By Duty Bound: Survival and Redemption in a Time of War

By Duty Bound: Survival and Redemption in a Time of War

4.3 8
by Brig. Gen. Ezell Ware Jr., Joel Engel
The inspiring, true story of a top soldier who survived Jim Crow only to land in a struggle for survival beside his racist white captain after they were downed in Vietnam

Raised in the segregated South, Ezell Ware was determined to excel beyond the lines drawn by white power brokers. He became the top recruit in his Marine training class; having grown up


The inspiring, true story of a top soldier who survived Jim Crow only to land in a struggle for survival beside his racist white captain after they were downed in Vietnam

Raised in the segregated South, Ezell Ware was determined to excel beyond the lines drawn by white power brokers. He became the top recruit in his Marine training class; having grown up without running water, electricity, or sufficient food, he wasn't daunted by military life. He eventually earned a chance to join the Army's helicopter pilot program, realizing his dream of flying. It was a role that would change his life, and the life of an unlikely partner in valor at the height of the Vietnam War.

Downed by enemy fire while on a mission over thick jungles, Ware and his badly injured captain endured a three-week descent into hell, with one canteen and little defense against countless deadly forces. But when his captain revealed his membership in the Ku Klux Klan, their situation took a turn that surprised them both-and put Ezell on the road to becoming a general.

A unique memoir of heroism and humanity, By Duty Bound captures a crucial chapter in American history through the eyes of one of its most remarkable witnesses.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A self-proclaimed military "lifer" and one of the few black pilots with the army's 61st Helicopter Assault Company, retired California National Guard General Ware Jr. has an intriguing story to tell, and with journalist Engel he has produced a mostly compelling autobiography. Well-observed accounts of growing up poor and black in 1950s rural Mississippi and of Ware's eventful, combat-heavy first tour in Vietnam are matched by a stirring recounting of the three weeks Ware and another army helicopter pilot spent evading the enemy in the jungles after being shot down. Chronological chapters alternate with short, first-person interludes sketching those hellish weeks Ware spent avoiding the enemy and nearly starving to death. Adding to the drama: Ware discovered that his fellow pilot-who suffered a severe leg wound in the helicopter crash-was a card-carrying member of the Ku Klux Klan. Less revealing and less interesting are Ware's by-the-numbers chapters on his army training, including flight school, further hindered by poorly reconstructed dialogue. Also in the minus category is Ware's political analysis; if the United States hadn't intervened in Vietnam "the imperial communist powers" would "have continued to grab countries." But anyone with a taste for life behind the lines will want this book. (Mar. 7) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An African-American military officer tells his story-or, rather, his two stories. Ware's first is about how, in 1971, he survived for three weeks in the Vietnam jungle with a very wounded, very racist captain after their chopper was downed; the other is about how he rose from Mississippi poverty and discrimination to become a brigadier general in the California National Guard. Unfortunately, though, Ware and journalist Engel (who ghosted By George: The Autobiography of George Foreman, 1996) employ a most cliched narrative device to do the telling: the intercutting of Ware's two tales, chapter by chapter. In the Vietnam War one, we follow the two principals-the black man and the wounded former KKK member-as they struggle to survive. They battle starvation (insects soon compose the menu), sleep-deprivation, a tiger, two of the enemy who find them (Ware kills them both), leeches, depression, a worsening wound, incipient madness, racial strife. By the time they're rescued, Ware and the Klansman are buddies. And in the story-of-my-life segments, we follow Ware's escape from a broken home (his father is gone much of the time) and from Jim Crow at its most vicious. Ware does well in school and in athletics, and he eventually joins the Marines, where he excels at Parris Island. But he wants to fly, and the Marines seem disinclined to train black pilots, so after leaving the Marines, he enlists in the Army and qualifies for flight school. We learn about Ware's love life (he marries and divorces an unfaithful woman-and enjoys some sexual encounters in Vietnam), his ambitions (he wants to be a general), and his political positions. He argues that the US did the right thing by waging war in Vietnam(the Tet Offensive, he says, was actually an American victory-the press got it wrong), and he comes across as just a red cape shy of Superman. Manufactured suspense, along with pages of invented and hackneyed dialogue, vitiates this account of the varieties of heroism.

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Penguin Publishing Group
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Since 1975, it has become an article of faith-conventional wisdom-that the Vietnam War was the wrong war at the wrong time in this country's history. I disagreed then, and I disagree now. Communism throughout the twentieth century was philosophically expansionist, which was why the domino theory won over so many believers and why there was, in fact, a cold war. "Who lost China?" was a topic debated everywhere, from kitchens to classrooms to water coolers to the White House, after Mao rose to power. Remember, America's entry into South Vietnam was only twenty years after the end of World War II, and it was clear by then that fifty million lives would've been saved if only Hitler had been stopped at the Rhineland-which wouldn't even have required a great military victory.

