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.