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J Richard Watkins

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Vietnam No Regrets: One Soldiers Tour of Duty
by J Richard Watkins   

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Category: 

Memoir

Publisher:  Bay State Publishing ISBN-10:  0979362903 Type: 
Pages: 

244

Copyright:  2005 ISBN-13:  9780979362903
Non-Fiction

Vietnam: No Regrets is the story of a soldier who volunteers to fight for his country in Vietnam. He would have no idea of what he would have to go through to leave the killing fields of Vietnam alive.

You will be able to follow him from his first step in-country until his very last day and see for yourself what life was like for the infantry soldier in Vietnam.

Vietnam No Regrets

Author J. Richard Watkins writes his own memoirs from his “tour of duty” in Vietnam with the 1/27th Wolfhounds, 25th Infantry Division. He was there from late 1969 through 1970 and he chronicles his year long physical and emotional journey in his book "Vietnam - No Regrets: One Soldier’s Tour of Duty."

This is a grunt’s eye view of the real war that took place in the jungles and the rice paddies of Nam during that time. It is not about some guy’s imaged adventures in Saigon or some other in-country big base. This is about the guys who went out there for weeks at a time humping their equipment across the land in the heat and the rain. It is about the 10 percent of those who served in this war who saw combat and experienced warfare weekly.

The author takes us out on patrol with him as a “newbie” and his first ambush. The mission was successful but they killed two children and an old man in the process. It takes its toll on our young soldier. Even this many years removed from that accident of fate – he truly feels some spiritual and emotional pain, even though he did not personally fire a round, he knows he was part of the team. From this story, near the beginning of his book, we realize that there is more to this man’s story than just details of events that he writes about.

The book explores the thought processes that go on while out on patrol or on an ambush. It covers the “Dear John” letter from home and his friendship with his fellow Wolfhounds. There is a subtle emotional thread that runs throughout this book that makes Watkins very human and vulnerable. Readers will find themselves liking the men he writes about and will be able to feel their pain and joys as well.


Excerpt

Chapter 1

Leaving on a Jet Plane

---------------------------------------

It was a cold and foggy Northern California evening, and I was waiting to board my flight to South Vietnam. I was part of a group of GIs heading off to the war zone. We didn’t know one another, but we were about to share this once-in-a-lifetime experience together. We’d had our training for war, and we were ready to go—not eager, mind you, but ready nevertheless. As our plane got ready to load up, I glanced over to a bank of phones where soldiers were making their last calls home and I thought about making one last call myself. But it was after two o’clock in the morning back in Brockton, Massachusetts, and my parents would have to be up early for work, so I let it go and got in line to board the plane for Vietnam. It had come as a surprise to me that it was a United Airlines flight; I had expected a military plane. But no, there it was right in front of me: a big United Airlines 707 Jetliner bound for Vietnam. I would be making the trip with approximately a hundred and sixty other soldiers of all ranks, but not knowing anyone on board, I felt quite alone.


The flight to Vietnam takes approximately twenty-two hours, with stops in Hawaii and Guam along the way. It was one hell of a long flight, and we were glad to see the coast of Vietnam appear on the horizon. We arrived in the Republic of South Vietnam on a bright sunny morning made much brighter by the fact that we had left the States at night and had not been off the plane for quite a while. On our final approach for landing at Tan Son Nhut Air Base, we came in very low and very slow. From the windows of the plane we could see all the shell holes around the airport; they looked like craters on the moon, except they were on a very bright green wet surface. Flying in, we could also see the small shacks that the local people called home, alongside the gun emplacements of our troops. GIs waved to us or gave us the finger as our plane flew over their positions. Our final approach was so low and slow that all that was going through my mind was Let’s get this plane on the ground before we get shot out of the sky. Thankfully, we landed soon enough.


As the back door of the plane opened and the outside air penetrated the interior of the plane, we immediately felt the heat and the humidity and the smell of Vietnam. As I looked at all the sober faces of the men aboard our flight just in from the States and then looked at the stewardesses saying goodbye to us, I knew that these girls might be the last American girls I ever saw.

