A Personal Reflection of a Frontline Soldier in Vietnam and Cambodia During the Cultural Maelstrom of the 1960s
In late 1969, twenty-year-old Robert Sweatmon received a letter informing him that he had ten days to report to the United States Army. Like thousands of others, he had been drafted. Assigned as a rifleman with a mechanized unit, the author began a year-long odyssey in the Southeast Asian wilderness that would change his and his fellow soldiers’ lives forever.
Taking its title from the nighttime radio code call and response between base camp and those on ambush patrol, Five Four Whiskey: A Memory of War is a moving account of life as a combat soldier in the Vietnam War. Set mostly in the sprawling woods and rubber plantations northwest of Saigon, the author explains what his unit was asked to do and what obstacles they faced, including an elusive but deadly enemy, multiple kinds of booby traps, and antitank mines. The author, a notable television personality following the war, does not sensationalize his account; rather, his book allows a new generation to understand the emotional and physical pressures of the times. Coming of age in the maelstrom of civil rights and the free love culture, the author and his fellow soldiers saw their idealism quickly vaporize in the face of the grim realities of war. Here they learned to compartmentalize their lives as a way to survive, but it was their strong bonds that ultimately kept them from succumbing to the madness that surrounded them. Kept in the field for almost the entire time of his tour, the author was in a unit selected to conduct a clandestine reconnaissance in Cambodia and then lead the 1970 invasion, where he was wounded. Following his convalescence, he was sent to Nui Ba Den, the fabled ghost mountain haunted by the spirit of a Vietnamese princess, until he received his papers that he had completed his combat service. At that moment, his year-long mental wall between soldier and civilian fell away as he counted the last terrifying hours before he was safely out of Vietnam. A tour-de-force of military memoir, written in an objective and often literary prose, Five Four Whiskey perfectly captures how ordinary civilian-soldiers survived an ordeal set in one of the most turbulent times in American history.
In this worthy Vietnam War memoir, former infantryman Sweatmon focuses on his 1969 1970 tour of duty as a member of the U.S. Army 25th Infantry Division's mechanized C Company. Sweatmon spent many anxious hours on night ambush missions and as a machine-gunner and radioman on an armored personnel carrier (APC). He saw the war at its grittiest, and was seriously wounded when his APC was blown up by an enemy mine during the May 1970 incursion into Cambodia. Sweatmon recovered from his wounds and was sent back to the war, spending his final months on guard duty atop the famed Nui Ba Den (Black Virgin) Mountain in Tay Ninh Province. A retired history teacher, actor, and screenplay writer, Sweatmon elucidates what it was like for him to get drafted, shipped into the maelstrom of the Vietnam War, and become all but inured to the death and destruction that was part of everyday life there. The book also sheds light on the unique type of warfare faced by mechanized infantry units in the tropical climate of Vietnam.
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Five Four Whisky
I served with 4/23rd 25th (Tomahawks) Mech in Cuchi, Tay Ninh and in the shadow of the Black Virgin 1967-68…..you nailed it and brought me back in time to a land of many memories. it was up front and personal….well done