Tag Archives: LRRP

Gonna Stick My Sword in the Golden Sand

Sergeant Holmen and Sergeant Heald

Sgt Holmen and Sgt Heald 1970

Forty-five years ago this month, I was in transition. I was leaving a line company of infantry in Vietnam where we slept under the stars in the mud and amongst the critters for the life of a LRRP (Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol) that would offer a barracks and hot meals but also hair-raising scouting missions into hostile territory. Even after this lengthy passage of time, I’m not sure of the wisdom of that decision, but it was what it was.

This spring, during a California book tour, I visited my best friend from those long-ago days, and we discovered that time has stood still for our relationship–we jumped straightaway into discussion of religion, politics, sex, and all the philosophical musings and questioning that we first experienced as young men on late nights in the barracks as the sun was setting on the tumultuous sixties.

G-pa Holmen and G-pa Heald

G-pa Holmen and G-pa Heald 2014

A few years ago, I wrote several short stories based upon my army experience–some of you may have read the compilation entitled Prowl— and my recent visit with Gary inspired me to finish that project. Thus, I have edited and revised those stories, woven them together, and added some new material. All this is to say that I am pleased to announce that Gonna Stick My Sword in the Golden Sand: A Vietnam Soldier’s Story has just been released.

The title comes from a stanza of the gospel traditional, Down by the Riverside, with its refrain–“Ain’t gonna study war no more.” I would like to think that there are echoes of earlier classics of war fiction. Like The Red Badge of Courage, Golden Sand recreates the fear of the soldier facing battle; like All Quiet on the Western Front, Golden Sand confronts the banality of war for the weary soldier.

Golden Sand coverGolden Sand is a bold, dark, and intense retelling of the Vietnam experience through the eyes of an army scout, the point man on a camouflaged and face-painted four-man LRRP team inserted by helicopter into remote and unfriendly territory to search for “Charlie,” the North Vietnamese soldiers who travelled the mountain gullies of the Ho Chi Minh trail. Golden Sand is less about patriotism and heroism than about the gut-wrenching reality for the Vietnam combat soldiers who 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 of an earlier short story 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 Golden Sand is dark and somber rather than triumphalistic: a hauntingly honest and brutally true retelling rather than a glorification of the Vietnam experience.

Others commented after reading the short stories:

Gripping stories, unquestionably authentic, well written.

You read along on everyday books, then open one of these up and its like being smacked in the head. They just open up and tell it to you like it is. I love it.

The tension in the individual stories leaps off the page but the author manages an injection of black humour.

This story is a page-turner, the reader will not be left bored or yawning.

Characters and place come to life with the words, dialog is pitch perfect, and there are haunting comments I’ll remember long after the story’s done.

Click here if you’d like an autographed copy, or go to Amazon.com for either a print paperback or eBook. For $0.99, you can download an individual chapter on Amazon to check it out. Here’s the list of chapter titles:

Eleven Bravo


Here Comes Charlie

Cat Quiet

Whiskey in the Rain

Chasing After Wind

Elijah Fire

Donut Dollies

Down by the Riverside

ELIJAH FIRE: Coming to a Theater Near You

Probably not.

I received an email last night from a wannabe movie producer who sought permission to use Elijah Fire, the fifth and latest installment of my Vietnam short stories, as the basis for a screenplay and movie.

“Of course,” I said, “and here’s where to send the royalty checks.”

Though the prospects for success are pretty unlikely, it is still gratifying to be asked.

According to an account in the Old Testament, the prophet Elijah called for fire to rain down upon his enemies.  “If I am a man of God, let fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty.” 2nd Kings 1:10.  This installment of Vietnam short stories is about the firepower at the disposal of LRRP teams, scouts alone in the boondocks, that included artillery, Phantom jets, and especially helicopter gunships, the Cobras.  But, a team calling down hellfire risked getting burned.

Chasing After Wind

In the hubbub of news about the capture/kill of Bin Laden, the professional soldiers/sailors that carried out the mission have justifiably received a heap of attention.  The “tip of the tip” of the spear is one characterization I have heard.  “Seal 6” is apparently the name of this elite group of ultra-efficient military men.  Other terms that have been bandied about in the general conversation about the elites of the combat soldier include Navy Seals, Army Rangers, Special Ops, Special Forces, and more.

This is where the news gets personal, for I was an Army Ranger in Vietnam forty years ago.  Coincidentally, I have recently been working diligently to write short stories based upon my Vietnam experience, so those days and months so long ago have revisited my memory.

