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March/April 2024  -   -  

Compelling Stories of Note: Jack McLean's Found and David Chung's Face of the Enemy

Add Jack McLean to the very small list of Vietnam War veterans who’ve written two exceptional memoirs centering on their tours of duty in the war. Loon: A Marine Story, published in 2009, is, as I wrote in these pages 15 years ago, an exceptionally well-written account of McLean’s eventful 1967-68 tour of duty with Charlie Company of the 3rd Marine Division’s 1st Battalion/4th Marine Regiment. The book centers on the stunning evocation of his unit’s vicious three-day fight against an NVA battalion in June 1968 on mountainous LZ Loon near the Laotian border.

That battle—in which 42 Marines were killed and more than 100 were wounded—is an important element in McLean’s well-crafted new memoir, Found: A Veteran Story (Huntington Bay Press, 320 pp. $17, paper and e-book). In it, McLean, a VVA member who turned 19 in Vietnam, tells two different but connected stories. One deals with his post-war struggles with survivor-guilt-related post-traumatic stress alongside his battles with the effects of his exposure to Agent Orange, including conflicts with the VA over his benefits. The other story is a chronicle of his decades-long quest to reunite the son and wife of one of his best buddies, Tom Morrissey, who lost his life at LZ Loon.

Along the way, McLean gives a clear-cut account of the shameful treatment he received after coming home from Vietnam from unthinking antiwar activists and from the denizens of his local VFW hall. For McLean, local meant Cambridge, Massachusetts, as after Jack came home from the war, he matriculated at the local university: Harvard. In fact, he was the first Vietnam War veteran to enroll at that august academic institution.

McLean’s report from the antiwar home front in Cambridge is well-crafted. His account of walking into the VFW hall in Cambridge in the fall of 1968 to see about joining is chilling and graphically emblematic of how the World War II generation and its VSOs treated returning Vietnam War veterans.

“Nobody offered me a beer,” he writes. “Nobody invited me to join the card game. Nobody waved me over to the pool table. Nobody welcomed me home. Not even these fellow veterans… I just wanted to talk with someone who might understand what I was going through… I never entered a VSO again.”

He didn’t enter a VFW or Legion beer hall, that is, but Jack McLean did enter Vietnam Veterans of America’s orbit in 2009—the year Loon came out—after unsuccessfully battling the VA for six years over his rightful benefits. He received golden advice from the benefits lawyers at VVA’s national office in Silver Spring about filing for disability claims for Agent Orange-related diabetes and for PTSD. Later that year, he decided to stop by the Newark, N.J., VVA office, where he met VSO wizard Margaret Wojciechowicz.

She helped him file an appeal on the PTSD claim before the Board of Veterans Appeals. Three-year-long story short: The BVA acted favorably on the appeal and McLean received his much-needed earned benefits and paid off all of his debts. “It was an emotional relief,” he writes in the book, thanking “Margaret and the VVA lawyers.”

Slight spoiler alert: Found has a happy, redemptive ending, as Jack McLean succeeds in his long, winding quest to reunite with his Vietnam War buddies and to, as he puts it, “bring my friend Tom Morrisey’s family back together again.”

David Chung's Journey  

David Chung did not exactly hit the draft lottery in 1970 when his birthday came up number four that fall. After receiving his draft notice, Chung, who was 20, opted to join the Air Force, heeding friends’ advice on one hand to avoid the uncertainties of the draft—and on the other because he was already working part time as an aircraft mechanic near his hometown of Chicago.

After basic training at Lackland, Chung, a long-time VVA member, trained as a transportation specialist. He landed in Vietnam in February 1972 following three years of big U.S. troop withdrawals. After reporting to the 377th Combat Support Group at the 7th USAF HQ at Tan Son Nhut, he put in a year of duty (later attached to the 1st Marine Air Wing) loading and unloading all manner of aircraft and doing his share of driving vehicles out of Tan San Nhut.

