Missing from Mark Bowden’s Hue, 1968

The Lance Corporal Paul Cheatwood Story

I continue to re-read and study Mark Bowden’s new book about the Battle for Hue. I must confess that I have very strong, but also very contradictory feelings about this work. On one hand, I wish to thank Mr. Bowden for completing this book because that accomplishment, more than just about anything over the past several decades, has resulted in a significant increase in interest about that chapter in our history, and that interest seems to be coming from a wide range of individual perspectives. When I committed to read and review the book, I was determined to read every word, which goal I did accomplish. I also, as promised, wrote and released a book review which is now posted on my BLOG. My “re-read” was generated by self-interest; I wanted to see if Mr. Bowden had included all the actions of many of our heroes, those who fought on phase line green and the Dong Ba Tower. Fortunately, most of those actions are included, but I soon learned, to my dismay, that Bowden failed to include even one word about a Marine who was, in my mind but without a doubt, “The Hero” of the battle for the Citadel Fortress of Hue.

Paul Cheatwood

Paul Cheatwood

His name is Lance Corporal Paul Cheatwood. Lance Corporal Cheatwood pulled off several amazing and heroic acts in his single-handed effort to save his friends, killing several of the enemy soldiers he faced in the process, yet somehow lived to tell about it. This brave Marine’s story proves the adage that One man can make a difference.”

Lieutenant General Ron Christmas, USMC (Ret), who, as a young captain, served as an infantry company commander during the Battle for Hue, has often remarked about “Lance Corporal Ingenuity,” and how that one element (adapt, improvise, overcome) often turned the tide in battle. I wholeheartedly agree with him, but this was a case of “Lance Corporal Bravery.”  Paul Cheatwood’s incredibly courageous actions on February 16, 1968, saved many of his fellow Marines’ lives, destroyed many of the enemy, and changed the course of the entire battle.

No one could have possibly predicted what Lance Corporal Cheatwood would do on the morning of 16 February 1968. Paul was a 60mm mortarman. He was a U. S. Marine. He was doing his job along with his fellow Bravo Company mortarmen, a short distance behind the fierce street fighting. Since early that morning, they had been firing mortar barrage, after mortar barrage against the huge force of enemy soldiers stubbornly defending their positions in all the houses on the south side of the street we dubbed phase line green. A line drawn by a green marker pen on a battle map, My Thuc Loan Street became phase line green, a “line in the sand” separating the Marines from the hundreds of NVA soldiers they had been fighting on this blood-soaked street for the better part of four days. At that point, the entire battalion of Marines and Sailors known as One Five had suffered more than 40% casualties, most of whom had either been killed in action, or wounded in action and evacuated.

Paul was supposed to stay where he was and continue to fire mortar barrages, but when he heard the shouts, screams and shrieks from his fellow Bravo Company Marines come across the radio net, he acted immediately to try his best to save them. Most of them were friends, not just fellow Marines. No one could have ever predicted that Lance Corporal Paul Cheatwood, U. S. Marine, would leave his post at the mortar pits, rush forward, cross the street under fire, and then single-handedly and remorselessly attack and destroy both enemy machine gun positions with hand grenades while being painfully wounded several times. Paul’s amazing acts of courage saved the Bravo Company attack force, single-handedly securing a “beachhead” across the street for the first time in those four long days of all-out urban warfare.

Those of us who were there that day know that Lance Corporal Paul Cheatwood was that one man whose incredible acts of courage made a huge difference. Those of us who fought in the Citadel and who know his story will never forget how important his deeds were to all the rest of us. We saw and heard it all unfold, and our memories of those moments were indelibly etched in our minds and memories. No book about the Battle for Hue is complete without including Paul’s story. One man turned the tide.

When I later learned that Paul Cheatwood had been awarded the Navy Cross, I knew in my heart that Cheatwood had earned the right to wear the Medal of Honor. Read his Navy Cross citation and judge for yourself:

http://valor.militarytimes.com/recipient.php?recipientid=4380

Paul passed away just a few years ago. We hope his family members know how much he was respected and loved by his fellow Marines who fought in Hue. I have learned that several combat veterans knew what Paul had done, and all of us realized the absolute fact that had Paul failed to secure that beachhead, many more U. S. Marines and U. S. Navy Corpsmen would have surely perished. A total of four, and possibly more, letters were sent to HQMC back then, recommending that Corporal Paul Cheatwood receive the Medal of Honor for his incredible acts of valor on February 16, 1968, in the Citadel Fortress of Hue.

We will not forget. www.5thmarinesvietnammemorial.org

Semper Fidelis!

Nicholas Warr

 

Hue, 1968 by Mark Bowden – Author of Black Hawk Down.

Book Cover Hue 1968Mark Bowden, a career journalist who rightfully achieved significant success after publication of his excellent book, Black Hawk Down, and the movie that followed, took on the very challenging task of documenting one of the largest, deadliest and most controversial battles of the Vietnam War in Hue, 1968. He succeeded in at least one sense. Within 600 pages of dialogue, commentary and information (including glossary, notes and index), he has introduced several new “voices” from the past, both American veterans of that battle and those who fought on the other side, VC and NVA soldiers, as well as many American journalists who covered the war and this historic battle. Over a period of five years, Mr. Bowden studied and researched, conducted countless interviews, and traveled twice to Vietnam. In that process, this work expanded into a book about the entire scope of the American “chapter” of the Vietnam War, using the Battle for Hue as its primary focus.