I don't consider it debatable that if Presidents Kennedy and Johnson had allowed another communist domino to fall in South Vietnam through inaction, the dominoes would have kept falling, because there would have been no reason for the imperial communist powers to stop knocking them over; they would've continued to grab countries, and millions more people would have been subjected to the kinds of unspeakable atrocities that the citizens of South Vietnam and Cambodia endured after United States soldiers withdrew from Vietnam. At some point, the West was going to have to stop the monster from eating-and in the early 1960s it looked like Vietnam was the right place to confront him.

Now, you'll get no argument from me that the prosecution of the war was flawed and even bungled; that's what happens when politicians and bureaucrats, not field generals make decisions. But to believe that the world wouldhave turned out as it did- with democracy on the rise and communism on the descent-whether or not we spilled the blood of tens of thousands is a violation of logic; believing that requires believing that the outcome would've been the same even if everything else had been different. You can't extrapolate that way in science-pretend that the test group and control group are identical-and you certainly can't do that in history. It seems highly unlikely to me that the Soviet Union would have crumbled when it did or that China would have opened its doors to, first, President Nixon, and then to the West if not for our fight in Vietnam. Which is why I will go to my grave believing that every man and woman who served in our war there served for a good and noble cause, one that future historians will someday recognize and applaud.


There are wars and then there are wars, and within every war there are wars within wars.

In Vietnam, it's sometimes hard to tell which war I'm fighting. I know who the enemy is down there, in the jungle, and I know I'm supposed to be on the same side as Burdett, the man just behind me in the cockpit, but I also know he hates me as much as Charlie does. Probably more. Charlie doesn't really hate me; he just wants me dead so I can't kill him. But if he does hate me, it's because I'm an American, and Charlie hates all Americans the same-white, black, yellow, and brown. That's a rational hatred-a hatred for your wartime enemy, and it's nothing personal. Burdett's hatred is personal.

Burdett here, he doesn't think of me as American. He thinks of me as a Negro-something less than he is-and he tolerates me because those are his orders. He's stuck flying missions with me, the two of us sent way out in the jungle for hours, but he still can't figure out how the Army let a black man into the cockpit of a helicopter gunship and taught him to fly it into battle. Every time we get back to camp in Thailand, he runs out of there like a guy who's been holding his nose around a stink. That's all right; I'm in no hurry to share a laugh and a smoke with him, either. I'm here for me, and for those guys down there, not for him. I don't like flying with him any better than he likes being paired with me, but I can hide it better than he can; I've had a lifetime of practice.

I remember the day a few months ago when the eight of us from the two Cobra fire teams in our group met for the first time at a JUSMAG headquarters building in Wonju, Korea. It was strictly business from the beginning. Lieutenant Colonel Armstrong made the team pairings; what he based them on, I don't know. Burdett winced and whispered "Damn," when he learned which of us was Lieutenant Ware-The only nigger in the group, he must've been thinking-and when he opened his mouth, I knew why: that drawl in his voice.

It's not from Mississippi, that's for sure; I'd recognize a Mississippi or Alabama voice. So I don't know where exactly he's from-and won't ask-but if there's a lot more like him here, and there probably are, just keep me the hell away. That would be the only good reason to ask, so I can avoid the territory.

I make him for thirty-one or -two, but maybe that's just because of his weight. He's not quite fat, but he is the heaviest helicopter pilot I've ever flown with or seen. Tall and round- shouldered, like an offensive lineman, he has dark hair and a ruddy complexion, and he walks with a bully's ugly swagger. I can easily imagine him picking on smaller kids in school, just because he could. My guess is that he comes from a military family, with his great-grandfather probably fighting for the South in the Civil War-and that he's proud of old Grandpappy.

"You know how to fly, boy?" he teased when we met. "Or you just get this job 'cause the Army needs to show how open-minded it is?"

"Well," I said, "I guess you're gonna find out."

Why am I spending any time thinking about him-this pilot who I heard killed a woman and her ox one day just for target practice? Why aren't my eyes peeled on the jungle for the enemy? Because it wouldn't make any difference anyway if we saw a platoon of friendlies being wiped out in an NVA ambush. A week ago we happened to fly over a line of American soldiers-and we knew they were Americans because they were black and white-being marched single file north, along the Vietnam-Cambodian border, to either their deaths or POW camps, which in most cases was the same thing. Instead of firing a few rockets that would've freed them all, we couldn't do a thing about it because our missions were bigger and more important, so we were told, than a single man or a dozen of them. I could imagine how these soldiers felt when they heard our chopper up there and thought they'd been delivered-and then when nothing happened.

