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Many Vietnam memoirs have appeared in recent years, but not a single one has the humor, pathos, poignancy, and often sheer hilarity of John J. Gebhart’s riveting LBJ’s Hired Gun. As Gebhart tells it, he was a “smart-mouthed college boy” who joined the Marines to see the world and “dust a few black pajamas for Uncle Sam.” Two grueling tours of duty later (1965–1967), he returned home as a sergeant after surviving 240 combat missions (12 air medals) and being shot down twice. On his chest was the Navy Commendation Award (with the combat V).
LBJ’s Hired Gun launches with Gebhart’s grim recollection of the intense, old-school brutality that was Marine Corps training on Parris Island before transitioning to his difficult journey for Southeast Asia aboard a troop transport with two thousand other nameless grunts. These hardships offered but a glimpse of the suffering he and his comrades were about to endure.
His candid account of life and death in Vietnam is written with a lively, infectious flair. But be forewarned: No attempt has been made to sanitize this memoir with politically correct language. Gebhart tells his story exactly as he and his comrades spoke in the 1960s. The result is a gripping, no-holds-barred memoir of his “misadventures in-country.” He spares no detail and no one in his effort to convey exactly what he and his comrades experienced in Vietnam.
Here is how the author describes Vietnam: “What was not to like about Vietnam? It was a tropical paradise filled with lush green forests and mountains, endless rice paddies, and beautiful beaches with clear green water. You get all the free ammunition you want, endless cold beer to drink, and boom-boom girls to party with. Who could ask for more? Of course, there were some minor problems like all the VCs and NVAs who wanted to kill us. Everyone counted the days they had left before rotating back to the land of the big PX. I was having such a great vacation I signed up for another 12-month tour. I spent twenty-four action-filled months dusting VCs and NVAs, rescuing reconnaissance teams, flying LZ prep missions, delivering mail to bases where you came in shooting and flew out the same way. Somewhere along the line they decided I should be decorated for killing the enemy.”
This is not just another book about Vietnam written by an officer. LBJ’s Hired Gun is the story of an enlisted man who lived on a dead-end street in West Philadelphia, intent on lifting your spirits and putting a smile on your face as you journey with him across the world and meet the people, explore the places, and relive the events that shaped Marine Corps history in Vietnam from September 1965 to September 1967.
There are many outstanding Vietnam memoirs. LBJ’s Hired Gun stands heads and shoulders above them all.