Ben Hai 211 Alpha

Reviewed by Joni Bour

This is a new book, hot off the press, whose story is still fresh in the mind of the author, George Ragsdale, though his service in Vietnam was more than 30 years ago. That is the way things like this are - not just memorable, the way you can close your eyes and see your high school graduation day or when you bought your first brand new car. No, not like that at all. These are memories that could make a man not want to shut his eyes and remember at all, and yet he has to. So he might honor the memory of those who served, to give peace to his own heart and to call attention to the sacrifices of the others left behind, the families of those men and women who left them and went off to a foreign land having put other peopleís families first.

The author takes great effort in explaining the work that he performed before he went to Vietnam and while he served there. You will be glad he did, because certainly his work required explanation. He does not use a lot of military jargon, though certainly his work was filled with it. He will sometimes say he does not recall clearly a specific name or event - and yet he will awe you with what he does remember. I was taken aback by the details he is able to give, but as I closed the covers of his book I realized they are who he is today. That is why he sees them so clearly. Much in the way a mother would not give up one minute of the detention and grounding and teenage difficulties if she had to give up the toothless smiles, the first bicycle and the first football game, neither can Mr. Ragsdale give up fragginí, sweltering jungle heat or mortar attacks. Giving up the pain means you would have to give up all the good things too, like coming home in one piece, seeing your children graduate from college and retiring from a long military career. All of what Mr. Ragsdale has seen and done and felt in his life has led up to the man he is today and that canít be changed, shouldnít be changed. He seems as if he is a man who can bear his burdens, lightened by the knowledge that he has done good things with the work he has been given.

This book cut right into the core of me and how I feel about those who served our country in the Vietnam War. I canít really decide what I think about reading some of the things this author has written. I have put my heart into believing that the Hollywood stereotype of the ďNam Vet" isnít true. You know the one I am talking about? Half the soldiers were using drugs, slacking, never got haircuts, never stood watch, lied, cheated and stole. Then they came home and destroyed themselves and everyone around them, one relationship at a time. Ah, now you remember it! I have never believed it. Usually the person telling the story is someone who hasnít even gotten dirt on his shoes before, let alone been shot at or even been inconvenienced in his life, unless you can count when his assistant was stuck in traffic and his double latte blah, blah blah was cold. But now I am faced with a man who says, "No. Everything the Coppola-types say is true and maybe worse." He says many of the people he came in contact with were exactly that; losers, drug abusers and people with no respect for themselves or anyone else. Apparently, murder when a soldier or soldiers did not like officers was commonplace. There was very little leadership and even when there was, there was a lack of discipline to follow. I was never there, so I cannot refute what Mr. Ragsdale says and further even if I could, I donít think I would. I have deep respect for him and what he has done for our country. I will, however, say that I shall now exercise my right as an American citizen, whose rights were given to me by men like Mr. Ragsdale. I will say that I refuse to believe that the recollections of Mr. Ragsdale are a fabrication or somehow wrong and am sure they are accurate in as many details as he can possibly recall. However, I will not believe that what he saw and heard was the way it was for every man and woman. I am not questioning the validity of this book, merely saying what I know in my gut. I know many, many veterans of the Vietnam War who tell me that they had never done drugs, not once tried to kill someone who wasnít trying kill them and who always did, though perhaps grudgingly, show respect to those superior in rank to them. These are the stories that I will keep in my heart.

The author writes about far more than issues of failures of leadership and drug use though. So please donít feel that these would be reasons for which you would or would not read Ben Hai 211 Alpha. This book is definitely worth the read, if for no other reason than he will undoubtedly tell you about some things you never knew, never read and never even thought possible. I enjoyed this book because it was written by a man who knows everything a man can know about the work he did. This is not a book written by a man with matching research assistants. He is a well-educated, very opinionated man, one of the few who has earned the right to give his opinion and for it to be heard.

My own father was a working man his whole life. He worked hard as a logger, often doing work no other person would want to do - dangerous work. He would sometimes have people show up with plastic hard hats with a clipboard and all the facts lined up, wanting him to change this thing or that and he would laugh. He said these were the people, ďEducated beyond their common senseĒ. I don't think Mr. Ragsdale is one of those guys with the plastic hard hat. To the contrary, he is the guy who actually gets the job done. He is likely to be the one who will direct those of us with the plastic hats and clipboards to the safety area while he gets the job done as he did some 36 years ago.

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Posted 11/12/05