Baptism: A Vietnam Memoir by Larry GwinBaptism: A Vietnam Memoir by Larry Gwin

Baptism: A Vietnam Memoir

byLarry Gwin

Mass Market Paperback | November 2, 1999

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"The 2nd Battalion of the 7th Cavalry had the dubious distinction of being the unit that had fought the biggest battle of the war to date, and had suffered the worst casualties. We and the 1st Battalion."

A Yale graduate who volunteered to serve his country, Larry Gwin was only twenty-three years old when he arrived in Vietnam in 1965. After a brief stint in the Delta, Gwin was reassigned to the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) in An Khe. There, in the hotly contested Central Highlands, he served almost nine months as executive officer for Alpha Company, 2/7, fighting against crack NVA troops in some of the war's most horrific battles.

The bloodiest conflict of all began November 12, 1965, after 2nd Battalion was flown into the Ia Drang Valley west of Pleiku. Acting as point, Alpha Company spearheaded the battalion's march to landing zone Albany for pickup, not knowing they were walking into the killing zone of an NVA ambush that would cost them 10 percent casualties.

Gwin spares no one, including himself, in his gut-wrenching account of the agony of war. Through the stench of death and the acrid smell of napalm, he chronicles the Vietnam War in all its nightmarish horror.
Larry Gwin was commissioned as an infantry lieutenant out of Yale University in 1963. After two years with the 82nd Airborne Division, he served as an advisor to a South Vietnamese Army battalion in the Mekong Delta before joining the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) in September 1965. Assigned to Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Cava...
Title:Baptism: A Vietnam MemoirFormat:Mass Market PaperbackDimensions:368 pages, 6.85 × 4.27 × 0.91 inPublished:November 2, 1999Publisher:Random House Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0804119228

ISBN - 13:9780804119221

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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great I found this to be a great book about life in combat during the Vietnam War. It gives a great account, along the lines of "Killing Zone", by Frederick Downs. This book follows 1st Cav in some of the most ferocious fighting early in the conflict, it is a god companion book to Moore's book, "We were soldiers once..and young", following their battles with PAVN forces.
Date published: 2017-05-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superb book. I read a lot of books about combat and military history. I generally prefer the ones by junior officers because they describe not only the action but also the tactics and military thinking. I enjoyed this book in particular. The author comes across as very honest, to the degree that he even admits not remembering details at points, and admits acting in ways that he now regrets. His account drips authenticity. Add to that his incredible story... well, it's gripping. One of the best books.
Date published: 2015-08-11
Rated 4 out of 5 by from War Good book, accurate description of a officers torment in war
Date published: 2013-12-28

