William Keith Nolan, one of the most prolific and most accomplished military historians of the Vietnam War, died February 9 of lung cancer. He was 44 years old and was not a smoker; the disease was hereditary.
Nolan, known to his friends as Keith, pioneered and excelled at his own special brand of military history: the excellent combining of in-depth interviews with those who took part in the fighting and deep research into the official records. That, along with a fluid writing style, added up to ten (eleven, counting one he co-authored) of the best books on Vietnam War military history.
We reviewed nearly all of his books in our “Books in Review” column in The VVA Veteran , including what turned out to be his last one, House to House:Playing the Enemy’s Game in Saigon. Here”s what I wrote in the May-June issue:
Keith Nolan is one of the most accomplished chroniclers of Vietnam War military history. In his ten previous books—including Battle for Hue , Death Valley , and Operation Buffalo –Nolan used a deft combination of interviews with participants and in-depth research into official records to come up with incisive, readable battle narratives. Nolan continues to use his excellent M.O. to good effect in his latest book. This time Nolan recreates the fighting that took place between the Army’s 9th Infantry Division and several VC regiments who were holed up in Saigon three months after Tet ’68.”
Other reviewers had similar thoughts about Nolan’s work. “I’ve never read a better account of a battle, and I’ve never been prouder of the American fighting man, nor more scornful of his political and high-ranking military leaders, ” the historian Stephen Ambrose wrote about Nolan’s Ripcord: Screaming Eagles Under Siege, Vietnam 1970 “To those who want to know what it was like to be a grunt in Vietnam, I recommend Ripcord without stint or reservation.”
Kieth Nolan’s other books are Battle for Saigon: Tet 1968 , Sappers In The Wire , A Hundred Miles of Bad Road (with Dwight Birdwell), The Magnificent Bastards: The Joint Army-Marine Defense of Dong Ha, 1968, Into Laos: The Story of Dewey Canyon Ii/Lam Son 719, Vietnam 1971.
Keith Nolan left a nine-year-old daughter, Anna Britt Nolan. A trust fund has been set up in her name.
Anna Britt Nolan Trust
c/o First Bank
6211 Midriver Mall Drive
St. Charles, MO 63304