Sunday, October 27, 2019

Lecture: Senator Bill Raggio

I always enjoy the chance to speak about the late Senator Bill Raggio, who possessed a combination of intellect, charm, wit and courage of conviction the likes of which may never be seen again. The event will be held at the Nevada State Museum in Carson City on Thursday, November 21. For more information on how to reserve a seat, please visit this link:

                                         Nevada State Museum Event

Monday, October 21, 2019

Honored at West Point

Last Thursday evening, I had the honor of attending a dinner at the United States Military Academy, West Point, to receive a literary award, the Military Order of St. Louis, for my Khe Sanh trilogy, A Patch of Ground, The Long Goodbye and The Gunpowder Prince. The dinner was hosted by the Knights Templar Priory of Saint Patrick in the Hudson Valley of New York, and was attended by many distinguished retired and active members of the military, including several generals.  Past recipients of the award include best-selling writers Thomas Fleming, James Bradley (Flags of Our Fathers) and Philip Caputo (A Rumor of War). Among this year's nominees were several best-selling writers and historians, as well as Pulitzer-winning journalist. I would not have been there except for the efforts of Lieutenant Colonel Robert Black. His contributions, including advancing my nomination, are something for which I will forever be grateful. In 1968, then-Captain Black was commander of a company that included my friend Tom Mahoney. Tom is the subject of my book The Long Goodbye and Captain Black not only oversaw what proved to be a futile effort to retrieve Tom’s body from under a deadly enemy ambush, but later wrote an eloquent and heartfelt letter to Tom’s mom (see below). In the audience were my old Khe Sanh siege buddies Michael Reath and Michael Maier (just to be clear, not everyone at Khe Sanh was named Michael😉). Both New Jerseyites, their escorting of me to West Point was not only greatly appreciated and entertaining (we still, even after all these years, maintain the dark sense of humor we'd developed at Khe Sanh in order to stay sane during the unremitting enemy shelling), but was also vital to my safe arrival there, given the mindboggling level of traffic and bewildering highway system in northern Jersey. This honor, as well as the genuinely warm welcome and humbling respect I enjoyed from my hosts and attendees, will remain a highlight among so many wonderful memories I have collected over the years.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

A Real American Hero

Each afternoon, Disney World in Orlando, Florida randomly selects a veteran from among its visitors to be guest of honor in a daily ceremony to lower the American flag and then to carry it in a parade down Main Street.

Earlier this year they saw a man with his family wearing a hat denoting him as a Vietnam veteran and asked him to be that guest of honor.  His name is Bruce Bird and, in my opinion, they could not have selected a more deserving person.

Fifty-one years ago, on July 6, 1968, during the bitter fighting in the final hours before Khe Sanh Combat Base was abandoned, ending fifteen months of horrendous battle there, Bruce volunteered to risk his life to retrieve the body of my friend Tom Mahoney from under a North Vietnamese Army ambush. Bruce was a veteran of intense combat and so knew full-well the dangers he faced.

As he crawled within a few yards of Tom's body, Bruce was shot through the neck by an enemy sniper. As he lay in the tall grass watching the blood flowing out, he later said “It was like in the movies, with my life flashing before my eyes.” Just as he lost consciousness, platoon leader Lieutenant Frank Ahearn and another Marine pulled Bruce back to safety. A corpsman quickly bandaged his neck wound and managed to get him aboard the next medevac helicopter to a hospital in a rear area.That unusually rapid (and lucky) sequence of events resulted in Bruce’s life being saved.

A few years ago, I tracked Bruce down while I was researching and writing The Long Goodbye: Khe Sanh Revisited, and he provided vital information.

So, its time to finally Stand Down, Marine. Your loyalty and courage echoed across the subsequent decades and in the end--as if somehow fated--you appeared at just the right moment to help ensure that the memory of Tom’s last days will not be left behind in the shadows of history.

If Disney World was looking for a real American hero to lower the flag, they certainly found one that day.

Éirinn go Brách,

I have several Irish forbearers, including my maternal grandmother, Lizzie Connor, who, as a young girl, along with her mother, Kitty, arri...