Read from the Book

Chapter 1 Getting There   He was a soldier, he was marching to war, and the future looked bright. —BERNARD CORNWELL, Sharpe's Honor   Those of us who went had our reasons. As Jack Fuller wrote in Fragments, “It wasn't duty or honor or country or any lofty imperative. It had nothing to do with courage, moral or otherwise. It was simply who you were.”   Well, almost. I went because my father had gone, and his father before him, and before that, my great-grandfather, who'd fought for the Confederacy. Had my dad been 4-F, or sold beef jerky to the War Department instead of volunteering for the army air corps in 1942, I might have felt otherwise. Who knows? What I'm trying to say is that I went because I thought it was the right thing to do, if I'd thought about it at all. About as much as the government had, I guess.   I “volunteered” for Vietnam in the fall of '62. I was a senior at Yale, in the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC), and my understanding of the growing crisis in Southeast Asia had evolved from research for a political-science paper. I'd read that the U.S. military was advising the South Vietnamese and that the Communists were trying to wrest the country from its noble, dogged, democratic, pro-West leader, Ngo Dinh Diem. I'd heard my ROTC instructors expound on the domino theory. I'd leafed through Life magazine articles showing monkey-faced farmers in black pajamas and scar-faced blacks in the French Foreign Legion pitted against each other in a struggle over colonialism, too, but that was the ex- tent of my expertise. I had thought about Vietnam, but not in global terms. I was intrigued by its potential for challenge, the unaddressed question of how I 'd measure up in combat— a question that would not have concerned me, I'm sure, if I hadn't been aware of my father's proud service in the “Good War.” We are, after all, who we are. So, I signed up.   ROTC policy required seniors to request duty stations and schools. I went for the gusto: First choice—10th Special Forces in Bad Tolz, Germany; second choice—82d Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina; third choice (overseas assignment required)—Vietnam. Actually, I think the block said “Southeast Asia.” Schooling was easy: First choice—Airborne School (jumping out of airplanes); second choice—Ranger School (long-range patrolling, commando raids, etc.). It was all very simple then, standing in the green-walled ROTC office, aiming my number-two pencil at the printed government form and checking the right boxes. What fascinates me in retrospect is the seeming inevitability of my ending up in Vietnam. Some whisper in my ear, some member of my brain trust, some director in my psyche, guided me, inevitably, to the choices I made. They all seemed subliminal. From the time I checked the box for Ranger School (which embodied all the physical challenges a young man could want), I was jogging on an ineluctable treadmill into the maws of combat. Little did I know what lay ahead.   Months later, when my orders came through, Bad Tolz was out. (I should have known.) Fort Bragg was in. The schooling came through as requested. I was on my way.   That I had a penchant, if not a morbid fascination, for things military is clear. The first recollection I have was the day my father came home from the war—Alaska, actually, where he'd spent two years manning airstrips on Attu and Kiska in the Aleutian Islands. I vaguely remember a parade in Washington on VJ Day, cars driving around honking their horns, people dancing in the streets, acting crazily, flags flying everywhere. Then there were the little lead toy soldiers that I 'd arrange and rearrange in varied and sundry formations for endless hours in my room (and later, when I was older, outside, where I 'd plink at them with my BB gun). Then there was “Victory at Sea” (which the family watched religiously on Saturday nights seated in front of our first television set), and the inevitable war games of youth, where friends and I, decked out in army surplus, would dash around the neighborhood, defending our shores against an unseen but clearly imagined enemy, reliving those poignant moments we couldn't possibly appreciate but had seen in black and white on our TV sets. Later, in college, I ended up as the battalion commander of our army ROTC detachment, a dubious distinction, at best, in times of peace. At any rate, let's say I had a calling, if not an obsession; prospects, if not talent.   I was reasonably intelligent, too—what you might call an A student, generally at the top of my class (until college, where I discovered that there were other things to do than studying— like boozing, sports, and wenching, albeit a relatively innocent form of it). My Yale roommates and I followed the simple dictum: “Never let your work interfere with your education.” I played football, hockey, and lacrosse, too. All this biographical detail is in the way of introduction, not self-adulation. Perhaps I was destined to serve my country—certainly encouraged by John F. Kennedy's charismatic leadership. Signing up was just another step on the road. After all, we are who we are.   