Death in the A Shau Valley — L Company LRRPS In Vietnam, 1969-70, by Larry Chambers

The 75th Rangers provided Long Range Recon Patrols (LRRP) for many of the Army divisions during the Vietnam War. The Rangers’ lineage goes back through Merrill’s Marauders. L Company was assigned to the 101st Airborne and that unit is the focus of the book. Chambers strongly make the point that the LRRPs were different from the average infantrymen, with a higher education and/or intelligence level, which was needed to adapt to rapidly changing situations with no guidance from the upper chain of command. Since they were also all volunteers, they picked up some excellent people with military background and experience. This included William Marcy, whose father was an admiral.

The LRRP work was almost always deep in “Indian Country,” so the level of risk was very high. Chambers includes details of missions where lives were lost. Marcy was killed on one of the missions. It is obvious that Chambers respected those who died, and he deeply felt their loss. One of the more emotional incidents was the May 11, 1970 loss of six members of Team Kansas, a radio relay team. There was some satisfaction knowing that another team later killed a group of soldiers from the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) that included several who had been involved with the deaths of Team Kansas. The NVA participation was confirmed by citations involving leave in Hue and diaries found on two of the bodies.

Exact locations and maps are missing, which might be disappointing to some historians, and the text of a fire mission includes a couple of minor errors. The book does give an accurate portrayal of how the LRRP teams operated. The title of the book is a little misleading, as some of the missions described did not take place in the A Shau. The pictures show the LRRPs with a wide variety of clothing and equipment that was typical of the individualists who were drawn to the LRRP work.

The Appendixes are over 60 pages long and contribute much to the book as they detail how certain things were done in the LRRPs, including suggested supply lists; hand signals with Thai, Vietnamese, and English explanations that reflects the work the LRRPs did with troops of other nations on occasion; patrol techniques; and other topics. Hopefully, our military in the future will glance back at this book because it includes some very solid information that the Army seems to forget from one war to the next. The glossary is also very complete and not only helps with the understanding of this book, but might help readers of other books with less considerate authors.

The book should be on a “must read” list of those who want to understand the LRRP operations as practiced in Vietnam. In addition, some sections of the appendixes should be a “lessons learned” by squad and platoon leaders for troops in Iraq and especially the less populated areas like Afghanistan where U.S. troops are committed.

(Ivy Books, 1998; 171 pp., $17.95 — ISBN 0739400886)