I bought this book and read it after receiving many phone calls and emails from friends and acquaintances letting me know about its release; they wanted to hear my opinion. These folks had read my first book, Phase Line Green; The Battle for Hue, 1968, in which I recounted what I saw and criticized both Marine Corps leadership and the U.S. Government for allowing so many thousands of young men to be lost not just because of the actions of the enemy, but due to the actions or lack of action in our conduct of the war. As I read the parts of Hue, 1968 that focused on the Battle for the Citadel Fortress, Phase 2 of Operation HUE CITY, I was hoping to find clarity. Unfortunately, what I found was that Bowden’s interview conclusions do not jibe with my first-hand knowledge of that battle and what I reported in my book.

As I read and studied Bowden’s book, I tried to discover and understand his motivations for taking on this monumental task. He informs the reader that he was sixteen years old when the battle was fought, but that the news about the Tet Offensive captured his interest and led him inexorably into his reporting and writing career. Bowden was encouraged to take this project on by the publishers of Black Hawk Down, and he accomplished that task.  However, it is now apparent to me, after reading every word in the book, that Mr. Bowden has joined those historians and authors who, over the past five decades, have contributed to “The Narrative,” a line of reasoning and accumulation of opinions about the American War in Vietnam that are very disturbing to many of us who served in it, and especially those of us who have also studied the war and written about it.

The Narrative

Amongst other claims, “The Narrative” states that the war in Vietnam was “unwinnable;” that the United States was wrong to have gone there in the first place; and that the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong were simply “nationalists,” sympathetic characters who were fighting to kick the foreign invaders out of their country. I’m just puzzled that his work on this book, his studies of this single battle, have resulted in these sweeping and negative conclusions about the war. I’m especially puzzled that Bowden spends significant time and text relating stories from the VC and NVA that we fought, yet gives short shrift to the soldiers who were truly fighting for their country, South Vietnam, our ally, those who served in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN).

For the same reasons that Mark Bowden needed 600 pages to cover the topic, a thorough justification of my reaction is beyond the scope and acceptable length of this review. If you would like to learn more about the errors and omissions I’ve discovered in this book, or identify other books and writings that contain the truth about the war, please get in touch with me.

For those of you who are hoping that Hue, 1968 would be the “definitive” accounting of this historic battle, I believe you will be very disappointed. I know I was.

Semper Fidelis!

 

Nicholas Warr, U. S. Marine
Infantry Officer, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, Vietnam War
Author, Phase Line Green; The Battle for Hue, 1968
and Charlie One Five; A Marine Company’s Vietnam War

http://nicholaswarr.com/contact-us

 

 

One Million Steps, by Bing West

bing-west-one-millionI’m a big fan of Bing West’s work, having read several of his earlier books including The Village, which is about the Combined Action Marines during the Vietnam War, and The March Up, which covered the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force’s march from Kuwait to Baghdad in March of 2003. All of Mr. West’s books are well-written, thoroughly researched, and “good reads,” but this new book, I believe, will go down in American Military History as one of the most important books written about the “long wars” of the 21st Century in the Middle East.
Right up front, I’m impressed that this man has managed to muster the courage, strength and endurance to cover those wars, up close and personal. Bing has “embedded” himself into these fights with the U. S. Marines and soldiers on the “front lines” repeatedly to make sure he gets the true story first hand. Since I know that he fought in Vietnam as a U. S. Marine Infantry Officer back in the late 60’s, I know he must be about my age, and I have to say that for this former U. S. Marine Infantry Officer who fought in Vietnam, I was nearly exhausted by just reading this book. Bing doesn’t just go into the battle space – he lives and patrols with the soldiers and Marines he writes about for long periods of time, and shares the significant risk of death or injury with them every single day.
Mr. West has exceeded the goal of every military historian who focuses on the foot soldier, which is to “tell the story” from the grunt’s point of view. But he has gone well beyond that with this new work by exposing the reader to the horrible truths about the dangerously flawed strategy embraced by our leadership, that of COIN, or Counterinsurgency. Bing bluntly points out the absolute insanity of our leaders’ stubborn adherence to this failed strategy, and how it affects our amazing young Marines in combat as they are put in a
seriously disadvantageous position on every patrol they conduct. Our political and military leadership should be doing everything they can to enhance our warfighter’s ability to accomplish their missions, yet they often tie the grunt’s hands behind their backs before sending them into harm’s way. The result is that our young American warfighters are being exposed to unnecessary risk, in a steady, consistent, daily confrontation with death and dismemberment, at the hands of an enemy who have no scruples, who are more than willing to break the rules of warfare, and who do so at every opportunity. Somehow, as Mr. West reports, these outstanding young Americans rise up every day, rushing out toward the sounds of gunfire, to confront the enemy and to defeat them again and again, despite their leaders’ lack of courage and commitment to actually win these wars.

Buy at Amazon

Buy at Amazon

Tragically, and too often, this unfortunate combination of extraordinary bravery by these grunts, a ghostlike enemy who knows no bounds, and a politically correct and dysfunctional leadership, resulted in terrible loss on the battlefield. The Marine platoon that Mr. West wrote about in this book suffered a higher rate of casualties than any other unit fighting in Afghanistan throughout the war. Over half of those Marines didn’t finish their
seven-month tour intact – those who suffered amputations were more fortunate than many, who made the ultimate sacrifice and gave their lives for their fellow Marines.
If you want to learn something important, including the truths about our soldiers and Marines fighting the wars in the Middle East, read One Million Steps by Bing West.