RED THUNDER, TROPIC LIGHTNING: The World of a Combat Division in Vietnam.
Eric M. Bergerud, March 1993, 347p. ilIus., Westview Press, $24.95.
Red Thunder, Tropic Lightning, in Eric Bergerud's own words, "is the story of the war in Vietnam as experienced [and told] by the men of a combat division -- the 25th Infantry." By most, if not all, standards of measure, it would appear that this professor of military and American history successfully achieved his objective.
Shunning the traditional chronological approach, Bergerud explores topics that run the gambit from geography, weapons systems, and tactics, to race relations, drug abuse, and rotation policies. By focusing on the 25th and its area of operation that stretched from Saigon to Cambodia during the period 1966 to 1971, the author maintains terrain and climate as constants that serve as a base reference to variables such as the division's soldiers, tactics, and the ever changing political situation.
Reviewed: Feb '95
Cross referencing with divisional records, Bergerud relies heavily on the testimony and the wide range of views of the men and women of the Tropical Division. The reader is vicariously led through many significant Vietnam experiences such as base camp life, walking point, being caught in an ambush, and tunnel warfare. Also addressed, are the more strategic and philosophical issues of national will, domestic support, and Army mission.
What I found most refreshing, though, were the little things that were not lost along the way: the smell of Vietnam, the chicken wire on bus windows, and the recycling of sandbags, mines, cans, and even motor pool scraps -- as shrapnel for extremely effective field expedient claymores.
For those who have served, memories are stirred. One does not need to be a Vietnam Vet to identify with the experiences of rain and dust in the face, the seemingly never ending struggle with wait-a-minute vines, or the feel of a burn across your forearm as you change the hot barrel of an M60 machinegun.
As with most Vietnam era books, I originally approached this work with the preconceived notion that the author had a hidden agenda that he wished to pursue; three hundred and forty-seven pages later, I had yet to find it. What I did find was the following from C. W. Bowman:
Whenever I go to any Vietnam function, it seems like the news media picks out the dirtiest, nastiest-looking vet they can find, and they use him to represent us. But that's not us. That's a small part of us, but it's not us.
For those who believe that the genre of films represented by The Deer Hunter, Apocalypse Now, and Platoon accurately depict the brave soldiers who fought in Vietnam, I challenge you to read Red Thunder, Tropic Lightning. If read with an open mind, many of the negative Hollywood stereotypes that have somehow taken on a life form of their own and been proclaimed 'fact' will be dismissed or dispelled. While the ill-disciplined, racist, drug users depicted in those movies did exist to a limited degree, they do not represent the majority of those who honorably served in Vietnam. If there is an agenda within this book, I would believe it to be this.