The New York Times
Word of Honorby Nelson DeMille
He is a good man, a brilliant corporate executive, an honest, handsome family man admired by men and desired by women. But sixteen years ago Ben Tyson was a lieutenant in Vietnam.There, in 1968, the men under his command committed a murderous atrocity-and together swore never to tell the world what they had done. Not the press, army justice, and the events he tried to forget have caught up with Ben Tyson. His family, his career, and his personal sense of honor hang in the balance. And only one woman can reveal the truth of his past-and set him free.
The New York Times
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Read an Excerpt
Ben Tyson folded his Wall Street Journal and stared out the window of the speeding commuter train. The dreary borough of Queens rolled by, looking deceptively habitable in the bright May morning sunshine.
Tyson glanced at the man in the facing seat, John McCormick, a neighbor and social acquaintance. McCormick was reading a hardcover book, and Tyson focused on the title: Hue: Death of a City.
McCormick flipped back a page and reread something, then glanced over the book and made unexpected eye contact with Tyson. He dropped his eyes quickly back to the book.
Tyson felt a sudden sense of foreboding. He focused again on the book jacket. The cover showed a red-tinged photograph of the ancient imperial city of Hue, a low-angle aerial perspective. The city spread out on both sides of the red- running Perfume River, the bridges broken and collapsed into the water. Great black and scarlet billows of smoke hung over the blazing city, and the sun, a crimson half ball, rose over the distant South China Sea, silhouetting the dominant features of the town: the Imperial Palace, the high walls and towers of the Citadel, and the soaring spires of the Catholic cathedral. A remarkable picture, Tyson thought. He nodded to himself. Hue. Tyson said, "Good book?"
McCormick looked up with feigned nonchalance. "Oh, not bad." "Did I get an honorable mention?"
McCormick hesitated a moment, then without a word, he handed Tyson the opened book.
Ben Tyson read:
On the sixteenth day of the battle of Hue, 15 February, an
American rifle platoon found itself pinneddown by enemy
fire in the western suburbs of the city. The platoon was an
element of Alpha Company, Fifth Battalion of the Seventh
Cavalry Regiment, of the First Air Cavalry Division. As a
point of historical interest, the Seventh Cavalry was the ill-
fated regiment commanded by General Custer at the Little
The rifle platoon under fire was led by a twenty-five-year-
old Auburn ROTC graduate, Lieutenant Benjamin J.
Tyson, a New Yorker.
Tyson continued to stare at the open book without reading. He glanced at McCormick, who seemed, Tyson thought, embarrassed. Tyson continued reading.
The following account of what happened that day is drawn
from interviews with two members of Tyson's platoon
whom I will identify only as Pfc X and Specialist Four Y.
The story, heretofore untold, was originally brought to my
attention by a nun of mixed French and Vietnamese
ancestry named Sister Teresa. Further details regarding
the provenance of this story may be found at the
conclusion of this chapter.
Tyson closed his eyes. Through the blackness an image took shape: a Eurasian girl, dressed in white, with a silver cross hanging between her breasts. Her body was fuller than that of a Vietnamese, and there was a slight wave in her long black hair. She had high cheekbones and almond eyes, but her eyes were soft brown, and there was just the suggestion of freckles on her nose. As he held the image in his mind's eye, the mouth turned up in a smile that seemed to transform her whole face, making the features more strongly Gallic. The Cupid's-bow mouth pursed, and she spoke softly, "Tu es un homme intéressant."
"Et tu, Térèse, es une femme intéressante."
Tyson opened his eyes. He looked back at the page:
The enemy fire directed at Tyson's men was coming from
the vicinity of a small French hospital named Hôpital
Miséricorde. The hospital, operated by a Catholic relief
agency, was flying two flags: a Red Cross flag and a Viet
The firefight had erupted shortly before noon as the
American platoon approached. The platoon quickly took
cover, and there were no initial casualties. After about five
minutes of intense firing, the enemy broke contact and
withdrew toward the city.
Someone in the hospital then draped a white bed sheet
from a second-story window, indicating surrender or "all
clear." Seeing the white sheet, Lieutenant Tyson began
moving his platoon up to take possession of the hospital
and surrounding structures. The enemy, however, had left
behind at least one sniper, positioned on the hospital's roof.
As the Americans approached, shots rang out, killing one
American, Pfc Larry Cane, and wounding two others, Sgt.
Robert Moody and Pfc Arthur Peterson. There was a
possible second sniper positioned at one of the windows.
Tyson paused again, and his mind returned to that day in 1968. It had been one of the worst days of the massive enemy offensive that had begun on the lunar New Year holiday called Tet, ushering in the Year of the Monkey.
He vividly recalled the sky, so blackened with smoke that he wouldn't have known it was an overcast day except for the cold rain falling through the ash.
He heard, in the steady rumbling of the train, the persistent pounding of impacting mortars and the ceaseless staccato chatter of automatic weapons. The train whistle blew at a crossing, and Tyson recalled very clearly the blood- freezing shriek of incoming rockets, exploding with an earthshaking thunder so intense that it took a few seconds to realize you were still alive.
And the dead, Tyson remembered, the dead lay everywhere. Trails and fields surprised you with sprawled, slaughtered corpses; hamlets were littered with the unburied dead. The Graves Registration people wore gas masks and rubber gloves, recovering only the American dead, burning the rest in pyres stoked with diesel oil and ignited with flamethrowers. Bonfires, bone fires, crackling fat, and grinning skulls. He could still smell the burnt human hair.
