The Frost Weeds, Vietnam: 1964-1965, James Oliveri

The Frost Weeds, Vietnam: 1964-1965, James Oliveri

When Oliveri arrived in South Vietnam the United States was officially still providing advisors to support the South Vietnamese. During 1964 the number of advisors rose to over 20,000, but the scale of the war increased massively during 1965, when the Marine Corps was committed to the fight. By the end of the year nearly 200,000 Americans were in Vietnam, and the nature of the war had changed. This later period is the most famous and inevitably the best supported by memoirs, simply because there were far more men serving in the country. As a result any memoir from the earlier period is of great interest.

Oliveri served as a radio operator, and his work took him to some of the most dangerous areas of South Vietnam (although not always when they were actually at their most dangerous). He spend much of his time operating with South Vietnamese forces, as one of only a handful of Americans. On other occasions US special forces were present. One does get an impressive of a small scale war, as the author repeated runs into the same small group of people.

Oliveri came up against the problem posed by the western border of Vietnam - US and South Vietnamese forces weren't officially meant to operate over the border, but the North Vietnamese operated freely in the area, creating the famous Ho Chi Minh Trail. The author witnessed at least one bombing raid into Laos, and spent some time in bases dangerously close to the border (and later abandoned).

He also came face-to-face with the main American problem during the war. Although the North Vietnamese and their southern Allies committed atrocities (Oliveri witnessed one particularly nasty example), their cause was still popular. He soon began to distrust most South Vietnamese that he came into contact with, and one gets the impression that the US was attempt to save the South Vietnamese from something they didn't want to be saved from.

On the other hand the author was able to wander quite freely around various South Vietnamese cities, so there was no sense of being under siege, a common feeling in later memoirs. Again, this reminds us that this was a very different phase of the war to the one we are familiar with, and as a result this is a very useful memoir. It also helps that the author has a compelling writing style and a skill for summoning up the atmosphere of the remote places in which he served.

The Beginning
Going to War
I Corps
Hue City
Incident at Ta Bat
In the Rear
Back to the Valley
Nam Dong
A Shau
Quick Trip to Ta Bat
Farewell to the Colonel
Quang Tri
Flight to Khe Sanh
General Westmoreland
Assignment: Lang Vei
Mending Fences
Mission along the Border
The Build-Up Begins
Homeward Bound
Gold Tooth
Winding Down
Leaving on a Jet Plane
The Soldiers of the Sky

Author: James Oliveri
Edition: Paperback
Publisher: Hellgate Press
Year: 2014

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