Although there are references to Rangers in the colonial wars, Revolutionary War, and Civil War, the first modern use of the term comes from the D Day assault on Normandy.  While waves of combat soldiers waded ashore on the beaches, the Rangers successfully scaled the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc in order to take out an artillery battery that shelled the beaches and the landing craft.  In the Pacific theater, Merrill’s Marauders successfully traversed 1,000 miles of Himalayan mountains and Burmese jungle to slip behind the Japanese lines, and every single member of the unit received a bronze star.

With the outbreak of the Korean conflict, Ranger units were again formed and trained, including the only all-black combat unit in the war.  The Ranger units were used for night raids, remote patrols, and parachute assaults behind enemy lines.  After the end of the Korean conflict, the Rangers were disbanded and did not appear again until Vietnam.

Helicopter over Viet NamRanger units of Vietnam, including my outfit, K Company of the 75th Infantry Regiment, were Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol units (LRRP for short).  Recon in remote and hostile territory was the primary mission of our four-man LRRP teams rather than ambush or assault, but we fought when we were discovered, and I was awarded a pair of bronze stars for valor in combat.

Other than the concept of the stiletto–a small, surgical, strike force—my experience was vastly different from the Rangers of today, much less the secretive Seal 6.  Our training, equipment, and level of expertise were Neanderthal by comparison.  While many in my unit had received training at Ranger school at Fort Benning before arriving in Vietnam, nearly all were combat newbies.  I had no specialized training at all, but I was accepted into the Rangers based upon six weeks of combat experience with an infantry company.

An early review of my series of short stories suggests bold, dark, and intense, and I think that is an apt characterization, not only of my writing, but of the Vietnam experience.  This week, the fourth  installment was published, and you may find the eBook entitled Chasing After Wind with the publisher or with Amazon.com, and it treats dark themes of death and fate on the framework of a barracks poker game, the uncontrollable wind, and a malevolent joker in the deck.

Ecclesiastes provides the epigraph and the title:

No one has power over the wind to restrain the wind, or power over the day of death; there is no discharge from the battle … all is vanity and a chasing after wind.

Ecclesiastes 8:8 & 1:14

Eleven Bravo and LRRP Rangers of Vietnam: First review

Reviews—necessary but scary.  I’m reminded of the analogy told by a fellow writer who compared the process to dropping one’s pants in public and then listening politely and silently as the bystanders offer comments.

Eighteen months ago, the first reviews of my soon to be released novel, A Wretched Man, a novel of Paul the apostle, were published based upon advance reader copies .  They were favorable, and I was relieved, flattered, and more than a little surprised.  A writer may hope, but self doubt is omnipresent.

I am now in the same posture with the release, in serial fashion, of my short stories of Vietnam.  The series is entitled LRRP Rangers Vietnam, and the first three installments have been published as eBooks.  Today, the first review of the first installment was published online, and I am experiencing the same response as earlier–relief and surprise at the flattering comments, and so I boast …

Ms. Sheila Deeth read and reviewed the first installment, Eleven Bravo.  She introduces her review with this summary:

Eleven Bravo, by R.W. Holmen chronicles the beginning of a young man’s experience in Veitnam. With pitch-perfect dialog and stunning descriptions and commentary, he brings a time not too long gone to life and clears the way for a series of literary vignettes to come–short, but bold, dark and intense, so read it with a 5-star coffee.

Her full review is reprinted below.

“Somehow, I felt abandoned and much farther away than the man on the moon,” says R.W. Holmen in his short story Eleven Bravo.

The author conveys that abandonment beautifully, setting the Vietnam war into personal and global context with vivid details and telling comments. Characters and place come to life with the words, dialog is pitch perfect, and there are haunting comments I’ll remember long after the story’s done. From FNG (f** new guy) to savvy vet in twenty-three days, from one land to another with various stops for training along the way, from safety to horror, the author shares the experiences of war, bringing sight, scent, and sound into stunning perspective. Climbing in mud with eighty-pound packs, fools on the march while the “fool killer” trails, clearing brush with machetes, arranging mines… 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.

Eleven Bravo is the first in a series of Vietnam vignettes, autobiographical fiction based on true events and bound by story arc into literary gems. The writing is confident and clear, hauntingly honest, brutally true. The story completes a young man’s transformation and leaves the reader eager for the next installment. If this piece is anything to go by, this will be an excellent series of honest depiction and wise commentary, and I’m humbled to have read this first chapter.

Sheila Deeth, writer, illustrator, and prolific book reviewer