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Don C. Hall

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Don C. Hall, USA “grew up in a Catholic orphanage in Roanoke, Virginia and enlisted in the U.S. Army in February 1965, shortly after his 17th birthday. He served in Vietnam in 1967-68 as a team leader in Company F, 51st Long Range Patrol (Airborne) Infantry. After leaving the service in 1970, he served as a police officer and then later worked as a private investigator. He is now retired. He and his wife Annette co-wrote I SERVED.”

Command Sergeant Major Jeff Mellinger, U.S. Army, said of I SERVED, it “is a first-person account of the lonely childhood and manhood rites of passage of a Catholic orphanage schoolboy and plankholder in Company F, 51st Long Range Patrol (Airborne) Infantry. From separation from most of his siblings, to life in an orphanage in Virginia, to the dank jungles of Viet Nam, and finally to homecoming and marriage to his childhood sweetheart, Don Hall keeps us on edge.

 

Unceremoniously dumped in the orphanage by their drunken, war-traumatized father, Don and his brother Mike learn the harsh realities of life. We can feel the fear of the tormented child and smell the antiseptic dormitory. Not all is bad there, for it is during this time that the young Donald sees his true love, Annette, for the first time. Her brunette hair, twinkling eyes and heart-melting smile are what help sustain the warrior‚s sanity and focus during some of his darkest had abandoned them. No hope for the future leads the seventeen-year-old boy, old beyond his years, to a recruiter‚s office and the Army.

 

In August 1967, after a tour in Alaska and six months in Germany, the young paratrooper volunteers for duty in the Republic of Vietnam and is initially assigned to the 173d Airborne Brigade. Then, he hears a call for volunteers and joins a new long range patrol unit being formed, with the motto "I Serve," and the charter of taking the war to the enemy. Expertly weaving heart-thumping moments as enemy soldiers walk past within mere feet of patrols, the cacophony of battle and copper-taste of adrenaline during contacts, and the stark contrasts of the war, Don Hall takes us on his tour with the Lurps. We feel the anguish of losing teammates, and share the love for comrades. We see the oblivious eyes of the enemy walking toward an ambush, and the handmade wooden cross prepared by a soldier for a dead enemy tossed from a helicopter. We hear the cries of the wounded and the soft strains of songs on the radio. We feel the hurt and anger of the young boy, and the power and control of the soldier as he serves.

 

I SERVED takes us on a journey we cannot stop once the first page is turned. In the end, it is the simple understatement of service and quiet professionalism which makes this story different. We should all pause to reflect that we have much for which to be thankful, provided by the sacrifices of those who served.”

 

One reader of I SERVED said, “Don and Annette Hall's "I Served" is plainspoken when compared to more literary works such as Michael Herr's "Dispatches" or Neil Sheehan's "Bright and Shining Lies". But it is an engaging first person account that accurately reflects the world view of some extraordinarily brave soldiers who were routinely in contact with the enemy.

 

Reviewers who served with Don's unit have attested to the veracity of his story and I certainly concur. I was an Army photojournalist in 1967 and 1968 and to my knowledge was the only reporter/photographer to cover an F Company team on an ambush mission. I trained with Sgt. Carter's team for a week before we were inserted in an area of suspected enemy activity. The team was extremely well disciplined and were masters of stealth, moving silently from the LV through dry brush that would snap crackle and pop under the careless feet of most infantry units I accompanied. When the point man climbed a tree and spotted a base camp across a river, we hunkered down in a small clearing to observe enemy activity and determine the size of the force. That night an emeny patrol walked by no more than 10 feet from our concealed position. The next day, a team inserted nearby came under fire and we were extracted in advance of an artillery barrage and an infantry sweep.

 

Decades later my memories of F Co. 51st Infantry LRPS are very clear but reading Don's book gave me insight into the unit I would never have known otherwise. It's clear that he and Annette have gone to great lengths to reconstruct events where memory alone fails. Back in the day most of us were prohibited from keeping journals so Don's National Archive research is instructional for anyone who would look to write about their own experiences. For those who study the Vietnam experience, Don and Annette provide an important testimony for those who served in front of the front lines.”

One reader of I SERVED said, “I have read other books about VietNam, but none comes close to the power of this one. The power of this story comes from the simple, straightforward manner in which it is told. The style is personal, not grandiose. There is no attempt to "glorify," consequently, the events, simply stated, become huge, heartfelt and inspirational. How he survived the decade from 1958 to 1968 is nothing short of a miracle and is a testament to his tremendous courage. The story of F Company, 51st LRP is not well known to most Americans. It should be. Hopefully, Don and Anette's book will make it so. I remember after seeing "Born on the Fourth of July," saying to myself that Oliver Stone's voice should be heard by all Americans. I have read "I Served" four times and I believe that Don and Annette's voices are just as important. This book is an astonishing achievement. It is an important American work.”

 

One reader of I SERVED said, “I Served relates to the reader the very essence of what happened. His descriptions of what he saw were to a "T" what I saw . No one is given any more importance than the other, and only Don's experiences are recorded. He tells of his youth in a Catholic Orphanage. About his brutal treatment and his coming of age in one of the longest battles of our generation. Many things that have been left unwritten, feelings have been repressed, emotions that nobody really understands, have gone unacknowledged, gratitude and understanding is only now being expressed. It was like we fought battles for so many who would never appreciate the freedom they so freely take for granted. As we look back on the years of our youth, students with college deferments became the most educated people ever for fear of being drafted. Many didn't even want to go to college.

 

Don Hall has captured in print what I have wanted to tell others about for over thirty years. Many people have looked at me with , unbelieving looks in their eyes, or "is this guy for real" eyes as I recounted many of the truly unbelievable events that actually took place. Don and I were team leaders in different platoons of "F" Company 51st LRP (Airborne) Infantry. We both served with the 173rd at Dakto . All of what Don experienced after arriving in country is exactly what I felt being with the herd until the 51st was formed. The mosquitoes, spiders, snakes, leaches, climbing the mountains with 160# rucksacks, not bathing for over 50 days, uniforms ripped to shreds by "wait a minute" vines. We both encountered similar and different experiences. We sprung ambushes against bigger elements because we were compromised. Logically speaking we would never have done a lot of the things that we had to do. We jumped out of Helicopters 10-15 feet in the air that couldn't set down in our primary or secondary LZ's. We counted over 250 NVA less than 100 feet away in broad daylight. We were in their area of operation, we were a six man team walking parallel to them going in the same direction. We were a top secret operation, very little was known about our unit, but CHARLIE knew about us. Sometimes, Nothing sounds so far from the truth than the truth itself.

 

We were in the prime of our youth, we were given a job to do and we did it to the best of our ability. We were not glory hunters, we were survivors, and survive we did. We accomplished what others have only dreamed of doing and Don is telling his account of "F" Company 51st LRP (Airborne) Infantry. I served tells it like it was. I would highly recommend this book as part of anybodies history class on the Vietnam Conflict.

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