Sappers in the Wire: The Life and Death of Firebase Mary Ann

Overview


During the night of 27-28 March 1971, a Viet Cong sapper company infiltrated Fire Support Base Mary Ann, the forwardmost position in the 23d Division (Americal), Snipping through the defensive wire and entering the base without alerting a single guard in a single perimeter bunker, they killed thirty U.S. soldiers and wounded eighty-two in a humiliating defeat that sounded the death knell for the reputation of the once proud U.S. Army in Vietnam.

Although one of the most famous ...

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Overview


During the night of 27-28 March 1971, a Viet Cong sapper company infiltrated Fire Support Base Mary Ann, the forwardmost position in the 23d Division (Americal), Snipping through the defensive wire and entering the base without alerting a single guard in a single perimeter bunker, they killed thirty U.S. soldiers and wounded eighty-two in a humiliating defeat that sounded the death knell for the reputation of the once proud U.S. Army in Vietnam.

Although one of the most famous actions of the war, it has never before received a full-scale account. Keith William Nolan has drawn on recently declassified documents and interviews with more than fifty veterans of the 1st Battalion of the 46th Infantry—the unit on Firebase Mary Ann—to re-create minute-by-minute the events of that night, as well as to understand how the military situation in the waning days of the Vietnam War allowed such a disaster to occur. It was a period fraught with problems—combat refusals, drug abuse, racial strife, and fraggings—and Nolan shows how the 1-46th Infantry dealt with them. He describes in detail the personalities of the key players in the 1-46th and the battalion's previous operations around FSB Mary Ann.

The heroism of the grunts, the horror of the carnage, and the nature of guerrilla fighting are all revealed in this first full account of the firebase's story. The vivid detail and immediacy of the first-person accounts give an unprecedented view of the day-to-day tempo of operations and state of morale in the U.S. Army in the tragic final period of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The battle took place on a remote hilltop in Quang Tin Province during the latter days of ``Vietnamization,'' when open defiance of orders was common among GIs. What happened at Firebase Mary Ann the night of March 27-28, 1971, was, according to the author of this riveting account, the U.S. Army's ``most blatant and humiliating defeat in Vietnam.'' That night, 50 sappers of the 409th Viet Cong Main Force Battalion, wearing nothing but shorts, slipped through the base's barbed wire without alerting a single sentry, killed 30 GIs and wounded 82 others. Relying on interviews with survivors and recently declassified documents, Nolan reconstructs the assault from start to finish, showing how a demoralized American unit (1st Battalion, 46th Infantry, Americal Division) was crushed, despite the heroic actions of a few individuals. He traces the chain-of-command process by which the defeat ruined the careers of the division and battalion commanders. By the author of The Magnificent Bastards, this is a perceptive study of poor leadership and combat demoralization. It is also a terrific battle book. Illustrations. (Oct.)
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Product Details

Meet the Author


Keith William Nolan has published six previous books on the Vietnam War, including Operation Buffalo and The Magnificent Bastards. As a reviewer of one of his books said, "Nolan is a master of the personal interview. . . . He has the uncanny ability to convey not merely facts, but feelings." Nolan lives and writes in Webster Groves, Missouri.
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