It struck me how surreal this experience had become; the stewardesses knew we weren’t going on any vacation, and we knew we weren’t either. So what were all the smiles for? Some of the guys they were saying goodbye to would never board a plane again—alive, that is. As I look back on it now, I guess these girls were just doing a very tough job the best way they knew how. It couldn’t have been an easy flight for them to make either. The flight over, that is: the trip back must have been great. But it took me a while to realize that, for my flight home would be a long time in coming, and I would change tremendously before my tour would end and I too would be taking this freedom bird home.


We disembarked and started down the stairs. Off to our right, waiting to board the same plane, was a line of soldiers with clean, new uniforms on, just like us. But they were not like us at all; if you really gave them a closer inspection, they looked older than we did, even though you knew they weren’t. What was it, then? I guess they had that shallow-eyed look, the look you get when you work for days and days without enough sleep, that faraway look, that nothing-seems-to-matter, I-don’t-give-a-shit look. But this look was even more so. They had a blank stare that was to become all too familiar to me in the coming months. These men just stared at us, not saying a word, even though we passed within a few yards of one another. A few smiled, and a few shook their heads, but not one word was exchanged between us. I found this strange, very strange indeed. In the coming year I would come to find out why this was so—the hard way.

These soldiers were waiting impatiently to board this very special plane that had just brought us in from the world, a world they had dreamed of for the past year and had missed very, very much. I envied them their return flight back to the world, but for Christ’s sake, who was I to envy them anything? Hell, I’d just arrived. I would have to earn my flight back to the world that these men had missed so very much, a world I too would come to miss in the coming year. These guys had earned their flight home. Some had earned it more than others, for the Vietnam experience was not equal in respect to what each and every one of us had to endure in order to earn his flight home.

I was glad for them nevertheless. These guys had beaten the odds, they had served their country, and now they were going home to their families and loved ones, and I for one was very happy for them.



Professional Reviews

Vietnam No Regrets, Review by Glenda A. Bixler
Goo-oood Morning Vietnam! In an almost journalistic, diary style, J. Richard Watkins presents his own story in Vietnam: No Regrets – One Soldier’s Tour of Duty.

When a boy becomes a man in Vietnam, we cry with him. We feel his fear. We hear his prayers. And we rejoice when, after it is over, it is to his mother’s arms he first goes. For by now, his greatest fear is whether or not the unconditional love will still be there for him. Or will his parents be able to see right away how he has changed, what he has done? And will they turn away in disgust from this man that is still their son? As I read the Epilogue of the most comprehensive coverage I have thus far read from a soldier’s viewpoint, only then did my tears run. For after all that he’d been through, this soldier’s greatest fear was indeed whether he would or could go back within the warmth and comfort of his family and friends without their seeing, somehow, what he had done. There¾in the jungles of Vietnam and Cambodia.

For the majority of time, Watkins was a radio transmission operator whose duty was to communicate with the artillery batteries to call for artillery support when needed. That meant that he was always with the commander of the unit…and he was always right at the front! Watkins’ non-fiction narrative is packed with memories, fresh in his mind, though he left Vietnam in 1970. If I were reading it without knowing the date of its being published, I would have thought he was there, writing for a newspaper, or in a journal. His message is frank, open, and honest. His views are his own, but he’s willing to share them. These are the facts, as he knows them, and he’s willing to state them loudly and clearly!

For the average person back in the States, I never knew, for instance, that the Infantry was the man on the line. “The army’s rule of thumb was that out of every ten soldiers in-country, nine of the ten would be giving support to the ones that were actually in a real combat situation.” (p.69) What that means in actual numbers was that it was only about 40-50,000 men who actually fought on the front lines—it was “the Infantry and then there was everyone else.” Those are the men who trudged through the jungles hunting the enemy. They are the men who stood duty during the monsoon rains through which they could not see the man next to them. They were the men who risked their lives—the “same” men moving from place to place. Now there was a turnover within the Infantry. Most had tours of three months. Watkins, for an unknown reason, was there six months before he got his first R&R. He had gone over his immediate superior’s head to ensure he was able to leave.

It was not the first time I had learned that many men died in this war due to actions by their superiors. One of the most incredible stories shared by Watkins was when a new officer volunteered for them to immediately leave on a rescue mission to try to save a group of Green Berets, even though they had just returned from an extensive patrol. Once there and in the midst of battle, the reality of this officer’s decision became apparent even to him as they ran out of water, food and other necessities and he had to send for emergency support. The new officer had acted without regard to the safety and needs of his own men! And everybody knew it long before he did!

