2009 Society for Military History Distinguished Book Award for Biography
Vietnam’s Forgotten Army: Heroism and Betrayal in the ARVN chronicles the lives of Pham Van Dinh and Tran Ngoc Hue, two of the brightest young stars in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN). Both men fought with valor in a war that seemed to have no end, exemplifying ARVN bravery and determination that is largely forgotten or ignored in the West. However, while Hue fought until he was captured by the North Vietnamese Army and then endured thirteen years of captivity, Dinh surrendered and defected to the enemy, for whom he served as a teacher in the reeducation of his former ARVN comrades.
An understanding of how two lives that were so similar diverged so dramatically provides a lens through which to understand the ARVN and South Vietnam’s complex relationship with Americas government and military. The lives of Dinh and Hue reflect the ARVNs battlefield successes, from the recapture of the Citadel in Hue City in the Tet Offensive of 1968, to Dinhs unheralded role in the seizure of Hamburger Hill a year later. However, their careers expose an ARVN that was over-politicized, tactically flawed, and dependent on American logistical and firepower support. Marginalized within an American war, ARVN faced a grim fate as U.S. forces began to exit the conflict. As the structure of the ARVN/U.S. alliance unraveled, Dinh and Hue were left alone to make the most difficult decisions of their lives.
Andrew Wiest weaves historical analysis with a compelling narrative, culled from extensive interviews with Dinh, Hue, and other key figures. Once both military superstars, Dinh is viewed by a traitor by many within the South Vietnamese community, while Hue, an expatriate living in northern Virginia, is seen as a hero who never let go of his ideals. Their experiences and legacies mirror that of the ARVNs rise and fall as well as the tragic history of South Vietnam.
This sympathetic biography of Pham Van Dinh and Tran Ngoc Hue, mid-level officers in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN), provides a unique perspective among American war histories. Built by American advisers in 1955 to repel a conventional invasion, the ARVN was a Western-style force that actually spent most of its 25-year life battling a lightly armed insurgency. Ironically, its destruction came at the hands of a traditional invading army from North Vietnam, but by this time U.S. forces (which it had relied on for heavy artillery and airpower) were gone. Vietnam s army suffered a chronic lack of imaginative leadership at the top, yet historian Wiest (Haig) makes a good case that it often fought well, especially at the battalion and regimental level, when led by good officers such as Dinh and Hue. Wiest describes their energetic leadership as the war intensified during the 1960s, but it is not a story that ends happily. Hue spent 13 years in a North Vietnamese prison after his capture in 1970. Dinh surrendered his regiment in 1972, finishing his career in the NVA. Readers who persist through dense nuts-and-bolts battle descriptions will gain new respect for the mishandled South Vietnamese army.