Jim Thayer, Tango 1-1 9th Infantry Division LRPS in the Vietnam Delta (Pen & Sword, 2020)
Jim Thayer volunteered to fight in the Vietnam War as Long Range Patrol Ranger. The personnel specialist in charge of assigning Thayer thought he was either mentally impaired or possessed of an insatiable death wish. He may have had a point. Tango 1-1 is Thayer’s memoir of his immersion into combat at the very tip of the American spear and it is a hair-raising ride.
Thayer was already a soldier when he re-enlisted to fight in Vietnam, but he had never seen combat. He was familiar with the routines of army life, though service in the LRP was anything but routine. He joined Team 1-1, a small unit of warriors inserted by helicopter, truck, or boat into potentially lethal situations in the Mekong Delta. Most missions were interesting but uneventful, Thayer writes, but his team also captured Viet Cong guerrillas; conducted reconnaissance missions that ended in firefights; set ambushes as hunter/killer teams; and fought pitched battles against NVA regulars. The Rangers used a variety of weapons to suit their missions. Some of those were conducted in a jungle environment but most were out in the open among paddy fields and along riverbank villages. Vietnamese PRUs sometimes went with the LRPs and proved themselves able soldiers.
Thayer became team leader through attrition, and was awarded numerous medals, including the Silver Star, which he paid for with a serious wound that earned him some time in Japan. When he returned, Thayer took to going on patrol in bare feet and wore a headband rather than a hat; he “looked more like a Mandalay pirate”. Thayer’s memoir also discusses his down time at USO shows, barracks life, eating a captured pig, and drinking beer, but he focuses more on the drama of Vietnam where he endured falling off a truck at high speed, fire ants, snakes, searing heat, monsoon rains, booby traps, enemy ambushes, watching comrades die, being wounded slightly but eventually severely, and a failed marriage. During the end phase of his tour of duty, Thayer began experiencing PTSD and recognized that combat had worn down his mental acuity and self-confidence and that luck played a large part in his survival. While on compassionate leave, Thayer was assigned to a training unit. After more surgery, Thayer left the army for a career in law enforcement.
Tango 1-1 is more than a personal memoir, but a homage to Thayer’s unit and the men he fought alongside. While the usual Vietnam tropes of heat and smell and culture-shock are in the book, Thayer avoids the sometimes wearisome ‘literature’ of the Vietnam War to tell straightforward stories of men in combat, although why he opted for simple chapter headings rather than give his stories titles eludes this reviewer. In addition, the blurb taken directly from a Stars & Stripes propaganda piece on Rangers does him no favours by casting some doubt on the veracity of his experiences. Nevertheless, Thayer’s memoir is testimony to the real courage these men displayed in alien conditions against a tenacious enemy. Those interested in Vietnam, and in particular LRPs and their tactics will enjoy Thayer’s memoir and learn a lot from it. Highly Recommended. 8/10.