Company of Heroes, Eric Poole

Company of Heroes, Eric Poole

At the heart of this book is the story of Leslie Sabo, jr, who served with 101st Airborne in Vietnam, where he was killed in action. He was nominated for the Medal of Honor, but the paperwork got lost and the award wasn’t made until four decades later. This book tells the story of Sabo himself, his family, his unit in Vietnam, and the efforts that eventually led to the award of that Medal of Honor.

In some ways this book is similar to many recent works, and is a clear descendent of works like Band of Brothers, especially as it covers the same division, but the nature of the Vietnam War means that the tone is different, and gives the book a very different last act. Where most of the Second World War equivalents of this book largely stop after the end of the war, with a chapter or appendix on people’s post war lives, here the post-war period takes up the last third of the text. This is in part because of the efforts to get Sabo his Medal of Honor, but also because of the controversial nature of the Vietnam War. Not only was it unpopular at home, and ended in defeat, but it was also increasingly clear to the troops on the ground that what they were doing was largely pointless. The constant grind of regular small scale clashes with the Vietnamese enemy cost the Americans many casualties, but did little to actually win the war, and the incursion into Cambodia in which Sabo was killed and which might have had an impact, had to be cut short after only a few days. Poole follows Sabo’s comrades as they deal with the post-traumatic stress caused by the war, often without any professional help for many decades, and into the era where they were finally able to talk about their experiences, and reunite with their former comrades. This strikes me as one big difference between the periods – after the Second World War unit reunions started almost immediately, but here it took thirty years before the company was ready to meet up again.

One unusual feature of this story is Sabo’s background. His father, Leslie Sabo, snr, was a senior Hungarian politician during the Second World War, and fled the country before the Soviet occupation. This may be the only Vietnam book I’ve read where the author has to ask if the subject’s father was involved in Nazi war crimes! The answer is almost certainly not, but any involvement with a previous government of any of the countries occupied by the Soviet Union after the war was bad for your health, so the decision to flee was wise! The family background is skilful woven into the narrative, with a section at the start of each chapter tracing the family’s movements, Leslie’s early life, romance and marriage,

We finish with the award of Sabo’s medal of honor, after a bi-partisan effort that involved Presidents Bush and Obama, a series of Senators, and a change to the law to bypass the normal time limit on the award of the medal! This is a rather uplifting way to end a book that otherwise deals with a rather grim topic.

Chapters - numbered, no titles

Author: Eric Poole
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 312
Publisher: Osprey
Year: 2015

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