This is the story of fifteen Americans engaged in a fight for 485 days. No unit in Vietnam had a higher fatality rate.The odds of going home alive were fifty-fifty, a coin flip. More Marines died in the area called Chulai than in Desert Storm. The civil war in the village was as personally complicated, as staggering in its costs and as unyielding in its opposing beliefs as was our own Civil War. In Binh Nghia, the local guerrillas had relatives and protectors in the Viet Cong companies across the river and back in the mountains. The Marine squad walked into the village unaware of the personalities or politics, or how hamlet skirmishes caught the attention of forces ten times their size.
With an average age of twenty, the Marines were professional soldiers. Their authority stemmed from their rifles, just as the short sword distinguished the Roman legions. They brought their training, their rifles and themselves. Either they would defeat their enemy, or they would be driven out.
I patrolled with the Combined Action Platoon, as the Marine squad and local militia were called, in 1966 and ’67. I went back to the village in ’68, ’69 and 2002. I spoke with practically every Marine, village official and Popular Force militiaman. I also spoke with Viet Cong representatives after the war. In this book, I try to describe what it was like to live, fight and die in a village so far away from America yet so close in human values and spirit. The communists now rule Binh Nghia; yet the memorial to the Marines who fought there remains, and the villagers remember them by name, all these decades later.
Reviews of The Village
“…a minor classic about war…a superbly honest, readable work that goes beyond journalism to become good literature.”
“A vivid and unbiased portrait of one Vietnamese hamlet in the grip of war…exceptional insight into the war…West has told this story with honesty and without embroidery, while bringing out its inherent human drama. ”
–New York Times
“A fantastic, down in the mud and crud book of enlisted Marines fighting to defend a village…West tells of some victories and of the tragic cost. And he tells it well.”
“Whatever one thinks of the war, it will take the sternest ideologue to remain unmoved by West’s perceptive and human treatment of the men who fought it…It’s an account of brave men at war in a far country, honestly told.”
–Peter Jay, Washington Post Book Review
“Pure Hemningway in the best sense of that characterization…West brilliantly portrays the drama of a war few Americans have known.”
“Professional reading for professional growth.”
–Commandant’s Reading List
“An absorbing account of a 12-man Marine unit…West, who served as a Marine officer in Vietnam, tells the story vividly and well.”
–Washington Post Book World
“Unquestionably the best book to come out of the Vietnam war – human, compassionate, suspenseful, dramatic.”
–Charles B. MacDonald, author of Company Commander
“…one of the small handful of truly great books to come out of the Vietnam war.”
–Keith William Nolan, author of The Battle for Saigon, A Hundred Miles of Bad Road
“This remarkable and moving document is an authentic eyewitness account of nine separate actions at the company and battalion level…Through West’s vivid descriptions, we experience with stunning clarity the challenges of combat on the front.”
–New York Times
“A fantastic, down in the mud and crud book of enlisted Marines fighting to defend villages and hamlets of Vietnam.
Originally published in 1972, the book has lost nothing with the passage of time. It is still the most honest, yet simple work of the war.
F.J. West Jr. accompanied young Marines of combined action platoons. A Marine captain at the time, he removed his shiny silver bars and went into the village of Binh Nghia.
In 1966, a dozen Marines walked into the village controlled by a 120-man Viet Cong company. Two years later, only six Marines walked out, but there was no enemy left. When the book was first published, many felt it was anti-Vietnam. Others were of the opinion that young Marines at war could not be both tough and decent.
The senior Marine of the group was a sergeant. The others were privates and corporals. They were good at their profession, and their profession was war. They stole the night from the enemy and worked hard to earn the trust of the villagers.
The book describes how Marines fought night after night, how they lived, killed and died. It is a story of guerilla warfare as seen through the eyes of the combatant. To members of CAP teams in Vietnam, ‘The Village’ was home and the villagers were family.
West tells some of the victories of Vietnam; he also tells of the tragic cost. And he talls it well.”