A Shau Valor: American Combat Operations in the Valley of Death, 1963-1971. By Thomas R. Yarborough. Havertown PA: Casemate Publications, 2016. Maps. Photographs. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp 311. $32.95 ISBN: 978-1-61200-354-2 (978-1-61200-355-9 digital)
Yarborough previously published Da Nang Diary, an account of his experiences as a forward-air controller during two tours and more than 600 missions during the Vietnam War. Besides a 28-year career in the Air Force, he also taught history at Indiana University. Blending his personal experiences with an academic approach combining primary and secondary sources, he has chronicled repeated American attempts to control the A Shau Valley, a remote and inhospitable region in the north-west corner of what was South Vietnam.
Proceeding in chronological order, Yarborough breaks down U.S. Army and Marine activity in the valley on a year-by-year basis. He points out the valley's strategic significance to all concerned as a principal supply route leading from the North Vietnamese "trunk lines" in off-limits Laos to the northern and central lowlands of South Vietnam. Perhaps because the Ho Chi Minh Trail network was politically "out of bounds" in neutral Laos and Cambodia, US. decisionmakers felt compelled to attack this critical line of communication once it entered South Vietnam. They would be hard pressed to find a more difficult place in which to operate with ether air-assisted special forces or conventional ground units.
Yarborough emphasizes the incredibly inhospitable terrain and the absolutely miserable weather that time and again negated the American advantage of close air support and also disrupted helicopter operations. In fact, if one ever wanted a case study on the limits of vertical airlift, this is where to go. Despite the extraordinary bravery of the individual American soldier, Marine, and airman, collectively they seldom had a chance for success.
In many respects, the inability of U.S. commanders to...