Our number one task is to complete our mission and not be sidetracked by anything that might compromise it. Besides, what would happen to the war, let alone us, if the North Vietnamese Army or Vietcong shot down an unmarked Cobra helicopter flown by two pilots wearing jeans and T-shirts and vests? They would know that we're flying top-secret missions, and would use some of their excruciatingly creative ways of extracting information from human beings who prefer to keep secrets. No matter that each of us knows only what we know; we're not privy to the whole picture, so all the torture would be for naught anyway-unless you count the pleasure they take from it.

I look at my watch and make some quick mental calculations. I say, "We better burn some time, Captain. Cut it to eighty knots. We don't want to be there a minute early."

"There" was a rendezvous with a troop transport helicopter (called a slick because of its unadorned exterior) that was either picking up or dropping off Special Operations troops deep in the jungle of the Central Highlands. We don't know which, because we're not supposed to know which.

Burdett checks his watch and the gauges; obviously, he's making his own calculations to confirm mine. Satisfied, he cuts his airspeed without a word.

"Stinger two-three," I say to the other gunship crew trailing us by a hundred yards, "reduce your airspeed to eighty knots."

"Wilco," Lieutenant Roeper says.

We soon near the coordinates. I radio the slick pilot: "Playmaker three-five, this is Stinger one-niner, approaching position. Please advise your location."

"Stinger one-niner," he says, "we are half a mile from checkpoint-at your three o'clock."

"Roger that," I say, and now I can see the slick approaching. I alert my other gunship.

Burdett guides our Cobra about thirty meters wide of the slick as it descends toward a small clearing. We come in at about sixty knots, keeping to just above the tree level, and swoop down to give the slick cover in case of enemy attack, then come back up and clear the trees. Right behind us is Roeper's Cobra, covering both us and the slick from any bad guys. It's a called a daisy chain attack, and if there really were bad guys down there shooting, we'd both be firing a torrent of rockets and mini-guns. These Cobras are lethal flying machines, like an airborne destroyer.

But not only are we not firing, the slick isn't actually at its real rendezvous point yet. This is a feint, in case the enemy is in the area, watching and waiting to launch an ambush. It's the first of several feints, actually, with both gunships making two passes each before the slick moves to the location known only to the pilot. We follow him.

After the second pass at the fourth location comes word, "Stinger one-nine, this is Playmaker three-five. Mission completed."

"Roger that," I say, still not knowing whether we've helped pick up or drop off; foliage was in the way. "Headed home." Then to Roeper's chopper: "Stinger two-three, mission complete. Return to base. Do you copy?"

"Stinger one-niner, wilco. See you back home."

Burdett and I watch the other Cobra leave before falling in about a half mile behind.

"Another mission complete," I say.

"Yeah," Burdett says. "Let's get back and have a cold one." He means it facetiously, like saying, "I want to share my girlfriend, Raquel Welch, with you." "Oh, I forget, you don't drink," he says, which, short of "You don't know what the fuck you're doing," is about the worst insult there is between pilots.

I let it slide. "So what do you think the mission was?" I ask. "Drop off, pick up, what?"

He says, "I don't have a damn clue what this shit is all about," and I can hear evil in his grin when he adds, "and if I did, I wouldn't tell you."

It's so childish, I'd feel silly even having a comeback for that.

I check our altitude-about four hundred feet and climbing. We're planning to go between mountains in the range instead of over them. Suddenly there's a flash, like the sun off a moving mirror.


Where the shot came from-or what hit us-neither of us could see. It feels like we've crashed into a tank.

"What the hell was that?" Burdett says.

I say, "We're hit."

The instruments are going redline. We're losing power fast.

"Mayday, mayday," I say into the radio. "Stinger two-three, this is Stinger one-niner. Mayday, mayday."

No response.

I try the other frequency, to contact the slick pilot. "Mayday, mayday. Playmaker three-five, this is Stinger one-niner. Mayday, mayday."

No response.

I keep trying, hoping that the radio can still transmit even if it can't receive-all the while looking for a possible landing zone.

I try the UHF emergency frequency: "This is Stinger one-niner, at coordinates three-six-eight, two-four-four. Mayday, mayday. Receiving enemy fire. Mayday, mayday." That lets any aircraft within hearing distance know that there's an emergency and the area is hot.

