Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Review: Phantom Warriors

I've mentioned before how riveting a read Phantom Warriors by Gary Linderer was, and I recently finished book 2 in the series. Bottom line: I continue to be in awe of the stories Linderer tells.

Phantom Warriors chronicles the life of various Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols (LRRP) during the Vietnam War. While LRRPs were occasionally used for offensive means, the majority of their missions focused on collecting field intelligence. As modern a war as Vietnam was, the most reliable way to assess the state of affairs on the ground was to send in highly trained pros. A mission typically lasted for days, and even the smallest misstep could reveal the team's position and put them in an overwhelmingly bad position. You can read about some of tactics they used to stay safe here,

The grit, courage, fearlessness that were so prominent in book 1 continue in book 2. In this latest book, however, I got a more complete picture of the challenges LRRPs face. We meet soldiers and commanding officers who are more liability than asset. We find our teams of heroes not just under fire from the enemy, but from poor decision making and distrust by their own leaders. It's one thing to call for an extraction and be told that no helicopters are available. It's altogether a different story to be denied assistance because senior command doesn't truly believe you need it, or doesn't believe the contact with enemy even occurred.

This is an ugly side of war, but it's no less a reality than the other challenges LRRPs had to deal with.

Book 2 follows the same recipe set out in book 1. Each chapter begins with a fairly technical state of the war at the time of the mission, followed by a short introduction to each individual going out on the patrol. You're then treated to a blow by blow account of the mission, which may last hours or days; may be without incident or contain a bloody firefight; and may end with everyone safe or significant loss of life. You have the privilege to watch each story unfold, all while rooting for the team to make it back in one piece.

It's worth noting that the overview given at the start of each chapter was almost my undoing. I picked up Phantom Warriors a couple times only to put it down because I found the content so bland. But once I read on I realized just how short-sighted I'd been. The text naming each soldier in the patrol, while less exciting than the mission description, is just as important. It goes a long way towards reminding me that this isn't some fictional account. These were real people in a very real war.

These are legendary heroes, with a story that hasn't been widely told. Pick it up today, you'll be glad you did.

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