Maxim Magazine Review >>

Steel My Soldiers’ Hearts

By Col. David H. Hackworth ( Rugged Land, $27.95 )
Release Date: May 1, 2002

Reviewed by Steven Lee Beeber

Tougher than a one-dollar steak and madder than John Wayne at a peace rally, Maxim contributor Hackworth tears the U.S. armed forces a new one with this memoir of how he transformed the F Troop of Vietnam into a crack fighting force. He makes clear it wasn’t the men in the field who lost that war, but their leaders, who couldn’t decide if they were waging a peacekeeping mission or a police action. Equal parts enlightening and frightening, Steel’s look into the booby-trapped world of Apocalypse Now–style male bonding may not drive you to be all you can be. In fact, it might make you want to take cover till the next big one’s over.

Charles Trent Alling Review >>

Viet Cong Nightmares

( Charles Trent Alling of Tampa is a freelance writer.)

The Hopeless To Hardcore Transformation Of The U.S. Army, 4th Battalion, 39th Infantry, Vietnam.

By Col. David H. Hackworth and
Eilhys England. Rugged Land. 441 pages. $27.95.

"Colonel Hackworth reporting as ordered, SIR!"

Col. Ira Hunt responded, "Colonel, we put a LRRP [long-range reconnaissance patrol] team in here," as he pointed at a large map. "They're in trouble. A helicopter's gone down trying to evacuate the wounded, they're surrounded and they've taken heavy casualties - sixteen WIA [wounded in action] out of eighteen men. ... We've lost commo [communications]. We don't know their exact location, only that they're somewhere in here. ... We've got to get them out."

Was this a typical order given during the Vietnam War? You bet, soldier, and you had better be ready to accomplish the impossible. Did Col. David H. Hackworth get the men out of this impossible situation? You better believe it. That's why he wrote this book. To show you that he did save his men and transform the U.S. Army, 4th Battalion, 39th Infantry in Vietnam from their feelings of hopelessness to hard-core retaliation against the enemy.

The combat action of the "Hardcore Battalion" against the VC is fierce throughout this book, co-authored by his wife, Eilhys England, and never seems to stop. It reads better than any fictional account of combat, enhanced dramatically by statements written 30 years later by the survivors who served under him during the early months of 1969. In the prologue Hackworth says, "When I first became their commanding officer, a lot of them hated my guts. When they called me "The Big Meat,' they weren't far off the mark. ... Now, all these years later, I hope ... I led from upfront and never let them down." He didn't, as attested to by his men's reaction. At first contact they wanted to shoot him, but by the end of his command, they had learned to respect his methods.

As the LOH (light observation helicopter) neared the trapped LRRP team, Hackworth peered down through the gathering darkness and saw the "silhouette of the downed Huey aircraft, the red light flashing on top, sitting in what looked like a drainage ditch. ... The scene below was surreal - red and green tracers arcing in the sky underneath us, the mangled chopper with ... gun flashes all around the bird." All was utter chaos as he listened to the one-way commo repeating the alarming words - MAYDAY! MAYDAY! MAYDAY! Hackworth knew other choppers were on the way to pick up the WIA. Then the bizarre happened. His pilot yelled that he had only five minutes of fuel left. It was time to break away and return to base.

Thinking faster than a machine-gun, Hackworth says he "laid the mean end of my pistol against the side of his helmet. "You're going to land this ... right now. Park this ... thing or I'll blow your brains out.' " It got the pilot's attention. "We went down like a runaway elevator, flared and hovered above and to the side of the downed Huey. Slugs zipped around the LOH like lightning

When they were just inches above the ground, Hackworth and Chum Robert jumped from the LOH and began to set up a defensive position. Hackworth "gave Chum the job of bringing in the rest of the birds and evacuating the wounded men as they reported in from the perimeter. ... A quick study and cool under fire, Chum was also one strong mother. When a guy was slow to get on an outgoing bird, Chum just picked him up and tossed him into the aircraft as if he were a sack of potatoes. He was the kind of guy I'd be happy to have in my foxhole anytime, anyplace." Because of Hackworth's courageous maneuver, the LRRP team was evacuated posthaste and the men under his command learned their first lesson about their new leader: He cared for their lives.

Thus Hackworth began in earnest to turn around the defeatist attitude of the men when he took over command of the 39th Infantry. The Viet Cong never knew what hit them as they were methodically decimated, Hackworth using the VC's own tactics, ambushing them with deadly force.

By this book's end, what did the men think of Hackworth? Sniper Jones puts it well in a letter to his mother: "The most terrible thing happened today. Colonel Hackworth left. You remember the one everyone hated, and wanted shot? Now there's another bounty out for him - to anyone that can get him back."