Angels In Red Hats
01 July 2005
A couple of years ago I was privileged to review BLACK TIGERS, a written and pictorial history written by my friend, retired Command Sergeant Major Mike Martin.
Mike's effort to recognise the courage and dedication of the South Vietnamese Ranger companies was truly noble and worthwhile. It is not often that America's post-war veteran authors have attempted to honour the efforts of our Vietnamese counterparts. As a matter of fact, those who have mentioned them at all have tended to vilify rather than hour them. Then along comes Mike Martin, a highly respected American fighting man who has experienced first hand the dedication and fighting spirit of the elite Vietnamese ranger and airborne units. His candor and honesty in recognizing their ability has painted our allies in an entirely new light, at least for those of us who take the time to read his books. Make no mistake about it, BLACK TIGERS and ANGELS IN RED HATS will make believers out of you. Those U.S. vets who condemned our South Vietnamese counterparts as cowardly, incompetent prima donas who were more than willing to let American boys do their fighting-and their dying-for them, are in for a rude awakening.
ANGELS IN RED HATS is the story of the Vietnamese airborne, from their beginnings under the French in 1948 to their final defeat at the hands of the victorious North Vietnamese invaders in 1975. These courageous young paratroopers, like their airborne brothers around the world, were always in the thick of battle. From small company sized raids to multi-battalion operations, the Vietnamese airborne units made a name for themselves throughout the hostilities that dogged their nation after the Japanese defeat in 1945. Always in the thick of the fighting, these sky soldiers fought with the French forces at Dien Bien Phu
, served as their country's ready reaction force whenever the communists threatened military defeat on ARVN
forces, played major roles during Tet '68, Lam Son 719, and in the defeat of the enemy during the Easter Offensive
of 1972. Finally, during the last days of the Saigon regime, it was the airborne battalions who fought to the end, grudgingly refusing to give anything to the invading communists forces.
ANGELS IN RED HATS is the story fo those unsung heroes, the U.S. advisors, who fought beside their Vietnamese counterparts, sharing in their glory and their sacrifices. These few courageous Americans, served without the recognition and reward that fell to those serving in most U.S. units. But they still performed admirably in the face of second class support and a language barrier that made their work twice as tough. Many of the “red hats” went on to fame and repute for their military accomplishments or rose to the lofty rank of command sergeant major and general. Some of those mentioned in the book include: General Barry R. McCaffrey, General Norman Schwarzkopf, General Herb Lloyd, SFC Christian “Frenchy” Girard, SFC Louis Rocco MOH, General Guy Meloy, Colonel Paul DeVires, General Wesley Taylor. Command Sergeant Major Mike George, General Jack Farris, General David Grange, General James Lindsey, Captain Pete Dawkins, BTL writers Richie Burns and Charles McDonald. All these men have one thing in common-they served as “Co Vans
”-advisors to the South Vietnamese Airborne. Not a man among them, is not proud of his service.
ANGELS IN RED HATS is a complete and informative history of the birth and death of an elite military force. It is written in the style and language unique to those who have earned the right to contribute their parts to this story. A few write remarkably well, while other lack literary ability yet impress the reader with their mix of honesty and sincerity- a combination that always makes for a good book.
Some may question the price of Angels in Red Hats. Don't. With 244 photographs (most from private collections) it's a bargain as a photo album. The rich, red leatherette cover with its embossed metallic emblem and title will earn this book “the” place of honour in your military library.
Mike Martin has gone and done it again. He has recorded another piece of our military history and assured its preservation and continuity. For this we should be grateful. For when we are long gone, and the memories of our achievements have faded, literary works like BLACK TIGERS and ANGELS IN RED HATS will still endure.
This article was originally published in Behind The Lines magazine. VietnamGear.com has reproduced this article with the kind permission of Gary Linderer.
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