Vietnam No Regrets — One Soldier’s Tour Of Duty, by J. Richard Watkins

First allow me to say, I did not serve in the United States Army, I’m a retired United States Air Force Senior NCO. I served in Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines, Korea and Japan honorably for 10 years between 1967 and 1988.

I found the book to be an honest, straightforward approach to tell the story of the grunts who fought the war. By that, I mean the men who night after night went out on patrol trying to stem the flow of re-enforcements/replacements and supplies; men who survived on a couple hours sleep a night for weeks at a time; those men who valued a hot shower, clean fatigues and dry socks above almost all else.

I also found a young man in turmoil, like many of us at that age, wondering how he would react when he faced the enemy. Would he freeze up, would he run, could the men in his squad count on him to do what needed to be done when it needed to be done? Some heady questions for a 21-year-old facing combat.

PFC Watkins was in country less than a week when he received his orders, he was headed to Cu Chi to join the 25th Infantry Division, Alpha Company 1/27 Wolfhounds. The Wolfhounds had a reputation for being very good at keeping the Generals happy with high body count; they also had a motto “No Fear on Earth,” something Watkins would find to be true on more than one occasion. He would also learn that being a member of the Wolfhounds carried another distinction — Charlie had a bounty out on the heads to the Wolfhounds. From Cu Chi he was chopper out to Fire Support Base Chamberlain where he had his cherry broken almost immediately — he was to replace a wounded soldier who had been flown out the day before. He was to replace the Radio Transmission Operator, RTO, new in-country and carrying an 80-pound pack with an antenna sticking up, which made him an instant target for Charlie. This was what he had been waiting for, time to find out if he was ready for Vietnam and all it had to throw at him.

Throughout those first few weeks in-country the newness wore off and he was amazed at how quickly he gained the confidence and savvy to react — something that comes when your life and the lives of the men around are dependent upon you actions.

Barely into his tour he received something that shook him to his core, one of those things that will eat at you and make you lose focus. The love of his life had sent a “Dear John.” A distraction like that could literally mean the difference between life and death to a combat soldier in the field. However he didn’t lose focus, he kept it together under extraordinary conditions and survived the main objective for soldiers who went to Vietnam. He would return home if for no other reason than to find out why and to let her know what she had almost done.

Through countless encounters with the enemy he maintained his focus and kept his objectives clearly in his mind — he had to survive. Obviously he did survive and found the answers to those questions that had troubled him; he also got some advice from a young lieutenant he had served with: “To survive once you leave Vietnam, you have to leave Vietnam behind.” Great advice, I wish I had been given advice like that; over the years I carried a lot of baggage of things I had seen and done.

The accounts of the ambushes are gritty and bear the marks of a battle-hardened soldier who knew that to survive he would need to do things that would change him forever, and he did them, No Regrets. He also found out that Vietnam had changed his outlook on life — life is to be treasured, he found friendships that can last a lifetime, and to take things one day at a time.

Thank you, Mr. Watkins.

(Bay State Publishing, 2005; 244 pp.; $17.95 — ISBN 9780979362903)