The tragic beauty of war is that it represents the defining moment of everyone who ever fought in one. Perhaps more than the birth of a child or the death of a parent, to the soldier war is the triggerpin of his life. And so, those who go off to fight come back with permanent memories, recollections of a time and place they cannot and will not ever forget.
For those of us who have never been to war, we must rely on these written impressions as being accurate and true. The soldier-writer wants us to feel what he's felt and here, Bill Shanahan, a specialist in the Vietnam war, empties those moments out on the page in creating a moving, if sometimes labored memoir.
The Lurps (Long Range Patrol) were soldiers inserted behind enemy lines to gather intelligence and information on the NVA and Vietcong. Stealth Patrol weaves together the diary of a dozen or so Lurp missions and brings the reader into the Asian jungle, surrounded by hostiles, and explains how a man is capable of not only engaging in such mind-terrorizing work but also thrive on it.
In simple language, at times grammatically awkward but essentially well-constructed, Shanahan describes how he was coaxed into becoming a Ranger (what the Lurp was eventually called), what the training was like, and what his early missions entailed. But, quite craftily, he focused on the men he worked with, and talked about their strengths and heroics while on site, rather than what they were required to complete.
The bond formed between the men was really the most unbelievable aspect portrayed here as Team Leaders (TL) and Assistant Team Leaders (ATL) would ofttimes take point (be the man in front leading the expedition)and put themselves in harm's way in an attempt to keep their company safe.
It's hard to imagine what it takes to become a Lurp but those emotions and elements are clearly presented. The author tells how scared he was, how unsure in undertaking an assignment; he wasn't afraid to lay his soul on the line.
The sole aspect that became a bit redundant was the repetitious manner in which each patrol was described. It read something like a laundry list, and the book found itself in sluggish waters during these chapters. One insertion sounded like the one before.
But for anyone intrigued by the seemingly superhuman qualities necessary to become a Lurp soldier, Stealth Patrol explains it all. If you've ever tried to imagine what kind of fortitude and trust in your fellow soldier it took to be dropped miles inside enemy areas, this book is for you. For the author, his time overseas would become a lynchpin for the rest of his life. He even re-upped for a second tour of duty and no one does this without being profoundly affected by his experiences there.
In his description of a Lurp affectionately dubbed Tad, the writer spills his emotions onto the page in revealing how much he loved and respected him. And Tad, indeed, was one focused man; he re-upped for five tours, more than any other Ranger, and was ultimately forced to leave the field when the NVA put a hit out on him. It is in these descriptions of fellow mates that makes Bill's expose so emotionally engaging.
This is a scary book, scary because it reveals what it takes to go beyond the call of duty. These Lurps operated above and beyond what the line soldier went through. And anyone capable of inserting himself into operations where he looked into the evil eyes of death day after day is an extraordinary man. While this isn't quite an extraordinary book, it is a swift read. And if you weren't there, it does offer up emotions and episodes that might, in time, become long-distance landmarks for you to measure your life by.