Ambassador of Books ~ Book Club Madam ~ Blogger Gal

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Once A Warrior King

by David Donovan
352 pages 

*** About the Book ***

Like so many other Americans, David Donovan served in Vietnam for one year; his experiences, however, were not the norm.  He didn't serve with a large American unit or live on a base with lots of other Americans.  Instead, Donovan and four other soldiers were assigned to a tiny outpost in a rural village in the Mekong Delta.  Their job was to train the local population in military tactics and to build trust between the Vietnamese villages and the American military.

Donovan describes his position in the village as a "warrior king" because of the level of control he had over the people there.  He truly cared about them and wanted to do the best job that he could but he is also honest about the way that power can go to one's head.

You can learn more about David Donovan (the name is a pseudonym) at his website:

*** Why I (re)Read It ***

I first read this book when I was in high school.  My dad picked it up at a yard sale, read it, then gave it to me with the explanation that it was similar to his own experiences in Vietnam.  I remember reading it avidly and getting a lot out of it, but that's all I remember.

This book has been on my shelf ever since then and I always intended to reread it so I could understand more about my dad's wartime experiences.  The War Through the Generations: Vietnam Challenge gave me the push I needed to pick it up now.

*** My Thoughts ***

This is a VERY good book.  It presents a side of the American involvement in Vietnam that many people are unaware of.  In fact, it presents a war that is almost unrecognizable when compared to other combat narratives.

Imagine being miles away from other Americans (not counting the 4 men on your team), having very little contact with the rest of the American military, being unable to rely on backup forces if you are under attack, not having reliable access to supplies, doctors, or evacuation helicopters.  Add to that the need to blend into village life, establish trust between the villagers and yourself, negotiate a very different culture, and deal with local governmental corruption.  Then throw in the need to train the local militia, the lack of modern weaponry, the confusion over who is spying for the Viet Cong, and the lack of respect given to local troops by the American military in general.  Mix that all together and you have some idea of what war was like for Donovan.

One thing I loved about this book was the respect Donovan had for the Vietnamese people.  He didn't think of them as second class citizens, or refer to them using derogatory nicknames.  He truly got to know and respect many of the people in the village, and he desired to do the best job he could for their benefit.

The book doesn't stop when Donovan leaves Vietnam.  Although he doesn't spend much time on it, Donovan is very honest about the difficulty he had adjusting to civilian life amid the strong anti-war sentiment of the 1970s.  The story closes with his trip to Washington, DC for the dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial; this section made me cry.

Although I know my dad's experiences were not a mirror reflection of Donovan's, this book helped me to get an idea of what being in Vietnam was like for my dad.  As such, it holds a treasured place on my bookshelf.

*** Your Thoughts ***

Have you ever read about this part of the war in Vietnam?  Can you recommend any other books that deal with similar experiences?  Are you interested in reading this one?


bermudaonion said...

This does sound like a good book! I think those soldiers who got to know the Vietnamese always respected them - too bad more of them didn't have that opportunity.

Anna said...

I haven't read any Vietnam book like this one, so I've added it to my to-read list. Too bad the challenge is nearly over! Thanks for bringing this one to my attention. I just wish my dad was alive so I could get his take on it, too.

We'll get your review on War Through the Generations as soon as we can.

Heather J. said...

bermudaonion - I think you're right on that - it IS too bad that more of them didn't have the opportunity.

Anna - I'd be happy to lend you my copy if you'd like - just let me know!

Alyce said...

I haven't heard of this book and somehow missed your review the first time around. I'll have to add this one to my wish list.

Heather J. said...

Alyce - I hope you do read it - I think you'd really appreciate it.

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