Immigrant Warrior Cover

Immigrant Warrior

A Challenging Life in War and Peace

Henrik O. Lunde

Casemate, Haverton, Pennsylvania, 2023, 400 pages

Book Review published on: December 22, 2023

As the years pass by, so do our opportunities to uncover new autobiographies crafted by Vietnam veterans. It is safe to assume that if a Vietnam veteran hasn’t crafted his autobiography by now, it probably isn’t on their list of things to accomplish. That is why I was surprised to discover Henrik Lunde’s autobiography, Immigrant Warrior: A Challenging Life in War and Peace. It is a volume a long time in the making, but clearly worth the wait.

The book’s journey to print was lengthy and Lunde encountered several obstacles. Lunde began setting the foundation for the book in the early 1980s. At that time, he discussed potential material with those he had served with. For the next twenty years, Lunde was consumed with his civilian career and the book was put on hold. When he has ready to focus on the book in 2003, he began to suffer various ailments tied to Agent Orange, including cancer.

Lunde’s ailments not only affected his writing timeline but also changed the path of his writing career. He states early in the volume, “I had intended to resurrect the autobiography at that time. Still, since most of it dealt with my time in Vietnam, the doctors did not think it was beneficial to simultaneously deal with an emotional undertaking with my struggle to stay alive. Consequently, I began writing military history—producing four books and numerous lengthy articles—to keep my mind occupied” (vii).

It wasn’t until 2014 that he began to pursue his objective once more. Again, health issues hampered his efforts. This included undergoing open-heart surgery and having a hip replacement. Impressively, Lunde conducted the bulk of his work on the autobiography in 2020 following his hip replacement. The result is a volume that readers will find outstanding.

Within Immigrant Warrior, Lunde provides a comprehensive look at his life. He organizes his volume into three sections. The beginning of the autobiography addresses his childhood and the early years of his Army career. This includes discussing the first fifteen years of his life, which were spent in Norway before his family immigrated to the United States. (Hence, the impetus for the book’s title.) During this initial section, Lunde is also very frank in detailing events that occurred in his personal life and the effect they had on him.

In the second portion, and the focus of the autobiography, Lunde reflects on his three tours in Vietnam (thirty-eight months). Within this section, he keys principally on his time as a rifle company commander in the 101st Airborne Division. This is unquestionably a book within a book. Lunde addresses the key battles his company was involved in and does it in incredible detail. Lunde’s discussion superbly captures the human dimension of war and provides readers with an outstanding perspective on the interworking of a rifle company in the Vietnam War.

An excellent example of human dimension of war is found when he describes his emotions and thoughts before he relinquished company command. He states, “I had not had much time to think about the significance of this day, but I had very mixed feelings about leaving. The company had been my home for the better part of a year. The troops were my family and we had gone through much together. As I walked down the lines of young, tough, but tired paratroopers, I was sad to note that only a small number of soldiers who had started with me the previous summer were still around. Some had caught malaria and other diseases and were sent back to the United States. Some of the many wounded left the company and never returned. However, all too many of my family had made the ultimate sacrifice” (216).

The final section of the autobiography addresses the remainder of his military career and his life following his service. In both cases, Lunde touches on the ups and downs during these periods. What I found most impressive is Lunde’s continued ability to meet the challenges life threw at him. In the past twenty years, there have been myriad health challenges. In the book’s final paragraph, he refers to this and his future book writing endeavors. He states, “This book may be my last unless the doctors find miraculous solutions to my ailments. I received encouragement to continue when I found out that Henry Kissinger, whom I admire, was publishing one at age 97” (368).

There are several characteristics that I believe will stand out for readers and make this an outstanding autobiography. First is the detail in Immigrant Warrior. This is especially important when he discusses combat operations in Vietnam. Within this, he provides many excerpts of the radio dialogue that took place during combat operations. This level of detail is even more impressive considering the author reflects on events that occurred nearly sixty years ago. Importantly, if Lunde cannot recollect something (which is not often), he simply informs readers he can’t remember.

To achieve this detail (especially during his combat discussion), Lunde relied on many sources. In his introduction, he discusses the many sources he utilized. He states, “I have tried to make the combat part as correct as possible, a challenging task after more than half a century has passed. I mainly relied on my field notebooks and letters to my wife, family, and friends. These are supplemented by thousands of pages of after-action reports, daily staff journals, studies, morning reports, rosters, casualty lists, verbal and written interviews, books in my possession, etc. I also used letter from the next of kin to the extent that privacy and common sense dictated. Maps are provided and inserted at relevant points” (x).

The second factor, and something I have highlighted throughout this review, is the candidness of the volume. Lunde is extremely frank throughout the book. If he did not agree on a decision or had reservations on an individual, it is stated in the autobiography. The author also is quick to reap praise when he believes it is warranted. Refreshingly, this openness also extends to himself. Readers will find that Lunde is free of self-criticism and will even pat himself on the back if he feels it was justified.

The next trait exhibited throughout Immigrant Warrior is its outstanding readability. As addressed earlier, Lunde had already established an impressive writing resume prior to crafting his autobiography. His prior efforts principally focused on World War II and specifically the Nordic Region. They included books tied to German operations in the Baltic, the German- Finnish relationship, and the Battle for Norway. Additionally, Lunde wrote a book focused on Sweden’s military from 1611 to 1721. Obviously, this experience paid significant dividends in writing his autobiography.

The final feature of the autobiography is the quality of the “extras” Lunde has provided within the volume. These include a superb, annotated endnotes section, a healthy glossary, and a relevant photo section. Perhaps most beneficial is a group of battle sketches created by Lunde to complement his discussion on the battles he fought in during the Vietnam War. This is an incredibly personal touch and brings the corresponding words to life.

Lunde’s introduction addresses four objectives he sought to achieve with his autobiography. First, he wanted to provide his relatives (many in Norway) with details on his life. Second, he sought to tell the story of his Vietnam service. Third, he desired to pay tribute to the soldiers to he served with (in particular, those who served with him during his company command). Finally, he felt that during this time in his life it was appropriate to “blow his horn” (viv) a bit.

I believe Lunde has clearly succeeded in achieving each of the above personal objectives. In his autobiography, he has told his story with an emphasis on his Vietnam years and paid tribute to those who served with him. Along the way, he also gave himself credit where he believed it was justified. In accomplishing the above, he has also provided the public an opportunity to learn of a soldier who served his adopted country so admirably.

Book Review written by: Lt. Col. Rick Baillergeon, U.S. Army, Retired, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas