunction remains ill-defined. Several politicians have posited that fully 50% of returning War on Terror Veterans are afflicted with PTSD. To his credit, Mr. Putzel presents the facts with very little personal judgment added. I recommend the book to anyone with an interest in learning more about the Vietnam War. In particular, I commend the book to my fellow helicopter pilots.
“The Price They Paid” by Michael Putzel is superb, one of the finest books of the Vietnam War era – and should be read by all who have an interest in that tumultuous period of US history. The recounting of the helicopter engagements with the North Vietnamese comprises some of the very best battle reporting I have ever encountered. In reading those passages, I felt I was actually present in the moment, as if I were riding on a wild roller coaster but with no assurance that the vehicle would stay on track or arrive back where it started. Truly frightening. I marvel at the research done to recreate those engagements, seemingly in real time. Also, the stories of Major Jim Newman – surely one of the most colorful, interesting, capable and ultimately tragic figures in the modern era of warfare – and the other characters in the book were, in turn, heartening and depressing depending on how their military service informed their lives - and deaths - during and after the war. In looking at the photos of the very (to me) unprepossessing Jim Newman, especially, it was hard to conjure up the person who was so venerated by his men but who also was such a wild - and often cruel - man and womanizer in his personal life. Beautifully written, impeccably researched, “The Price They Paid” is a book which cannot be put down until the last page. It speaks eloquently to the burden placed on those who served in Vietnam – burdens which are carried to this day by so many of them and by the nation they served. It takes its place as one of very best books on the Vietnam War – and, for that matter, all the other wars in which the US has been engaged over the last many decades.
It is with the utmost pride I write this review as my cousin, Chuck Vehlow was one of the many selfless, brave, dedicated helicopter pilots who is mentioned in this outstanding book. So little is really understood about the war in Vietnam - this book does a phenomenal job of putting us into that time and place and the hell that our airmen and soldiers went through fighting a war that was always met with uncertainty by our country. Reading this tremendous account of actual facts helps us to realize that our soldiers were 'in 100%' - - they never gave up - - they always were there for their fellow soldiers thus giving the respect each fighting soldier so deserved whether they were fighting or flying right next to them, were downed by the NVA, were injured or even killed - - - our soldiers were ready to do whatever it took to save them and bring them back to safe territory whenever even remotely possible rather than leave them downed. The accounts are sometimes difficult to read but again provide us with a complete understanding of the extreme efforts and closeness of our soldiers/airmen. Please read with pride and respect and understand some of these heroes are still with us - we are so blessed. Read about the mysterious PTSD as this book has much detail about it - it's truths and myths. The hell they went through then and for many, the hell they still face daily with injuries and PTSD need to be acknowledged and respect, admiration and mostly thanks needs to go to these heroes. Thanks to Mr. Putzel and all those contributing for helping us truly better understand the 'misunderstood war of Vietnam'. Mostly - heartfelt thanks to my cousin and all his many airmen, past and present - to say 'Thanks for your service' is so hollow when what we need to say is - 'Thanks for giving your lives - we are forever in your debt!!
This is a well-written and tragic tale of heroism and the true price that was paid for the Vietnam misadventure.
The author has dug deeply and carefully, finding sources (even recordings of the radio traffic in the fights) that detail the combat in which the helicopter units were involved. He has interviewed scores of enlisted and officer sources and their families. He has tracked down hero after hero, and described the price they personally, and their families, have paid for their activities. The range of outcomes is, not surprisingly, huge, with one living in a shack in the woods for years and another becoming a very successful executive. It sensitively presents the human cost of war, especially on the families of those who are drawn into it as fighters. Yet it does not preach or lecture. A must-read for those who fought during that era or those whose friends or family members did.
It is no surprise that Mr. Putzel has achieved a five-star rating for this book. I am surprised that I had not read it before, but was just recently made aware of it through some comments on the website for Charlie Troop, 2/17 Cavalry. This is a very accurate and objective glimpse of a piece of the Vietnam War as fought by young men in a helicopter company. C-2/17 Cav. was an indigenous helicopter company engaged in a deadly fight in the area of the A Shau Valley in Northern I Corps (Military Region 1) which was closest to the demilitarized zone of the four military zones in South Vietnam. The A Shau was often referred to by GIs as the Valley of the Shadow of Death because Charlie owned it and we only visited it, often in a very unsatisfactory way. Dong Ap Bia ("Hamburger Hill") was in the A Shau. FB Ripcord was in the 'warehouse region" of the A Shau. Khe Sanh was in the plains at the northern opening of the A Shau, and Lang Vei was close by. 'Visiting' it was a daily routine for Charlie Troop as well as other helicopter units of the 101st Airborne. I like to think of going into the A Shau in those days as being similar to going swimming in shark infested waters. You might get away with it a few times but, sooner or later, you're going to get bloodied. Mr. Putzel's book introduces the reader to many of the young men who participated in a part of that war in which I also experienced it. In 1971, we launched a major offensive to try to disrupt the enemy supply lines leaving North Vietnam through neighboring Laos. Because the Americans' hands had been tied by Congress after a similar effort the year before in Cambodia, only South Vietnamese troops could be on the ground in Laos, but the sky was literally full of buzzing American helicopters and aircraft supporting the South Vietnamese ground troops. Unfortunately, the ground became littered with the destroyed remains of helicopters and crew for thirty miles from Lao Bao on the border of South Vietnam to Tshepone, 30 miles inside Laos. For those of us who were there (I flew briefly during that time as a door gunner with A Troop 2/17, a sister unit), this is a very straight forward treatment of the individual experiences of a number of young men who were directly involved. It makes no judgments and simply tells it like it was. You won't regret reading it. Since I was over there at the time, I really don't know how much the American People actually knew or were told about that era in the war. It was late in the war and people were probably very tired of the subject. However, if you are interested from an historical perspective, this is a 'must-read.' Either way, I recommend this book for anyone who has a personal interest in that war, or are even curious about it. It tells it like it was and then follows a number of those young men through later life in a way that I found gratifying, and in a sense comforting as well. Mr. Putzel's own experiences as a war correspondent truly show in the very accurate way he describes and explains the events and people who were on the front line in a war that was not known for having lines. I recommend it without reservation.
