The Odyssey of Echo Company
The 1968 Tet Offensive and the Epic Battle to Survive the Vietnam War
Scribner, New York, 2017, 336 pages
Book Review published on: September 29, 2017
On 30 January 1968, North Vietnamese and Viet Cong guerilla forces violated the Tet holiday truce to launch an offensive that attacked cities throughout South Vietnam. United States, South Vietnam, and other allies were surprised by the scale and scope of the offensive. Doug Stanton, New York Times best-selling author of In Harm’s Way and Horse Soldiers, tells the unforgettable account of Echo Company’s fight for survival during Tet and what followed after leaving Vietnam.
The central character in The Odyssey of Echo Company is John Stanley “Stan” Parker. Parker is the son of a World War II veteran whose itinerant ironworker career finds the family calling twenty-three states home by the time Stan was eleven. Stan joins the Army to be a paratrooper like his brother, James “Dub,” who was then serving in Vietnam with the 82nd Airborne Division. Parker becomes quickly dismayed when he is assigned to a Recon Company in Germany instead of Vietnam. Parker, ever resourceful, finds himself re-assigned to Echo Company, 1-501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam.
Echo Company, a Recon Company, arrives mid-December 1967 in Vietnam just prior to the Tet holiday. Echo Company quickly finds itself in combat as it receives sniper fire on daily patrols and Viet Cong probes their base, Landing Zone (LZ) Jane. Things quickly escalate as the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) forces launch a massive attack at LZ Jane as part of the Tet Offensive. The NVA presses with an onslaught of artillery and infantry attacks beginning at 0400 against LZ Jane. Bedlam ensues as attacking North Vietnamese soldiers quickly negated strands of concertina wire to engage the paratroopers in a hotly contested hand-to-hand fight throughout LZ Jane in the dark. The attack ends in the morning with one hundred dead enemy soldiers lying around the LZ.
Stanton’s describes the transformation that occurs in combat where men battle to retain civility while killing with little remorse. Paratroopers of Echo Company see themselves in a kill or be killed environment. They no longer view their mission as defending the South Vietnamese but to simply survive and go home. A callous indifference toward Vietnamese civilians develops as the men view the locals as either Viet Cong supporters or simply undeserving of their blood and sacrifice.
There are senseless acts of violence forever etched in the psyche of Echo Company members. Stan recalls the brutal murder of a young Vietnamese girl by four NVA soldiers for simply accepting his can of C-Ration peaches minutes before. He blames himself for her murder concluding that his attempt at compassion killed her. There is a young male who disregards orders to halt and is shot dead fleeing during a patrol. His inconsolable mom informs them that he was mute and just scared.
The Odyssey of Echo Company is more than just another war story, it is a remarkable story of redemption. In Part III, “Homecoming,” Stanton describes the emotional trip of travelling with Parker and fellow platoon member, Tom Soals, to Vietnam. After touring the War Museum in Saigon and the tunnels of Cu Chi, the group makes their way to the village of Trung Hoa where Parker was wounded on 18 February 1968. Stanton captures the moment when Parker met Mr. Sinh, a former Viet Cong commander, whose unit ambushed Charlie Company and had battled Echo Company. These former enemies now had become brothers forged by war.
This book is a must for any student with an interest in the war in Vietnam. It would make a great companion to Philip Caputo’s A Rumor of War.
Book Review written by: Jesse McIntyre III, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas