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SEAL Warrior: Death in the Dark - Vietnam, 1968-1972

SEAL Warrior: Death in the Dark - Vietnam, 1968-1972

4.9 10
by Thomas H. Keith, J. Terry Riebling, Michael E. Thornton (Foreword by)

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During the Vietnam era, many of the U.S. Navy SEALs (SEa, Air, Land commandos) never filed for a Purple Heart unless they were severely wounded. Thomas H. Keith, Master Chief, SEAL Team 2, is living proof. He carries a piece of shrapnel behind one lung, a reminder of the day he called in 40 mm mortar fire on the enemy that was trying to catch up to his crew as the


During the Vietnam era, many of the U.S. Navy SEALs (SEa, Air, Land commandos) never filed for a Purple Heart unless they were severely wounded. Thomas H. Keith, Master Chief, SEAL Team 2, is living proof. He carries a piece of shrapnel behind one lung, a reminder of the day he called in 40 mm mortar fire on the enemy that was trying to catch up to his crew as the crew hauled ass out of the bush. Not only did he never report it, it was never removed—-it just wasn’t serious enough.

SEAL Warrior is the vivid, gritty, transporting memoir of a man destined for combat, a third-generation soldier for whom serving his country was not only an honor, it was tradition. While his grandfathers fought in France, and his father’s position as a U.S. Navy Chief took him all around the world, Tom Keith fought his first war in the jungles of Vietnam.

Fighting a guerilla war on foreign soil for the first time in American history, the SEALS found that there were no front lines; the enemy was an integral part of the entire society. This atypical form of warfare demanded that new tactics, new strategic applications of force, and a new understanding of a complex social and cultural enmity be found.

SEAL Warrior goes beyond the horror and bravado of battle to offer a deeper insight into the ways in which the SEALs fought, learned, reacted, and expanded their understanding of guerilla warfare during the Vietnam War. It’s also a personal, riveting account of how one young American survived, and, over time, grew to trust and revere many of those who once had been his enemy.

With America again deeply involved in guerilla warfare, there is no better time to honor the unique abilities, understanding, and courage of these warriors who sacrificed it all to fight for nothing less than peace.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Praise for Thomas H. Keith, Master Chief, SEAL Team 2, USN (Ret.)

“Tom Keith was, in a phrase, a phenomenon of understatement and overachievement. He was the ‘go-to guy’ within the East Coast SEAL community, and he continues to be ‘gone to’ wherever he hangs his hat or docks his boat. Tom Keith is the man I wish I were.” —Larry Bailey, Captain, USN (Ret.)

“It is a very special breed that can work and function effectively in the most dangerous environments on the planet. Three tours in Vietnam and many other locations around the globe, including Afghanistan and Iraq, and being held in the highest esteem by the guys that were his brothers in arms more than qualifies him as a national hero. It is my privilege to call Tom Keith my friend.” —Steve Schwarzer, master bladesmith

“From his first day in training until his retirement, Tom Keith always put the team first. As a warrior there were a few men that were his equal, but none that worked harder. Tom always let his actions speak for him, and his actions, on and off the field of battle, spoke volumes. Tom never gave anything less than his best, and his best was as good as it gets.” —Rudy Boesch, Command Master Chief, USN (Ret.)

“It has been my pleasure to know and have associated with Thomas Keith for well over forty years. He has been a good friend and steadfast teammate. I say, in his case, ‘still water runs very deep.’ His quiet, calm demeanor works well for him. He participated in and led many dangerous diving missions from Underwater Demolitions Team 21. He did three action-packed six-month SEAL tours in the Rung Sat, Vietnam. He spent perilous years in Afghanistan and Iraq fighting for their freedom. As always, he is the strong leader who commands the utmost respect. As always, he receives admiration while smiling in the face of adversity. As always, he’s the consummate warrior committed to doing the impossible. And, as always, he is quite a professional.” —Tom Blais, Command Master Chief, USN (Ret.)

