Book Review: A Terrible Beauty


From: Jim Barker <>

Sent: Tue, June 12, 2012 12:52:37 PM
Subject: A Terrible Beauty

A Terrible Beauty; The Story of Task Force Builder. Michael D. Miller, 2012: A Flair for Writing  (Publisher), 280 pages, paperback. ISBN 978-1-4675-1183-4. Available through or


In 1967-68 a special mission took place in the Delta of South Viet Nam that remains largely unknown to many. "Task Force Builder" was operationalized as a unit project to construct schools and special designated structures for the rural Vietnamese in Mekong Delta villages. The project was the brainchild of Lt. Col George B. Gray and the visionary John Paul Vann. The project faced the challenge of working in an area that was heavily occupied by the Viet Cong. Fighting was extensive in the area, as the 3/39th Infantry Battalion suffered severe casualties, estimated at 100% during this period. The element of danger and ambush was particularly high for Task Force Builder crews, given the need for frequent travel on the roads in the region.


Lt. Col. Gray drew his men largely from the 46th Engineer Battalion at Long Binh. Having a gift for discerning people and personnel selection, he sought a leader who was bright, thoroughly committed, experienced, and highly resourceful. That decision settled on Michael Miller, a West Point graduate, with airborne and ranger training with unit command experience, and a family heritage of industrious farm folk from rural Oklahoma.


The book title, "A Terrible Beauty," derives from the prose of William Yeats, who penned the phrase that carries an oxymoronic quality. General MacArthur elucidated its meaning after observing bodies 'twitching' on barbed wire following attacks on his infantry division in WWI. War is a horrible reality; however in the crucible of the struggle of life and its passage, men become bonded forever at profound levels. As the book unfolds in a straightforward chronology of events, that includes interesting technical information, humorous events, and high-danger, and near-death experiences, the definition of 'terrible beauty' becomes understandable. Through time, the Task Force Builder team come to recognize they were part of something greater than themselves, a cause that was worth dying for,.. and applied themselves to a magnificent mission of truly winning the hearts and minds of rural Vietnamese farmers. Enjoined with the special contributions of advisors, and specialized units such as CAPs teams, Taskforce Builder represents an amazing saga of the finest American altruism and goodwill. An incident in the book that epitomizes the gratitude of villagers in the face and threat of the Viet Cong, centers on a stand village women took against a group of VC who were threatening to destroy a school that had been newly completed in their village.

Beyond the book as the unique history of Task Force Builder, it is also a highly personal autobiography of Captain Michael Miller. With wit, perceptive talent, and an ability to get close to the Vietnamese people and their culture, Mike offers numerous and insightful observations. With unabashed honesty and speaking from the heart, he takes the reader on a companionable journey from his formative years of youth, to his Army training and various assignments, to the depth experience of Viet Nam and Task Force Builder, to the aftermath of civilian work, to the travail of marriage difficulty and loss, to the agonizing symptomology of posttraumatic stress disorder; and ultimately the painful and gutsy journey of emotional and spiritual healing. Discovering and reuniting the Task Force Builder team members, and validating the mutual timeless ironclad bonds of respect and affection occupies the final part of the book. Writing the book itself became a therapeutic experience. As a supreme testament to his commitment to his men, not one of Captain Miller's men perished while under his command. It becomes a high mark of growth and healing when men can openly proclaim their love for one another.


As Joseph Galloway, the most imminent combat journalists of our generation has declared: the most important thing he learned from the Viet Nam War was the '' ability to cry. "


The contribution of Taskforce Builder inscribes into history a formula, that "winning any war, requires winning the people." And it almost happened in Viet Nam.


The humanity, nobility and altruism of Taskforce Builder represents the highest of America values and devotion of her heroes; and should give pause to even the most jaded protestors and wizened atheists who dare examine this truth.




To date, Michael Miller remains a strident voice of conscience to veteran's issues and national issues of integrity.


Note: Jim Barker is a Vietnam War researcher. He is the Director of The Iowa Vietnam Library Project, and is collecting all of the books written about the Vietnam War.