Burdett cuts the engine to idle, pushes down on the collective, and cuts the throttle-doing everything by the textbook to make an emergency landing. We're definitely going down.

Burdett has the descent under control, but for how much longer? We're moving at sixty knots, going down at the rate of five hundred feet a minute, making small turns left and right. There's no way to tell how long before all the transmission fluid leaks out. It could all go any second, so we have to find some sort of clearing where we can set down-and fast. But not too fast. We better not come down too near the point of impact or whoever shot at us will be able to quickly track us down. Given how fond the enemy is of captured pilots, that's not a good option. We have to stay just above the treetops, where the jungle canopy will keep them from seeing where we're heading.

Right now we're traversing wildly, searching for any sort of clearing.

"Nothing over here," I say.

"Nothing here," he says.

As the seconds tick on, we have to be less choosy. The treetops are suicide-but that's still better than what Charlie has in mind for us.

Even so, I'm not panicked or nervous, and I'm sure Burdett isn't, either. I've been in this situation before, and no doubt he has, too. Besides, we've been trained for this.

"There," I say, pointing to the right. "Right there."

"That?" he says. "That little thing?"

It is a little thing-a small patch of green that's only slightly obscured by low-hanging branches.

"I don't see anything else, Captain. We either take it or take our chances."

"All right."

Burdett brings the helicopter down to fifty feet, eases slightly back on the cyclic, and pops the collective to reduce the speed of the main rotor. The chopper's skids hit the tops of the trees and luckily don't catch. He then levels the aircraft. I call off the altitude from the dial. As we reach ten feet Burdett pulls smoothly up on the collective to increase the rotor pitch, hoping to halt the chopper's forward movement and set it down gently.

We hit, not too hard, but I feel a jolt in my back, like electricity.

I turn around to check on Burdett. My back spasms.

"You okay?" I ask.

"Yeah, you?"


There's no chance any good guys saw us go down. Our only hope for a quick rescue is to reach someone on the radio. I try one last time, on all frequencies, to report our approximate coordinates.

"We better get out of here, Captain."

"Anyone ever tell you, Ware, you have a command of the obvious?"

I unstrap myself and start to climb out. The back doesn't hurt now. Adrenaline's the best painkiller there is.

"Shit," he says. "Shit, shit, shit."

Only now does Burdett become aware that whatever hit us went through the bottom of the chopper and whacked his left leg, just below the knee. It's ugly, and it looks like it hurts like a son of a bitch.

"Can you move it?"

"Just help me get the hell out of here."

He grabs my hand and I pull him up. He winces and whimpers as the leg straightens, and when he comes out of the chopper, I notice he lands only on the right leg-and then immediately sits on his bottom.

"Crap," he says.

"Captain, we have to get out of here before this thing blows." Fuel was leaking onto the ground.

I offer him my hand, he knocks it away, gets up onto both feet, and limps as fast as he can to the edge of the clearing. I follow him in.

"We'll wait here a minute," he says. "If it doesn't blow, we'll blow it ourselves."

A minute's a long time when the guys who shot down your helicopter are right now running through the jungle looking for you.

Twenty seconds, thirty, forty-I'm staring at my watch, tapping my toe, and looking over my shoulder. Burdett, he's hardly even in the moment, seemingly oblivious. I don't know if it's the shock of being shot down, or the pain in his leg, or the real possibility that we might die badly out here. He checks his arm holster with the six-round .38 revolver and twenty extra bullets. I do the same.

Ninety seconds now. "Captain, I'll go blow it, and then we beat it as fast as we can."

I run in a crouch to the helicopter and reach in for the first- aid bag and two thermite grenades. There's no point in checking what brought us down. We know the NVA has been using radar-guided .50-caliber rounds six inches long and an inch in diameter. But what's the difference what hit us? I don't care if it was an unlucky bird that did it. I'm here and I have to blow the chopper so the bad guys can't get their hands on our radios and figure out our frequencies. True, the radio's probably dead, and exploding this thing is like shining a movie-premiere spotlight on us; if the bad guys don't know where we are now, they soon will. But our survival isn't the mission. The mission is the mission, and the mission says that nothing is as important as the objective-which we're not privy to.

I pull the pins and am about to drop the grenades inside when I remember I forgot the canteens. I find mine right away, next to my seat; it doesn't have a strap or a belt clip like Burdett's, but I can't find his fast enough. I turn and sprint to the edge of the clearing-Jim Brown in The Dirty Dozen-reaching Burdett before the big moment. Now we have to wait, because if the thing doesn't blow I'll do it again. "One thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three . . ."

