Masters of the Art: A Fighting Marine's Memoir of Vietnam

Masters of the Art: A Fighting Marine's Memoir of Vietnam

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by Ronald E. Winter

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No punches are pulled in this gripping account of Vietnam combat through the eyes of a highly decorated Marine helicopter crewman and door gunner with more than three hundred missions under his belt.

In 1968, U.S. Marine Ronald Winter flew some of the toughest missions of the Vietnam War, from the DMZ grasslands to the jungles near Laos and the deadly A…  See more details below


No punches are pulled in this gripping account of Vietnam combat through the eyes of a highly decorated Marine helicopter crewman and door gunner with more than three hundred missions under his belt.

In 1968, U.S. Marine Ronald Winter flew some of the toughest missions of the Vietnam War, from the DMZ grasslands to the jungles near Laos and the deadly A Shau Valley, where the NVA ruled. Whether landing in the midst of hidden enemy troops or rescuing the wounded during blazing firefights, the work of helicopter crews was always dangerous. But the men in the choppers never complained; they knew they had it easy compared to their brothers on the ground.

Masters of the Art is a bare-knuckles tribute to the Marines who served in Vietnam. It’s about courage, sacrifice, and unsung heroes. The men who fought alongside Winter in that jungle hell were U.S. Marines, warriors who did their job and remained true to their country, no matter the cost.

From the Paperback edition.

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Random House Publishing Group
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Chapter 1

My first impression of Sgt. Robert F. Starbuck was a worm’s-eye view of the soles of his boots. They came crashing through the double swinging doors in the middle of the Parris Island Recruit Receiving Barracks at about 3:00 a.m. January 14, 1966.

I was sitting on the floor of a squad bay along with eighty-four other recruits, having been told to do so by the sergeant major of Parris Island, who had left us there only a minute before.

Then there was a rumbling noise, like thunder, or maybe a herd of buffalo on a rampage, and Starbuck kicked through the door, both feet off the floor. He saw us sitting there and his face turned to a twisted, red picture of pure anger.

“Get up, get the fuck up. Get on your goddamn feet. Who told you maggots to sit down? Get up!” His voice had the depth of a bottomless well and the pitch of an acre of gravel.

Starbuck was six feet tall and about 185 pounds. He had legs like tree trunks and a perfectly V-shaped upper body, with wide shoulders and a narrow waist. His head was shaved damn near as closely as ours were, because he wanted it that way. Starbuck looked like what I’d expect a U.S. Marine drill instructor to look like.

I’m sure that thought went through my mind at the time, but it took second place to one other thought.

He was pissed! Somebody made the mistake of trying to say, “But the sergeant major told us . . .”

“Shut your hole, maggot. I don’t want to see your green teeth or smell your rotten breath.”

That was just the beginning. Right behind Starbuck was a short black corporal named Jonathon L. Sparks, and he was carrying a footlong piece of iron pipe. A long, lean staff sergeant, whose name I can’t remember, rounded out the trio.

They were all yelling like madmen, and nothing could be said or done correctly.

It was a setup of course. We had arrived on the island at about midnight, after a bus trip from Charleston, South Carolina, where I had gotten off the train that had brought me from the North. There I joined what was to be the rest of my platoon. A few guys who thought they were smarter than everyone else had been drinking in the back of the bus on the way. They paid later.

When we stopped at the receiving barracks, a drill instructor named Sergeant Wilson came on board, laughed a minute with the driver, and then turned on us like a wolverine.

“You maggots have ten seconds to get off this bus,” he bellowed. “I’m going to count down from ten. Anyone left when I get to zero is going to die. Now move!”

Talk about people scrambling. The fun was abruptly over. He kept counting, and believe it or not we all made it. Outside it was more of the same. “Line up. Stand straight. Close it up. Toe to heel. Dick to tail. Asshole to belly button.”

The terminology was unquestionably different than anything I’d been exposed to previously.

The country needed a lot more Marines in 1966 than it had, thanks to Vietnam, and there was no delay in processing us. In the next three hours we stripped, showered, had all our hair cut off, identification pictures taken, and uniforms issued. We were given seabags for stowing our extra uniforms and other gear, and we packed away our civilian clothes. All contraband was confiscated, and I sneaked a small laugh when they found a pack of rubbers in one guy’s pocket.