And all the Gwin men had gone. My great-great-grandfather, James Gwin, had joined Davy Crockett and his cronies as they traipsed through Tennessee on their way to fight Mexicans in Texas. James died at the Alamo, leaving a widow and two sons back on their hardscrabble farm. One of those sons, Sylvester, grew up to serve the Confederacy. He lost half of his jaw fighting for John Bell Hood at Franklin, but survived. His manservant, a full-blooded Choctaw, dragged him from the battlefield and cleaned his wound with maggots, and Sylvester went on to farm cotton and raise four sons. One of them, my grandfather Sam, signed on with the Mississippi Volunteers when the Spanish American War broke out. Though he never got close to the action, he bore the moniker “Cap'n” 'til he died. He raised my dad, whom I've mentioned.   Graduating from Yale in June of 1963, I commenced my apprenticeship with the 82d Airborne Division, the All American Division, and received the requisite training— three weeks of Jump School in August, ten weeks of the Infantry Officers' Basic Course at Fort Benning, and nine weeks of Ranger School, which I completed just before Christmas. Ranger School was the icing on the cake and gave me confidence in my credentials, confidence that I was as good as any of the best of the West Point graduates.   I took my job seriously, too. My generation had been raised under the shadow of the atomic bomb. During my junior year in college, I had watched the coverage of the Cuban missile crisis with more than thinly disguised interest and had applauded JFK's steadfast leadership. We, the United States of America, stood as the bastion of freedom, the watchdog of a tenuous peace. Arrayed against us at the time were the forces of evil, personified by the Soviet Union and the untold millions of the Red Horde, Red China, whose leaders had vowed openly to bury us. As an individual member of STRAC, the Strategic Army Corps, I was prepared to jump into the jaws of doom at a moment's notice. During almost every hour of my two years in the 82d Airborne Division, my instincts were honed for that seemingly inevitable eventuality. I served as a platoon leader in a rifle company, a battalion adjutant, and the commander of a raider platoon. I made more than forty jumps from a variety of aircraft, went on war games throughout the southern states and the Mo-jave Desert, and became increasingly aware of our growing military commitment in Vietnam. Many of my immediate superiors, whom I considered to be the finest officers in the army, were assigned there, and when I got my orders to proceed with several other first lieutenants to the MATA course (the Military Assistance and Training Advisory course), then to MACV (Military Advisory Command Vietnam) in Saigon, I was, believe it or not, quite thrilled. Saying farewell to friends in the 82d, we “chosen few” lieutenants signed out, drove four blocks up the street to Smoke Bomb Hill (where the Special Forces trained), and signed in to our six-week indoctrination in guerrilla warfare.   MATA was the prerequisite program for service in MACV. The course consisted of morning lectures on counterinsurgency and afternoon lessons in the Vietnamese language. We had only one night exercise and a single parachute drop (to keep our Airborne status in case we opted to continue the tradition in Vietnam). After STRAC service, however, the MATA course seemed easy. Fun and games. What I was looking forward to was a two-month stint in Monterey, California, studying Vietnamese at the DLIWC—the Defense Language Institute, West Coast. Afterward, the treadmill would take us west, across the Pacific, to the jungle, and from there, who knew? I didn't think too much about it, though. MATA was too much fun.   Monterey was even more so, as our sole mission was to study Vietnamese at night and to speak it during the day. Too bad we never learned it. The rest of the time, we were busy cramming a life into the two months we had left in the good ole US of A. What else to do but fall in love? In my case it was the real thing (or so I believed with the absolute certainty of a twenty-three-year-old). Her name was Nicole, and she came from Montreal. When I departed for Vietnam, I was sure we would get married as soon as I came home.   Between trips to San Francisco, dinners on Fisherman's Wharf, walks through Cannery Row, camping at Lake Tahoe, and an unforgettable hike up Big Sur (eight miles on a steep trail with a sixty-pound rucksack), all with Nicki in tow, I studied hard at Monterey. I had two best buddies there, too: Gene Cargile, a six-foot-five-inch Georgia boy who had captained the West Point basketball team, and Burt McCord, a square-jawed tanker with a beautiful wife and two children (a son aged one and a daughter in utero). Burt and his wife Eddie had rented an apartment in the early '60s equivalent of a condominium complex on the Carmel coast. After Vietnamese classes, Gene, Burt, and I would adjourn there, run a few miles along the coast and back, savoring the sea air and the beautiful vistas and preparing our bodies for the rigors of our coming tour. After the run, we'd retire to the sauna and study Vietnamese. Burt would do push-ups, dozens and dozens of them, with his feet on the bench, while I sat there sweating in the hot, stifling air, barely able to breathe. Prepared for the next day's recitations, Gene and I would meet our girlfriends in Monterey, leaving Burt and Eddie with their son.   This idyllic two-month tour came to an end in July of '65.