Never Without Heroes by Lawrence C. Vetter, JR.

Book Review: Never Without Heroes

25 August 2005

Gary Linderer

There have been a number of authors who have had books published in the past dealing with Marine recon in the Vietnam War. Bruce Norton, Col. Alex Lee and Paul Young, just to name a few, have produced excellent works on their service within the Force Recon companies and Reconnaissance battalions.

Now comes Never Without Heroes, by Lawrence C. Vetter, a well researched, definitive study on the patrols and operations of the Third Reconnaissance Battalion in Vietnam from 1965 1970.

Derived from the Amphibious Scouts of World War II, Marine reconnaissance came in to its own during the Vietnam War. But much of its present fame came from the exploits of the legendary 'Force' Reconnaissance companies. Tasked with the mission of conducting remote pre-assault and post-assault reconnaissance for the Marine expeditionary or landing force, Force Recon teams played on broader and deeper fields than those of the reconnaissance battalions. Today the mission of Force Recon has changed dramatically with the focus on rescues and takedowns on Oil rigs, aircraft and other point targets, necessitating Scuba and Airborne qualification for all Force Recon Marines. As a result, the Force Recon companies are no longer a pure reconnaissance element, but have become a first rate special mission tactical force.

During the Vietnam War the Marine reconnaissance battalions were tasked with the mission of strategic and tactical reconnaissance in support of Marine division and subsequently of subordinate units within the division, defining a smaller, shallower playing field and further reducing the amount of direct support. In addition, there was a tendency within the Marine high command to discontinue or even disbelieve the intelligence gathered by Marine reconnaissance teams. This tendency increased proportionately with the number of subordinate commands the intel had to pass through to reach the top. This is brought home repeatedly in Never Without Heroes, an unfortunate fact that was no less true of the U.S. Army high command.

According to the author's accounts, Marine reconnaissance battalion teams frequently were inserted deep in to enemy territory during questionable weather conditions where direct air support or an emergency extraction of a team in contact was impossible. This forced enemy compromised Marine recon teams to rely heavily on their own skills to escape and evade, and on Marine artillery to keep the enemy at bay. In addition, the perpetual lack of state of the art helicopters in the Marin Corps provided a handicap to their reconnaissance teams, often forcing them to insert by ground vehicle or simply to walk in.

Vetter, himself a platoon and patrol leader in the Third Reconnaissance Battalion early in the war, does and outstanding job telling the story of Marine recon in its toughest conflict. Through his own personal experiences, exhaustive interviews and intense research, Vetter accurately depicts the bravery and dedication of a relatively small number of courageous young recon Marines. Young men who risked all odds to penetrate deep in to Indian country and gather the intelligence necessary to enable Marine infantry to meet and defeat the enemy.

Vetter goes on to tell of the recon Marines respect and appreciation for the Marine (and Army) helicopter pilots and crews who were usually the difference between life and death. He also relates the frustration of dealing with commanders who misunderstood and misused their recon elements – often with fatal results – and how some commanders and intelligence officers, safe and sound in remote command centres would respond to an urgent call from a recon team in imminent danger of compromise, “Avoid contact, continue mission.” This single leadership flaw among staff officers killed and wound more than its share of young Marines. Between March 1965 and November 1969, approximately 2,800 Marines and Navy corpsmen served with the Third Recon Battalion. Of those 1,133 were killed, wounded or missing in action. The numbers attest to their courage and sacrifice.

If you're a collector of books on U.S. special operations, Never Without Heroes, should be your next purchase. Another Ivy masterpiece that will be around for a long while. To the Marines who survived their tours in the Third Recon Battalion, and to Lawrence Vetter, the Marine who told their story – SEMPER FI!

Never Without Heroes is available from (affiliate link)

This article was originally published in Behind The Lines magazine. has reproduced this article with the kind permission of Gary Linderer.

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