“What the hell do you think you’re going to do with these here?” was the obvious question.

A few recruits who had arrived from New York City together had knives and razors, but they went in the garbage, too. Then it was into that long squad bay, and a friendly talk from the sergeant major. He had a chest full of medals, hash marks—telling how long he’d been in—running from his cuff up to his elbow, and the stripes he’d accumulated running from his shoulder down to his elbow.

“Sit down men,” he said in a quiet voice. “It’s been a long night. You must be tired.”

He told us of the challenges facing us, how difficult they would be, that many others had come to Parris Island just like us and made it through. He told us to keep trying and never quit, and we could make it, too. He seemed like a really decent guy. Our seabags were on the tables in front of us, so we wouldn’t have to hold them while we were sitting on the floor listening to his steady voice.

I started to feel mellow. I felt so warm, so good. It had been 12 degrees above zero when I left Albany, New York. It was about 70 degrees now. I was going to like this place.

“I’m going to leave you now,” he said quietly. “In a few minutes your drill instructors will come and take you to your barracks. They’ll show you where to sleep and start your training in the morning.”

What a great bunch of guys, I thought. I can’t wait to meet them.

“This is the last time you’ll be spoken to in a normal tone of voice until you graduate,” he added. It should have been a warning, but I didn’t pick up on it.

“Just remember, you can make it.”

A definite warning. I still didn’t pick up on it. I remember thinking, this isn’t so bad. I remember asking myself, what about all this breaking you down business I kept hearing about?

I actually thought that, except for the physical training, the worst was already behind me. I thought the DIs would come out, shake our hands, welcome us to Parris Island, and be happy we were there.

I mean what the hell, that was the impression I got from civilians on the way down who congratulated us on serving our country. And now look. Here was the sergeant major of Parris Island telling us what wonderful things to expect in the next few months. I was pleasantly tired, ready for a good night’s sleep, and primed to go out there and show them what kind of Marine I could be.

God was I stupid. That was when the rumbling started. That was when the floor started shaking. That was when Starbuck came blasting through those doors, and life as I had known it ended forever. And I clearly remember that within seconds, my thoughts had changed to one simple question.

How in the hell did you get yourself into this?

From the Paperback edition.

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Masters of the Art 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 15 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
True account on the way vets were treated on return from Nam. Welcome home brothers! Semper Fi
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Guest More than 1 year ago
It's a really good book for anyone who wants to enjoy a war story. Also great for people who likes historical books to read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
ron boyles More than 1 year ago
this book really gives an excellent description of serving in vietnam and dealing with the disappointing and disgraceful way that returning soldiers were treated.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is an excellent account of life as a Marine, and service in the helicopter service in Vietnam. It is very well written, and I had a hard time putting it down!
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Guest More than 1 year ago
My Brother had me going back in time... I was hooked up with HMM 265 when I went on my two tours over seas... Some of the stuff fell into place and others I could see from working around the men that kept those birds flying... I was just a combat cook... but loved my unit... A SUPER READ... Thank you Bro for the signed copy... I will always cherish it... Semper Fi Brother... PooBear Sgt. USMC - '77'81
Guest More than 1 year ago
If you have questions on why Washington, D.C., never seems to get it right from the War on Terror to Immigration reform, this book will give you an idea. When you read what our troops accomplished in Vietnam and how Henry Kissinger and Congress sold them out, setting the conditions for myriad civilian deaths after Saigon fell, you can understand the incompetence from both political parties today.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book provides the best read in a long time on the realities of military service, the incredible sacrifices of our troops in Vietnam, and how Washington's politicians squandered the victory our troops had already won.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have read numerous books on the Vietnam War and served there too. This is tops. It is neither anti-war nor pro-war propaganda. This book tells how it was and is one of the most readable and gripping accounts of that war that I have ever read. The author's ability to relate Vietnam to Iraq in ways you don't see in the media is a first.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Masters of the Art was a wonderful book regarding Vietnam, the Marine Corps, and the military. I was refreshing to read about someone who stood up for those that couldn't. I wish others in this country would take the time to learn from this piece of history.