Kirkus Reviews
An unsentimental personal account of the Vietnam War. With the assistance of magazine writer Riebling, retired SEAL master chief Keith chronicles a tale that's oddly refreshing in its clear-eyed bluntness. The author and his tough-as-nails team had jobs to do, he writes, carrying out missions protecting friendly villages from Viet Cong attacks; they simply did not have time to let the brutal surroundings affect them. The narrative opens with the SEALs surrounded by explosions and tracer fire as they wait to be extracted by helicopter. Keith was not consumed by fear, as most people would be. Instead, he reflected on how the red tracer fire was "as beautiful as any Fourth of July fireworks display" and how lucky he felt to be doing a job he loved. The son of a Navy chief and the grandson of two Army veterans, from an early age Keith dreamed of entering the military, and his determination and skill led him to the elite Navy SEALs. There's little doubt that he was born to be a soldier, as his hard-nosed, complete-the-mission training comes through on every page of this memoir. When one of his soldiers died, he took lessons from the circumstances of the death rather than spend precious time mourning or dwelling on the life-or-death scenarios he faced on a daily basis. Keith's prose leans toward Mickey Spillane-like hypermasculinity-he describes a beautiful woman as having "hit the jackpot" on the "genetic wheel of fortune"-and the author dwells on technical aspects of weaponry to the point of distraction. Nonetheless, he provides a tough, unphilosophical account of the job of war. A direct, dispassionate memoir by one of the Navy's most highly decorated soldiers.

Product Details

St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.54(w) x 9.50(h) x 1.11(d)

Read an Excerpt

1 The Fourth of July

It was a moonless night, and seventeen green-faced men were hidden in the bush and along the dikes; we were hunting the Vietcong. Fresh, hot intel had come in from the Chieu Hoi camp that had been checked, double-checked, and confirmed by the CIA. We were loaded for bear and ready to let Charlie know that they couldn’t hide too deep or too far away. No matter where they went or what they did, we would find them, dig them out, and make them dead.

The VC that had been preying on the local villages, carrying off sons and daughters at the muzzle of an AK-47, and dropping random mortar rounds into cities and towns throughout South Vietnam, would be moving cross-country tonight. We had blown away one of their newly trained mortar teams only a few days ago, and they knew that as soon as we got better intel it would be only a matter of time before we would capture or kill them all. They were running scared, looking for a safe haven where they could train more mortar crews and operate without interference. The VC were hoping that if they moved far enough, fast enough, we would lose their trail, the intel would dry up, and they could continue raining down terror in the form of ChiCom (Chinese Communist) mortar rounds on the helpless villagers and townspeople. They could run, but tonight they couldn’t hide.

Motionless, like frozen green statues in the bush and along the paddy dikes, we wouldn’t initiate our ambush until the VC were centered in our field of fire. It wasn’t long before they came walking down the path that ran the length of the dike between two rice paddies as if they were absolutely sure that they were the only armed bastards in the valley. Even before we could see them, we heard their gear clinking and banging; they were talking and laughing. As they came within about sixty yards of our position, we could hear the slapping of their sandals on the hard, sun-baked mud. It was as dark as it could be on a cloudy, almost moonless night, but their movement and black pajamas, the uniform worn by most of the VC, made them easy targets against the lighter bush and paddies behind them. Even with the minimal illumination from the quarter moon, we could see that their rifles were slung over their shoulders or carried carelessly, almost casually resting on their shoulders. The two RPK machine guns that I could see were useless; they didn’t even have ammunition belts inserted into the receivers. That these VC had survived so long could only have been what we called PDL—pure dumb luck. They didn’t know it, but their luck was about to go south.

Traveling at the speed of light, the incandescent, blinding flash from the explosion of two claymore mines, each containing a pound and a half of C-4 explosive, was the only warning the VC got when we initiated our ambush. We had carefully placed and secured the mines only a hundred feet from where we waited. Moving more slowly, only at the speed of sound, the concussion from the blast wouldn’t reach them until after the two thousand steel ball bearings fired from the claymores went screaming across the dike at three times the speed of sound, shredding tree trunks, flesh, bone, and anything and everything else in their path.

