In September 1962, when Martin Dockery landed in Saigon, he was a young, determined, idealistic U.S. Army first lieutenant convinced of America’s imminent victory in Vietnam. While most of the twelve thousand U.S. military advisors in-country at the time filled support positions in Saigon and other major cities, Dockery was one of a handful of advisors assigned to Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) combat units.
For eight months Dockery lived and fought in the heart of the Mekong Delta with an ARVN infantry battalion on missions and operations that often lasted several days. And for most of that time, whether tramping through the steaming, leech-infested jungle, hiking across canals, or engaging in sudden firefights, Dockery was the only American soldier with the unit.
Dockery’s solitary assignment with ARVN during the infancy of U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia afforded him an understanding of Vietnam far more profound than most other Americans. Lost in Translation is his riveting account of the largely overlooked role of American combat advisors in the war. As he vividly evokes the sounds, smells, and vistas of the country and its people, Dockery depicts an army poorly trained, incompetent, and unwilling to fight for a government every bit as corrupt as that of the French colonial empire it replaced. Yet even worse than his daily fare of isolation, frustration, and danger was Dockery’s growing conviction that the advisory program was doomed. Though these dedicated, highly motivated advisors would do their best and persevere under the most trying circumstances, they would not succeed.
The author’s eyewitness testimony provides inescapable evidence that as early as 1962 the writing was already on the wall concerning the outcome of the Vietnam War. Although it would take U.S. leaders more than a decade to divine what the young officer learned in a single year, Dockery’s personal and penetrating analysis of the war—which he presented in a lecture at a Special Forces facility in Germany one week after his tour in Vietnam ended—proved chillingly accurate. Those who send soldiers to war should consider the realities and truths within these pages.
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