The Baton Rouge Advocate
In My Dying Breath, Ben Reed Captures the heart
and souls of not only the
"My Dying Breath" is a dynamic and poignant, historically fictionalized novel detailing the rugged journey from free-spirited youth to the rewarding fulfillment of honor, courage and commitment in the United States Marine Corps.
This very unique book follows two distinct yet parallel paths of young men taking the premier Marine warrior route from the bustling Cajun countryside of Louisiana to the bucolic and civil war-torn countryside of the former Republic of South Vietnam.
Fraught with gut-wrenching intrigue and inherent danger, the book unfolds the journey of 19-year-old Benjamin "Tuck" Richard (REE-shard) and his friends from the rigors of Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego to the combat jungles of Vietnam.
Payback in combat for the American Marines is a confrontation with the infamous North Vietnamese Army Colonel Pham Van Bui.
Tuck, Donnie-Boy Hubert (AY-bear) and Johnny Robert (ROH-bear) enlist in the Marine Corps together under the buddy system, which keeps them together through boot camp, Infantry Training Regiment, Basic Infantry Training and a harrowing jungle saga in Southeast Asia.
Vietnam veterans immediately will recognize familiar terrain and firebases in the distant land from Da Nang to the Quang Tri Province, Khe Sanh and the Da Krong Valley during showdown time in the turbulent period from January 1969 to May 1969.
"My Dying Breath" reveals the brutal and ruthless (as well as sometimes humane) side of a formidable and cunning enemy. The reader gets a close view of the other side while laboriously trudging along the Ho Chi Minh Trail with Vietnamese teenager Pham Thuc Trai and a veteran Eurasian named Louie, who cross paths as counterinsurgents in the North Vietnamese Army through different channels.
The book efficiently illustrates the family, friendship and close ties that bind, especially for Marine infantrymen struggling to survive the elements and a wily enemy.
The first part of the book will refresh the memories of Marine veterans, such as with the unforgettable singsong cadence of a Marine drill instructor, prompting them to instantly recall the names of their senior and junior drill instructors.
Turning to the in-country portion of the book, it ensures an adrenaline-pumping page-turner for many veterans and heroes of foreign wars, whether they served in World War II, Korea or Vietnam.
In essence, the book takes the reader on a legendary deuce-and-a-half truck and drives toward an inexorable showdown between good and evil.
Although many authors have verbalized the futility of the war, Reed propels the convincing argument that it was not fought in vain.
It tells how the Marines took gallant steps to protect the indigenous people in a vast rural region who were subjected to daily harassment and terrorism from North Vietnamese forces. The book exposes the reader to the difficulties of peacekeeping and gaining independence by South Vietnam while engaged in a divisive civil war with the communists in North Vietnam.
"My Dying Breath" is a chilling, interesting and compelling story expertly told. It hits the target and relates the skills involved to do that, much like a primary marksman instructor does on the rifle range at Camp Pendleton, Calif., or Parris Island, S.C.
Once the reader disembarks the bus with Tuck and his buddies at the recruit depot, he or she immediately realizes there is action to fathom from the bristly haircut to spit-shined shoes and a sparkling squadbay.
The reader will cringe when T-Johnny corrects "Gunny" Hill on the correct pronunciation of recruit Robert's name. The reader will laugh and maybe even cry on the journey from boyhood to manhood, from marching on the grinder at MCRD to combat patrols and ambushes in the morass of the Vietnam War.
The heroes in this book are made, not born. Ben Reed does a superb job. A former Marine, wounded at the siege of Khe Sanh, he has been there, done that. Reed takes the reader through what many Marines went through from basic training, through staging, deployment and assignment to Vietnam near the demilitarized zone.
The Rockpile and surrounding hostile valley are vividly recalled like the powdered eggs, soggy bacon and lime-green beverages served in the chow hall at Vandegrift Combat Base (succinctly known to Marine combat veterans as Stud) near the villages of Cam Lo and Dong Ha—literally klicks south of Ho Chi Minh's front yard and the DMZ.
Bernard A. "Ben" Reed has been a journalist in southern Louisiana for the past 27 years. He currently is the assistant state editor at The Advocate newspaper in Baton Rouge, where he has worked since 1990.
Reed dedicates "My Dying Breath" to former Marine friends and St. Joseph the Protector as an installment on a debt that never can be fully repaid.
The book packs a wallop!
Editor's note: Gary Fisher is a news reporter and former Marine reservist from Madison, Wis.