The Boys of Benning (Authorhouse, 384 pp., $19.95, paper) is a tribute to fifteen 1962 Fort Benning OCS graduates. The co-editors—Dan Telfair, Zia Telfair, and Thomas B. Vaughn—say they have done more proofreading than editing. The narratives, therefore, come across like tales spun by your grandpa sitting in front of a fireplace.
This book is the result of a 2012 class reunion that took place in Columbus, Georgia. The surviving members of the class renewed a common bond and agreed to write a book together. No man is an island, and while only fifteen stories are presented in the book, many other soldiers are included.
The families of these men deserve credit for their supporting roles during family separations, training, wartime, and well into the retirement years of the former officers. In the Preface, Retired Army Col. Vaughn notes that this book was written primarily for family and friends. “If this book gains a wider audience, we will all be pleasantly surprised, ” he says.
This writer thinks a pleasant surprise is in store. Simply put, The Boys of Benning- –and the boys’s families—deserve the recognition. The collection of Benning narratives reminds us that wars are fought by ordinary people who are often called to do extraordinary things. Self-sacrifice, suffering, and death paint a more realistic picture of war than Hollywood and recruiting posters do. Personal integrity is often challenged. An OCS board colonel, for example, asked Rudy Baker: “Sergeant, are you prejudiced?” Baker replied, “Yes sir, I guess I am to some extent, considering where I was raised, but it will never interfere in any military duties I have to perform.”
The organizational and leadership skills the men learned in their military training often carried over into their civilian careers. A strong sense of determination to succeed fostered by their OCS training, seemed to last well throughout the 50 years since their graduation. Post-military occupations include a diversity of activities, from flipping burgers at McDonald’s to teaching in college. But among all the men, there continued to be a sense of duty and response to commitments.
While all of the men describe their Vietnam War experiences, some are more graphic than others. Retired Lt. Col. Ken Weitzel, who grew up in Berea, Ohio, fought in the 1965 Battle of Ia Drang Valley. That engagement was one of the bloodiest in the war, and included hand-to-hand combat, as well as close-in air strikes. Every platoon leader was wounded and most of them died.
The reader might expect to hear bitterness in the tone of these veterans. It says much about the character of these men, though, that no sense of anger or long-held hostility comes through. What does come through is loyalty to family and country and appreciation for the opportunities that came their way. The bond that was formed in Georgia in ‘62 remains strong today.
Retired Col. Dallas Cox explains that bond by quoting from the diary of Mai Van Hung, a North Vietnamese soldier he never met. “How frustrating life is! To whom should I unburden myself? In whom should I confide? Who can understand my pent-up feelings? No one could possibly, except us, the soldiers!”