Tyson recalled what his company commander, Captain Browder, had said: "The living are in the minority here." And Browder himself joined the majority not long after.
Death, he remembered, was so pervasive in that bleak dying city, in that bleak and rainy winter, that the livingcivilian and soldier alikehad almost ceased to struggle against it. People would, out of instinct, duck or take cover, but you could see in their eyes that they had no prospects for the future. Hue: Death of a City. Hue: City of Death. No wonder, he thought, we all went mad there.
Tyson drew himself back to the book. He skipped a page and read at random:
A French nurse, Marie Broi, attempted to stop the
Americans from killing the wounded enemy soldiers, but
she was struck with a rifle. An Australian physician named
Evan Dougal began swearing abusively at the Americans.
Clearly, everyone was overwrought; nearly hysterical
might be a better term. Suddenly, with no forewarning, an
American soldier fired a burst from his automatic rifle, and
Dr. Dougal was hurled by the force of the rounds
across the room. Spec/4 Y describes it as follows: "He
[Dougal] was thrashing around on the tile floor holding his
stomach. His white smock was getting redder and his face
was getting whiter."
The ward that had been in pandemonium a few seconds
before was now very still except for the dying sounds
made by Dr. Dougal. Pfc X remembers hearing
whimpering and crying from the adjoining pediatric and
What happened next is somewhat unclear, but apparently,
having murdered the first Caucasian, several members of
Tyson's platoon decided it would be best to leave no
witnesses. The doctors, nurses, and nuns were ordered
into a small whitewashed operating room and
"Jamaica Station!" cried the conductor. "Change here for trains to New York! Stay on for Brooklyn!"
Tyson closed the book and stood.
McCormick remained seated and said hesitantly, "Do you want to borrow?" "No."
Tyson crossed the platform to make his connection, wondering why this had happened on such a sunny day.
Meet the Author
Nelson DeMille is a former U.S. Army lieutenant who served in Vietnam and is the author of nineteen acclaimed novels, including the #1 New York Times bestsellers Night Fall, Plum Island, The Gate House, The Lion, The Panther and Radiant Angel. His other New York Times bestsellers include The Charm School, Word of Honor, The Gold Coast, Spencerville, The Lion's Game, Up Country, Wild Fire, and The General's Daughter, the last of which was a major motion picture. For more information, you can visit NelsonDeMille.net.
- Long Island, New York
- Date of Birth:
- August 22, 1943
- Place of Birth:
- New York, New York
- B.A. in political science, Hofstra University, 1974
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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A story about unassumig gallantry and honor in a place and time where there was none. It may seem slow at times, but read it to the end. It won't disappoint.
I always wanted to know more about the Vietnam War. Word of Honor was such a moving experience for me. I will never know how it was like because I was not there but I think I understand the veterans more because of reading this book. Also I know a few veterans of that war as well. I would recommend this book to anyone! It is wonderful and heartbreaking.
This is a very powerful book...I first read it over ten years ago, and it was just as fresh and captivating this time around. A strongly developed character, fighting past demons and current devils, against the agonizing and dehabilitating backdrop of Vietnam. A devastating surprise ending which will take your breath away. This is current American fiction at its best.
Interesting bit very tedious read. Wouldn't rrcommmend
This is an excellent story of the way the horrors and affects of the Vietnam war stayed with the men who fought; long after they thought it was over. Well developed characters and story line. Though the book was written 25 years ago it is still current in what the men and women in the military have to face. DeMille has been and is still one of my favorite authors.
Eighteen years after being shipped out of Viet Nam due to injury, a successful New York businessman is found to be the main character in a recently published bestseller. Lieutenant Ben Tyson is a young platoon officer in the midst of the 1968 Tet Offensive in Hue, V.N. He is also accused, in the book, of being a sadistic mass murderer of wounded North Viet Nam soldiers, innocent civilians and hospital staff. This young officer has carried this secret and burden which is now exposed to family, friends and community at large. DeMille carefully exposes where this leads Lieutenant Tyson; his relationship with wife, son and friends. How exposing this secret has opened wounds beyond the imagination. I would recommend this book to anyone wanting to either know more about societies opinions on Viet Nam during the late 60’s or wanting to know the pain a soldier experiences in war.
I was prepared to be underwhelmed, but as a true DeMille fan read it nonetheless. It became apparent almost immediately this one would be hard to walk away from until finished. The plot was very believeable and I'm sure things like that happened all the time. Lt. Tyson's character was brilliantly portrayed. At times, he was sympathetic, endearing, frustrating and heroic. The suspense built to a final ending that was touching. The emotion I felt reading the last few pages surprised me. Absolutely a must read if you have any interest in the Viet Nam era especially if you did not serve and would like an inside peak into the brutality of that war. Great book. Bravo from another LIer (age 59) now living in Burlington, VT.
Excellent book! I intend to read all his books. I definitely recommend this book for a book club discussion.
Once again I was captivated by Demille's ability to tell a great story. One of my fav writers and he did it again, a compkex story that I couldn't put down. Read this if you grew up watching Viet Nam on the evening news, a very deep look into the horrors of what went on and the aftermath. I can't wait for the next Demille book.
One of the best books I've ever read. It tries to bring the reader some understanding and comprehension to the horrors of and atrocities of war. At the same time the book, while full of brilliant dialogues, is fast paced and with sufficient humor to keep turning page after page. Congratulations to Nelson DeMille.
Not DeMille's best work by far. Entertaining but not captivating.