Chung regularly found himself in mortal danger during his often-tumultuous tour of duty, as he effectively conveys in his compelling autobiography, Face of the Enemy: An American Asian’s War in Vietnam and at Home (BookLocker, 436 pp., $37.95, hardcover, $22.95, paper; $4.99, Kindle) written with Kerry O’Donnell. The nadir came in March 1972 during the North Vietnamese Easter Offensive. That’s when Chung and a transportation squadron buddy were aboard a C-7 Caribou on a supply mission that made a detour to Quan Loi Base Camp near An Loc. As the plane attempted to depart, “a tidal wave” of civilian refugees fleeing the NVA surged toward the Caribou’s ramp as enemy mortars rained down on the runway.

What happened next scarred Chung for the rest of his life. More scrapes with the horror of war followed. Not to mention a year of putting up with the same overt racism he faced growing up in Chicago almost every day in the warzone. It all led to decades-long emotional problems after Chung came home that included brutal nightmares, rocky marriages, and alcoholic self-medication.

Like Jack McLean, David Chung persevered and overcame his post-war struggles. It helped that he found success during his long career with Federal Express. And that he had a life-changing epiphany at the 1986 Vietnam Veterans Welcome Home Parade in Chicago, where, he says, “I met new people who would affect the rest of my life.” Said people included fellow Asian American veterans; VVA member Roger McGill, the main organizer of the big event; and Diane Carlson Evans, who went on to found the Vietnam Women’s Memorial Foundation.

Chung subsequently joined VVA, becoming president of a chapter in Indiana. In the late 80s and early 90s he served on VVA’s Minority Affairs Committee and later worked for VA Secretary Anthony Principi’s Office for Minority Affairs in Washington, D.C.

In 1993, David Chung took charge of a monumental task, moving the Women’s Memorial centerpiece statue from sculptor Glenna Goodacre’s studio in Sante Fe to D.C. Chung, working nights and weekends, designed the vehicle, drove it across the country, drawing big crowds at 42 stops, and delivered it in time for the dedication on the grounds of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on Veterans Day.

David Chung’s behind-the-scenes description of accomplishing that honorable mission alone is worth the price of admission to his excellent book.


Whatever Cause We Have 
by Dan Moore

Dan Moore grew up in a military family. His father, who survived Pearl Harbor and the sinking of his ship at Guadalcanal, remained in the Navy after the war. With the Vietnam War in the headlines during his senior year in college, Moore joined the U.S. Marine Corps where he believed he could serve honorably as his father had.

After training at Quantico—which Moore vividly recounts in Whatever Cause We Have: Memoir of a Marine Forward Observer in the Vietnam War (McFarland, 263 pp. $29.95, paper; $13.49, Kindle)—he opted for artillery. In August 1967, Moore, a VVA member, arrived at An Hòa Combat Base in central I Corps. He believed that the U.S. would prevail in the war, and was surprised to discover soon after arriving that many Marines of all ranks openly counted the number of days left in their tours.

The bulk of Moore’s narrative deals with his time as a forward observer with Golf Company, 2nd Battalion/5th Marines in the 1st Marine Division. His first challenge came during Operation Essex when he witnessed the limitations of artillery against a scattered, dug-in enemy. Moore sensed that the unit’s senior officers, anxious to advance their own careers, were too quick to send Marines and junior reserve officers into fortified villages, often pockmarked with spider holes.

In his book Moore captivated my attention by delivering ample doses of introspection. After a run-in with his commanding officer, for example, Moore writes: “Yes, I had made mistakes in judgment, like any new officer, and I acknowledged them. I did not dwell on them at the time. I could ill-afford the luxury of self-reflection, but memories buried for decades would later return.”

Most impactful for Moore were the opening days of the Tet Offensive after Golf Company was sent to help dislodge the North Vietnamese from Hue City. When the bloody six-week Battle of Hue was over, Moore had lost his closest friend, Lance Cpl. Ken Stetson, whom he had trained to be his assistant FO. In the courtyard of Hue’s Medical School, Moore chanced upon Stetson lying on a stretcher, shot in the abdomen, waiting to be evacuated. He died a few hours later.

Moore’s book is well-organized and the writing fast-paced and tight. Succinct portrayals of his commanding officers accompany full descriptions of I Corps’ mountains and valleys, which were beautiful—and dangerous.

Forty years later, Moore returned to Vietnam, accompanied by his wife and a small group of veterans, including Golf Company’s former commander, Chuck Meadows. He came ready to reflect and remember.




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