With the sound of the blast still ringing in our ears and the flash of the exploding claymores still burned into our retinas, we opened up with four M-60 machine guns, two Stoner light machine guns, nine M-16 rifles, and two 12-gauge shotguns. Six or eight concussion grenades and two ground illumination grenades exploded, lighting up the sixty-yard-long kill zone in the middle of the paddies. As our red tracers streaked through the darkness, cutting down everything that crossed our field of fire, two white star parachute flares transformed night into daylight. The VC never knew that we were there in the darkness. Two of them lived long enough to get their weapons off of their shoulders, but neither of them lived long enough to pull back the operating handle on the right side of the receiver and get a round into the chamber. In less than a minute the officer in charge (OIC) called a cease-fire. None of the VC centered in the kill zone had fired a single round, and none of them was going to need medical treatment. Bodies, pools of blood, and parts of bodies were strewn across the killing zone. For fifteen or twenty seconds, we could hear a few of the VC moaning in pain. Then we heard the familiar gurgling gasps as their lungs collapsed, they bled out, and the battlefield went silent. Tonight we would not be taking any prisoners back with us for interrogation.

After a security perimeter was set up, a four-man team was sent out into the kill zone to cautiously roll over and check the bodies. With all of the VC confirmed dead, the team searched what was left of the bodies for documents or any other materials that might be useful to the intel people. Once these were secured, they gathered up all of the weapons and munitions so that they could be destroyed. Intelligence gathering was always our second highest priority; staying alive through the use of overwhelming firepower was always our first. We wanted to take prisoners so that we could bring them back and get more actionable, solid information that would lead us to VC even higher up the chain of command. On many of our missions we were successful, but when we staged an ambush we knew that dominating the field of fire was the best and maybe the only way to make sure that all of us would get back to base alive, in one piece, and without any serious injuries. It was our job to make the VC pay the death tax. Only after they had paid that tax could we take prisoners or look for the bloody, sometimes bullet-riddled documents that might lead us to another good operation.

There was also another reason that was always in the back of our minds when we dropped the hammer or fired the claymores that initiated an ambush. In the free-fire zones where we operated most of the time, there were always VC cadres moving men and munitions, or resting up after a march through the bush. Most of these cadres were small groups of ten or fewer men, but when two or three cadres got together to come looking for our usual six- or seven-man squad, they could easily outnumber us six or eight to one. When we touched off an ambush, we wanted it to sound and look like at least a company-sized force was in the area and on the attack. That might make the VC quick reaction forces or individual cadres think twice about charging through the boonies trying to track us down before they had grabbed up the extra men and the heavy weapons they would need to overpower a company. Creating the impression that we were a large, well-armed company gave us just what we needed most after an ambush: the time to search the dead, grab every document we could find, destroy their weapons, and haul ass back to our extraction point before the VC could get coordinated teams assembled and out looking for us.

In only a few minutes the bodies were searched, the weapons destroyed, and our head count complete. With all of our weapons reloaded and the rising moon lighting the way, it didn’t take long to hump a couple of klicks back to our extraction point near Quang Tho village.

Just as we started to hear the distant whop-whop-whop of the blades of the helo coming in for our extraction, we saw the first trails of green VC tracers arching up into the sky. Two Seawolf helos that were running interference for our extraction helos peeled off and started their firing runs on the area along the tree line where the muzzle flash from the AK-47s and the tracer fire were concentrated. The Seawolves swept down on the VC, firing volleys of 2.75-inch rockets, and thousands of rounds per minute from their 7.62 miniguns. Both of the door gunners were busy laying down .50 caliber fire from the Browning machine guns. The roar of the guns and the concussion of the rockets exploding drowned out even the sound of their rotors. I remember thinking that all of those red tracers arching down from the sky and explosions lighting up the night was as beautiful as any Fourth of July fireworks display I had ever seen. Even as we prepared for extraction I couldn’t stop myself from thinking how lucky I was, and how easy it could have been for me to have ended up someplace else, living a life that I would have never chosen. My father, a navy chief, had taught me more than he would ever know, or admit, and I had almost always gotten lucky when luck was the only thing that mattered. I had a lot of people to thank, but there were two people in particular that I hoped I would live long enough to thank someday.