This is a detailed story about one helicopter unit on the very front lines of the Vietnam war (and over the border into Cambodia in that "secret" war). Intense bombing raids, unbelievably risky rescues of men in their unit who were shot down and brought back to fly again or, sadly, their bodies sent back to families who must deal with the huge loss. The first half of the book is devoted to descriptions of various raids of the Condor unit, in such detail that it's sometimes chair-gripping to read. The latter part of the book is the story of what happened to these courageous soldiers when they returned to the US, often mentally crippled by what they had been through. PTSD was barely understood, but all of the men went through it in some form, as did their families. Mike Putzel spent years tracking down the survivors of this unit, hearing their stories, and following their lives back in the US. The book is gripping, touching proof that the US military, the VA, political leaders, and the American public failed to see or understand the huge impact the war had on the men and women who fought for their country.
A very sad story. It tells of, not only, how Vietnam affected the lives of the combat soliders but how it also affected the lives of their families. I know several brave and couagous men who have retruned home and adjusted well, but I also know too many who have not and the VA system is a disgrace in most parts of the country. My respect goes out to all the wives, children, parents, siblings and friends of combat veteans who have hung in there with them as they are trying to adjust.
During my tour of duty in Vietnam, 1968, as a Warranr Officer chopper pilot, with the 101st, I met too many, John D. Sterrett III and too few James T. Newman. That included leaders on the ground as well as those in the air. It was a war in which there was too many " senders" and not enough "leaders."
I finished the book this afternoon and I want to congratulate Michael Putzel on a well written, well researched, thoroughly good read. I found the descriptions of combat gripping and authentic, I sailed effortless through these passages. The homecoming section, while at first a little off putting became interesting and very relevant, it really brought Vietnam current in my thinking.
My Vietnam War history is as a conscientious objector during the war and this book hardened my lifelong objector status. However, I have never made the guys that went wrong, they were my friends and contemporaries and some died over there and many died here after they returned, suicide, drunk driving, (I have felt that these guys should be on the wall as well.) The whole war and its aftermath continues to make me sick to my stomach.
I commend the author for bringing us current on the PTSD thinking through the personal stories of these guys. I was amazed to learn that some of them never sought VA benefits for their injuries or recognized their PTSD. (I did my CO service in the VA psychiatric hospital in Roseburg, OR and I am familiar with the system.)
In closing, bravo to a job well done. I know that the book changed from your original idea and in the end, you wrote the right book and did it well. It represents a lot of work. It is great that all of these guys and their families opened up for you. It is indeed a tragic tale and war, after all, is a tragedy. “Dulce et decorum est, Pro patria mori.” poem by Wilfred Owen.
First, as a writer and copy editor, I must begin by saying the quality of research, reporting, writing, and editing that went into this book are first rate. The book is, at once, small in scale, even intimate, in its focus on some members of one specific unit of the Army in one specific war, but also quite universal in its message about the long-lasting and deleterious effects of combat on the human beings who participate in it. The contrast, for example, between who Major Jim Newman (the soldier who is the principal focus of the book, although some of his colleagues are followed closely as well) was as a soldier--exemplary, courageous, beloved, completely trusted, always present--and who he was as a civilian "back in the world" (in many ways, a tragic failure in his relationships, his conduct, and his work history) is startling, and instructive. As the author says, the qualities that one must bring to the fore in order to survive combat are often the very same qualities that will lead to dysfunction in our more "ordinary," day-to-day lives. The book is a valuable addition to the literature and scholarship pertaining to the Vietnam War--and to all wars, past, present, and future. In fact, I learned that some portions of the book that deal with the U.S. air operations in Laos are based on material included in government documents that have only recently been declassified--information that is being reported in this book for the first time. Readers should not infer, though, that the excellent, thorough reporting in this book in any way detracts from the book's value as a gripping, page-turning, deeply moving chronicle of real Americans' lives during the span of 60-plus years before, during, and after the Vietnam War.