A major contribution toward the value of Vietnam: No Regrets is inclusion of pictures. Additionally, his almost-journalistic approach to reporting on the beauty of Vietnam from the air, as well as actually riding in the helicopters, and in his openness on sharing his times away from base—both in the jungles and out, make for a more informative reading. I think I enjoyed most his quick decision to “find” his way to see his best friend who was in the Marines and how he hopped rides to get there and back. I could almost envision the look of surprise, shock and pleasure when they stood looking at each other once Watkins had found him! Finally, his open inclusion of the heartache caused by a “Dear John” letter should make any woman who ever considered writing one to a serviceman immediately change her mind!

Watkins shares that he quickly learned “tomorrow was promised to no one.” (p. 79) He shares that when you are in the midst of battle, you want to be gone; but once you are out, you miss the adrenaline and want to be back. It works for the time period in which you do battle. But his greatest advice, received almost as soon as he was there, was to be sure to leave everything behind when he left. Watkins remembered that advice, and as his tour ended, he worked hard to ensure that he was able to do that!

Perhaps this book illustrates that those men will never be able to truly forget their time in Vietnam. Vietnam: No Regrets is graphic in its violence, the need to seek out and destroy the enemy while ensuring that their own men were not hurt. It includes mistakes made, but it includes prayers lifted up in both supplication and gratefulness. Watkins made it through Vietnam and has shared a major part of his life with us. Thank you!

It seems to me that young men leaving for the service, going into war, would benefit from this book. But would it be preparation? According to Watkins, probably not, because what was experienced in battle must be experienced to understand it! Still, Watkins presents an effective balance in his book and, in my opinion, has presented a major contribution to the story of Vietnam. For those who are searching for answers about a war that many will not even talk about, this is a Must-Read.

Glenda A. Bixler
IP Book Reviewer




The Wolfhounds in Vietnam – One Man’s Tour of Duty!
I have been lucky enough over the last few years to have been associated with about dozen veterans from the old Wolfhounds. I have read several books about them now and I am becoming a strong believer that this was a special group of men. Author J. Richard Watkins writes his own memoirs from his “tour of duty” in Vietnam with the 1/27th Wolfhounds, 25th Infantry Division. He was there from late 1969 through 1970 and he chronicles his year long physical and emotional journey in his book "Vietnam - No Regrets: One Soldier’s Tour of Duty."

This is a grunt’s eye view of the real war that took place in the jungles and the rice paddies of Nam during that time. It is not about some guy’s imaged adventures in Saigon or some other in-country big base. This is about the guys who went out there for weeks at a time humping their equipment across the land in the heat and the rain. It is about the 10 percent of those who served in this war who saw combat and experienced warfare weekly.

The author takes us out on patrol with him as a “newbie” and his first ambush. The mission was successful but they killed two children and an old man in the process. It takes its toll on our young soldier. Even this many years removed from that accident of fate – he truly feels some spiritual and emotional pain, even though he did not personally fire a round, he knows he was part of the team. From this story, near the beginning of his book, we realize that there is more to this man’s story than just details of events that he writes about.

The book explores the thought processes that go on while out on patrol or on an ambush. It covers the “Dear John” letter from home and his friendship with his fellow Wolfhounds. There is a subtle emotional thread that runs throughout this book that makes Watkins very human and vulnerable. Readers will find themselves liking the men he writes about and will be able to feel their pain and joys as well.

The book is well written. It is an honest portrayal of what life was like out in the field for the combat soldiers. The reader will feel at times that they are experiencing these events as first hand observers, as the author pulls us into the story with good descriptions and phrasing.

This ranks as one of the best books out about the Vietnam War from an ordinary soldiers’ point of view. A must read book. The author has captured the essence of that experience and that time in our history! I enjoyed the book very much and could relate to what the Watkins talks about and where he was at. I believe that non-veterans will gain a lot of knowledge about that historic time and the men who were a part of it by reading this book.

This book is given the personal endorsement of the MWSA President.



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Reader Reviews for "Vietnam No Regrets: One Soldiers Tour of Duty"

Reviewed by Richard Russell 2/23/2012
This is an excellent book. I have read it 3 times and will read it again. I was in Vietnam exactly the same time when Richard Watkins was there and I did the exact same job. So this book means a lot to me. I will be contacting him soon. Excellent book and right on target.


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