I SERVED is a first-person account of the lonely childhood and manhood rites of passage of a Catholic orphanage schoolboy and plankholder in Company F, 51stLong Range Patrol (Airborne) Infantry. From separation from most of his siblings, to harsh life in an orphanage in Virginia, to the dank jungles of Viet Nam, and finally to homecoming and marriage to his childhood sweetheart, Don Hall keeps us on edge. Unceremoniously dumped in the orphanage by their drunken, war-traumatized father, Don and his brother Mike learn the harsh realities of life. We can feel the fear of the tormented child and smell the antiseptic dormitory. Not all is bad there, for it is during this time that the young Donald sees his true love, Annette, for the first time. Her brunette hair, twinkling eyes and heart-melting smile are what help sustain the warrior’s sanity and focus during some of his darkest moments, which are yet to come.Don was a “malcontent renegade” in the eyes of the nuns, because he fought for his dignity and that of his brother. Recalcitrant, yet gregarious, Don is dismissed from the orphanage with his brother, and returned to the father who had abandoned them. No hope for the future leads the seventeen-year-old boy, old beyond his years, to a recruiter’s office and the Army.In August 1967, after a tour in Alaska and six months in Germany, the young paratrooper volunteers for duty in the Republic of Vietnam and is initially assigned to the 173rd Airborne Brigade. Then, he hears a call for volunteers and joins a new long range patrol unit being formed, with the motto “I Serve,” and the charter of taking the war to the enemy. Expertly weaving heart-thumping moments as enemy soldiers walk past within mere feet of patrols, the cacophony of battle and copper-taste of adrenaline during contacts, and the stark contrasts of the war, Don Hall takes us on his tour with the Lurps. We feel the anguish of losing teammates, and share the love for comrades. We see the oblivious eyes of the enemy walking toward an ambush, and the handmade wooden cross prepared by a soldier for a dead enemy tossed from a helicopter. We hear the cries of the wounded and the soft strains of songs on the radio. We feel the hurt and anger of the young boy, and the power and control of the soldier as he serves. I SERVED takes us on a journey we cannot stop once the first page is turned. In the end, it is the simple understatement of service and quiet professionalism which makes this story different. We should all pause to reflect that we have much for which to be thankful, provided by the sacrifices of those who served.[Description of I SERVED written by Command Sergeant Major Jeff Mellinger (U.S. Army, retired)]***
Photos of Don and Annette
In the first hours of the 1968 Tet Offensive, the men of Co. F, 51st Long Range Patrol (Airborne) Infantry, commanded by (then) Major William C. Maus, stopped hundreds of VC and NVA from carrying out their objective: to overrun the Long Binh/Bien Hoa military complex and then move on to Saigon. If F/51st LRP had not done its job so well, Long Binh/Bien Hoa, and then Saigon, would have been overrun. Hundreds, if not thousands, of American soldiers and South Vietnamese would have been slaughtered and Saigon would have fallen (see Tet ‘68 map). In I SERVED, Don Hall tells the story of F/51 LRP from his perspective as a 19-year-old team leader, backed up by documentation from the National Archives.