Excerpted from Seal Warrior by Thomas H. Keith, J. Terry Riebling.

Copyright 2009 by Thomas H. Keith and J. Terry Riebling.

Published in July 2009 by St. Martin’s Press.

All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

Meet the Author

THOMAS H. KEITH retired as a Command Master Chief with thirty-one years service in the U.S. Navy, twenty-nine years with the U.S. Navy’s Underwater Demolition Teams and SEAL Team 2. During his three tours of duty in the Republic of Vietnam with SEAL Team 2, he received two Purple Hearts, three Bronze Stars with combat V for valor, two Navy Commendation medals with combat V for valor, one Navy Achievement medal with combat V for valor, two Presidential Unit Citations, and two Navy Unit Citations among his many awards. He devoted twenty-nine years of service to Naval Special Warfare and is still involved in active special operations in Iraq and Afghanistan as a civilian contractor.

J. TERRY RIEBLING has been writing technical articles for major firearms magazines and journals for thirty years. He is the winner of the Erskine Caldwell Award for Short Fiction and has been twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize.

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SEAL Warrior 4.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
Rod_Jahner More than 1 year ago
SEAL WARRIOR is a crystal clear, sometimes frightening and sometimes funny, first-hand account of how the US Navy SEALs survived and redefined the meaning of guerilla warfare. Written by Master Chief Tom Keith, one of the most decorated Navy SEALs, and J. Terry Riebling, the book is a riveting narrative of both deadly warfare and the recreational activities of some of the most honored warriors in US military history. This is the story of the men who trained, fought, bled, learned, and made the SEALs what they have become today. The Foreward, by Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Michael Thornton sets the stage for a deeper understanding of the early teams. Thornton's characterization of Keith as "one of the warriors that made the SEALs what they became: the most deadly, unconventional group of warriors who have ever existed," assures the reader that the book is well worth price and that action will soon follow. SEAL WARRIOR put me inside the SEAL mentality and gave me a clear understanding of what the words duty, honor, country, and brother, mean. Today it seems the media is ready to call almost anyone "hero." SEAL WARRIOR is about authentic hero's. Tom Keith and the men with whom he served are the real deal.
Renegadebgp More than 1 year ago
SEAL Warrior takes the reader through the life of a highly decorated member of the Navy SEAL Teams. Tom Keith tells his story in a way that no others have, with behind the scene antics and in your face battle scenes. This book is entertaining from the opening pages and full of thrills to the end. The forward is written by Medal of Honor winner and fellow friend and SEAL, Mike Thornton. Tom is respected by all who know him and once you read this book you will know why and join the ranks with the others. Do yourself a favor and get this book today.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book very much and recommend it to anyone with an interest in knowing what it was like for the brave men fighting in the jungles of Vietnam.
RamblingRover More than 1 year ago
A salute to a very brave, competent and decorated Navy SEAL named Thomas Keith and the Navy SEALs in general. The SEALs work in the very difficult and dangerous combat environment called Vietnam is described here in a way that weaves together both technical and human sides of the conflict from the perspective of a SEAL who was there for three tours of duty. One would hope that our politicians/bureaucrats would be as diligent, meticulous and competent in their strategic planning as the Navy SEALs are in their tactical planning and operations.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read th sample and i am getting it today and it is an awesome book love it full of action and nicely written great figurative language and great authors craft and i think it is one of the greatest book i have ever read :-)
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Jackwindcrest More than 1 year ago
It is said that all war stories can only be told from the point of view of the individual warrior. That is certainly true here, since Mr. Keith only tells of some of the missions in which he took part. This isn't a definitive history of the Vietnam War nor does it purport to be. But it is a great history of one of the earliest SeAL warrior's experiences in the war that shaped the training and fighting skills of our most flexible fighting force. Well worth the money and time.
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