It blows. Boy, does it blow.

We recoil at the burst and watch the colors and the flame. That was our helicopter, the one we're not going home in. So what will we go home in? And will we go home at all? I'd feel a lot safer if I could take the chopper's rockets and mini-guns with us.

Meet the Author

Ezell Ware, Jr., recently retired as a Brigadier General with the California National Guard, after a distinguished Marine and Army career for which he was highly decorated.

A journalist for The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, Joel Engel coauthored By George (the New York Times bestselling autobiography of George Foreman) as well The Oldest Rookie, the book that became The Rookie, starring Dennis Quaid.

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By Duty Bound: Survival and Redemption in a Time of War 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
When reading this book I thought that Gen. Ware and Joel have accomplished somthing that is unique in the writting art form. The two of them has brought alive two compelling intergrated story, in BY DUTY BOUND, to the readers of America. BY DUTY BOUND leaves the reader axiously awaiting to turn to the next page and yet sad to read of all the triumps Gen. Ware endured in not only his life, but in the military life as well. As reading his story I could feel and walk with Gen. Ware in his journey as he maneuvier through the hardship of segregated Mississippi, his military service, and his order in the Vietnam jungle with his segregated caption. BY DUTY BOUND capture Gen. Wares determaination to excel even during the time with racism and segregation. He has proven that you can succeed in anything you set your mind and goals to accomblish, inspite of the obsticles he had to endure. BY DUTY BOUND is a must read for all of America who desire to know how to 'KEEP ON GOING UNTIL YOU GET THERE, THEN KEEP ON GOING.' This is one of the most heart warming and inspiring books I have read in a long time. I enjoyed it because of his postive thinking, and it kept him focused and motivated to continue his dream and walks of life. I feel it is a must read book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is more than a book about the 1940-50s south....and more than a book about the Vietnam War. This book goes to the heart of a young man's (Ezell Ware, Jr) desire, courage, and conviction to rise above hardships and challenges to make something of his life and to excel to the highest level of the military. The book is a grab the reader and will not let go until Ezell and his flying commander (Burdett) exit the Vietnam jungle floor. But more than that, it goes to the core of the 1940-50s segregated Mississippi to reveal its ugliness, its joy, and its pain. The chapters are wolven together to reveal how Ezell's Mississippi jungle was a training ground for his Vietnam jungle. Those who read this book will a firsthand education about what it was Mississippi as well as Vietnam. One can feel the intense heat, sweat, smell of each location. It's a must read for anyone who desire to FEEL the UGLINESS, the PAIN, and the TRIUMPH of a simply soldier who just happened to be black.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thought the book was awesome. Once I started reading it I could not put it down. It tells two very good stories of his life; one growing-up in Mississippi and one in the service. This book opened my eyes; I never knew racism was that bad--I can't believe how cruel people can be. Ezell Ware,Jr endured a lot from childhood through his enlistment in the service, but never gave up, his dream was to fly and to become a General. Being shot down in the jungle of Vietnam and surviving on bugs and berries for three weeks is unbelieveable. Not only did his captain have an injured leg but he was also a member of the KKK and yet Ezell Ware kept him alive. Ezell was a determined man who knew what he wanted to accomplish in life, he let nothing stand in his way--not even the jungles of vietnam.. I think he is a great HERO and leader, we should all learn from his bravery and loyality.. This book is a 'must read.'
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It's a wonderful book about a Black American General who overcame many obstacles including racism in our American Army and still managed to rise above and succeed. He's a mentor and a great example of overcoming the odds and raising oneself up by his own bootstraps.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
I don't normally read 'war' related books but this is more about the power of the human spirit and lesson in how to live a better life. It was accessible and encouraging. I walked away with a handful of thoughts I can really apply to my life.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I struggle through this book, I found it to be much too confusing going back and forth. I was not quite sure if I was in the jungle or sitting on the porch in Mississippi. Being a Viet Nam Vet. I know personally what Mr Ware speaks of is highly impossible and very. unlikely. This book should be considered fiction. I was given a copy I would never buy this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is short chapters that you can read in a few hours. It is an intense, exciting, dramatic true story that will keep you enthralled till the last page is turned. I read the book four times and each time I laughed,cried and got angry for allowing the word of 'can't' to be in my past. Ezell is a remarkable man of courage that felt as if he had no choice but to do what he did. I admire his straight forward style and the intelligence and strength of his heroine. This book describes the many ways God can help us get through hard times and show how faith in God can rekindle your hope to live.