Died on the Fourth of July: Remembering the Men Who Gave Their Lives in Vietnam on America’s Birthday (CreateSpace, 362 pp., $17, paper; $3.99, Kindle) is John F. Schlatter’s second book that pays tribute to veterans. His first was Postcard Memories From World War II. As an aggressive collector of postcards, I will seek out that book.
Schlatter served as an Army officer from 1974-76. He makes it clear that he does not claim to be a Vietnam veteran. He mentions that three of his mother’s cousins were Marines who fought at Iwo Jima. A modest disclaimer: My father was a Marine who fought at Iwo Jima. So I was predisposed to like and appreciate Schlatter’s book. The book did not disappoint.
First, Schlatter organized his book sensibly: beginning with July 4, 1965, and proceeding year by year to the Fourth of July 1973. It hit home with me that the Fourth of July on which the most Americans in died in Vietnam was July 4, 1967, the only Fourth of July that I was in-country. Forty-nine American service personnel died that day.
At the time I was oblivious to that. What was I doing that day? I checked my binder of letters home to my wife and found that on July 4, 1967, I attended a barbecue put on by the section I worked in: USARV-Inspector General. I ate steak and prawns.
Schlatter’s section on July 4, 1967, is informative and moving. Troop strength in Vietnam was almost a half million. “The death toll stood at near 14, 200, ” he writes. Forty one of those who perished that day died as the result of hostile fire. Schlatter includes a photo of the section of The Wall containing those 49 names. It’s a tiny photo on my Kindle, but looking at it brought tears to my eyes.
His essay informs us that of the forty nine Americans who died that day, thirty five were Marines. That’s 71 percent of the total deaths in a war in which 25 percent of those who died were Marines. One of the Marines who was killed that day was a chaplain’s assistant who was hit by shrapnel from a North Vietnamese Army rocket. He was serving Mass at an altar at the moment of his death.
Schlatter tells the stories of eight of the Marines who died that day. One of them was Lance Corporal Dwight David Eisenhour (no relation.) He was killed by friendly fire.
The author provides a wealth of information on the eight, including one who received a Medal of Honor for his actions that day. He was the only American serviceman who died on the Fourth of July in Vietnam who received a Medal of Honor.
Each chapter brings alive the Americans who died too young in Vietnam. The honesty of the reporting elevates this book from being a mere record. The author’s research is thorough, painstaking, and what he reports is sometimes disturbing.
Schlatter has researched and written an important book. The specificity of detail, the photos, and the reproduced news articles go a long way to remind us of the great loss America suffered with the deaths of these young men.
Every library should buy a copy of this book, especially high school libraries. Young people need to read this book. The old people who send young people off to war should read this book, too, as a reminder of the huge butcher’s bill of America’s wars.