Read an Excerpt
Diary of an Airborne Ranger is indeed a unique literary
work. It is the day-by-day story of a nineteen-year-old
youth's one-year odyssey into manhood. It is unique
because it is not written in the perspective of an aging
veteran recalling his warrior years through memories and
recollections softened and mellowed by the ravages of
time. Frank Johnson's diary is the compelling and
refreshingly honest portrayal of a young man's introduction
to war, with all the fearless bravado, unquestioned
patriotism, intense loyalty, raw courage, and lost innocence
that one can get only from being there. There are
no pretenses here. What you see is exactly what you get.
When Frank Johnson arrived in South Vietnam in the
fall of 1969, the war, for all intents and purposes, had
already peaked. "Vietnamization'' was the new buzz word,
and Richard Nixon was keeping his promise by announcing
troop withdrawals and a reduction in U.S. forces. To
those of us who were there, the first indications of an army
betrayed were just beginning to surface. No longer was
there talk of defeating the enemy and achieving a just and
final victory. Withdrawing with honor and grace became
an acceptable alternative. To those young men just arriving
in-country came the impossible task of covering our "withdrawal.''
They knew that they would never savor the laurels
of total victory. There would be no parades, nor would they
be welcomed home in the end. They knew all of this, yet
they still volunteered to perform this impossible task.
Their actual mission was threefold: 1) to keep the
enemy at bay by continuing to carry out offensive operations;
2) to provide for a smooth and orderly transition of
U.S. weapons and equipment to our allies, along with the
training and support to enable them to deploy it; and 3) to
avoid alarming our allies by having them discover that
they were in all actuality being abandoned.
Under these somewhat stressful conditions, Frank
Johnson and his teammates were ordered to take the war
to the enemy. Unlike their predecessors, the long-range
reconnaissance patrollers whose primary mission was to
gather intelligence, the Rangers were told to go out and
initiate contact with the enemy. The army doctrine behind
this gross misuse of five- to twelve-man reconnaissance
teams was the doctrine of "force multipliers.'' Simply
put, this meant to do more and risk less with smaller
numbers of soldiers. The obvious benefit to our side was
experiencing fewer friendly casualties while still maintaining
an acceptable attrition rate among enemy personnel.
The detriment was solely to the soldiers tasked to
accept the risk. Remember, this was an increasingly
unpopular war back home. Frank Johnson and his fellow
Rangers were just such soldiers.
As you read through the pages of this amazing work you
will find yourself wondering, "Why did they keep going
back out and doing what they did?'' The answer will surprise
you. You see, it was not that same sense of duty and
honor that had brought many of them into the service. It
was not the same patriotism that had inspired their fathers
and grandfathers before them. And it was definitely not
power nor the promise of wealth that sent these young men
into harm's way, day after day, even when they knew the
war was already lost. "Why then,'' you ask? Well, let me tell
you! It was camaraderie, the love that one teammate has for
another. It was their motto, "Rangers don't leave Rangers
behind!'' This was not only their motto, but the guiding
force that dictated their ethics, their courage, and their loyalty
to one another. Can you understand the power of such
feelings . . . the emotion? It is a powerful motivator.
Throughout Frank Johnson's diary, the recurring theme
of camaraderie, brotherly love, and living up to the Ranger
motto is demonstrated. This was a glorious thing that all
warriors experienced to some degree or another during the
Vietnam War, perhaps to a greater extent among the small,
elite special-operations units that so often stood alone.
When you read through each page of this book, forgive the
language and the style--the author was just a kid out of
high school when he penned it. There will be no literary
awards or prizes coming his way. But if you want to under-stand
what heroes are made of, and why so many of our
young men come home with emotional baggage they can
never shed, then read this book from cover to cover. When
you're finished, go back and read it again--more slowly
the second time. All of the emotions, the pain, and
the memories, both good and bad, are right there. We know
where they are. You'll have to find them for yourselves.
Gary A. Linderer
F Company, 58th Infantry (LRP)
L Company, 75th Infantry (Ranger)
101st Airborne Division
RANGERS LEAD THE WAY!
From the Paperback edition.