The LRRPs (Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol) were the cavalry scouts of the Vietnamese conflict, traveling by helicopter rather than mustangs into remote and unfriendly territory. The mountainous jungles of the central highlands were especially inhospitable, filled with snakes and wild animals, and criss crossed with the tributaries of the Ho Chi Minh trail that lay hidden beneath the thick, triple-canopy jungle foliage. It was the job of small teams of LRRPs to penetrate the ridges and valleys of the rainforest to track and identify enemy activity.
Golden Sand is less about patriotism and heroism than about the gut-wrenching reality of the Vietnam War. Combat soldiers are celebrated for simply doing their best to get by, not as superheroes, but as young men who often acted heroically but sometimes foolishly in circumstances not of their own choosing. One reviewer commented “the bond and the folly of immortal combat ring loud and clear from the page, and the story’s told with all the realism, language and pathos of experience.” The mood of the stories is dark and somber rather than triumphalistic: a hauntingly honest and brutally true retelling rather than a glorification of the Vietnam experience.
I refer to Golden Sand as “autobiographical fiction.” True incidents serve as inspiration for the book, but the stories are told with literary embellishment. I served with K Company, 75th Infantry (Rangers) in the central highlands of Vietnam in 1969-70, and I was twice awarded a bronze star for valor in combat.