Tuesday, November 01, 2011

The Legend of the Green Berets


Being A Green Beret In Possibly One Of The World’s Most Vilified And Misunderstood Wars

Las Vegas, NV, October 31, 2011 – Writer H. Lee Barnes lives in Las Vegas and teaches English and Creative Writing at the College of S. Nevada - a far cry from his days on the battlefield as a member of a Special Forces A-team in Vietnam. Typical of many young men in the early 60’s, Barnes was in college and drifting along as an average student when a letter from his Draft Board made the decision of what he would be doing for the next couple of years of his life. He enlisted in the Army and became, much to his own surprise, a member of the elite Green Beret.

There are the legends of the Green Berets and their clandestine, special operations that are celebrated in story and song, and then there’s the reality of one soldier’s experiences. In When We Walked Above The Clouds: A Memoir of Vietnam (University of Nebraska Press) by H. Lee Barnes, we share first-hand the day-to-day loss and drudgery that more accurately conveys the daily grind and quiet desperation behind the polished-for-public-consumption accounts of military heroics.

Barnes tells what it was like to be a Green Beret; first in the Dominican Republic during the civil war of 1965, and then at A-107, Tra Bong, Vietnam, where he eventually came to serve as the advisor to a Combat Recon Platoon which consisted chiefly of Montagnard irregulars.

While Barnes sees his months of simply doing what the mission demanded as nothing to get excited over (after all, bad coffee, heat, insects, sickness, killing rats, cleaning guns and building bunkers, make up the routine nature of war), he skillfully communicates how this predictability makes the intensity of patrols and attacks all the more menacing, and his book makes for a very sobering read.

He recalls a particular routine patrol that had gone wrong and four of his own and a large number of Vietnamese and Montagnard tribesmen were killed. As he lifted a buddy’s decomposed body off the ground, both a hatred for the enemy and the stupidity of the war emerged and he began his own patrols. He learned to do what few other Americans in his outfit could – climb the treacherous mountains and survive the unforgiving conditions as well as a native. Learning to trust the jungle and all its dangers, he felt more alive than he had before or ever has since.

Barnes’s story is one of loss – of morale lost to alcoholism, teammates lost to friendly fire, of missions that were aborted, and those that were endlessly and futilely repeated. As the story advances, so does the attrition – teammates get transferred, innocence is cast off, and confidence in leadership dwindles. But against this dark background, Barnes manages to honor these men who nonetheless carried the day.

This rare look into life as a Green Beret makes a compelling read. Nearly fifty years later, Barnes writes that “Vietnam is the only thing in my life that isn’t fiction,” and his book stands as a tribute to the contribution the men of this elite group made, both the routine and the brave.

Before Vietnam Vet H. Lee Barnes entered the field of higher education, he worked in various law enforcement positions and as a construction laborer and a casino employee. He is a hiker and biker who loves to tour the highways of the southwest and occasionally rambles down its inviting back roads...just curious to see what’s around the next corner.

For more information on this award-winning author, please visit:


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