I got this email message about the book from a West
Point classmate. This guy started an electronics firm, retired at 49, and now
owns a large venture capital company. In Vietnam he fought in the Special
Forces. An excerpt from his message is as follows:
"Ah, the book. I had meant to read it over the weekend before I went to San Francisco last week, but I was too busy. So, I began reading on the plane while flying out to the Bay Area. Big Mistake! I began visibly sobbing on the second page of the foreword, and it went downhill from there. My wife has become accustomed to these occasional outbursts, so she took it in stride, but a few of my fellow passengers obviously thought I was crazy. As I told you, I have let my wife proofread what I've been writing, the majority of which is a complete revelation to her, so from time to time during the flight, I would give her a particular page or paragraph of your book to read. Her reaction was always: "My God! His experiences were different, but he's saying exactly the same things as you; he was affected the same way!"
The book is good, Mike - accurate and from the heart. I remember quite well the young man who lives in those pages. It takes anyone who's been there back again, and it gives those who haven't been there a good sense of what it was like. For me, for a short time, I was one of those guys in tiger fatigues you met at the Pepsi stand, and it has taken me a long time to crawl back out of that world. For forty years, I packed it in a trunk, put it in the attic and pretended it was never real."
Dear Capt. Mike
Got your book in Thursday's mail. Have only read about 25%, so far. I want to savor it like you did with your wife's tapes. I'm enjoying it so much, and reliving so many memories, that I want it to last forever. This book will go into the list of my life's most cherished possessions. Thank you for all your hard work, and dedication. It was a view of the war that really needed telling. Thanks again, and I hope to see you at the next reunion.
Loyd was a machinegunner on my jeep.
I got my book today and have already read quite a few pages of it this afternoon. What a tremendous tribute to Task Force Builder and the whole crew that was there. I have to say that I believe that was probably some of the best time of our lives and have to say that that is probably some of the best people in the world that I can say I have worked along side and with, lived with and shared life with through good and bad times. Truly a band of brothers then and now.
I am including this comment because of its wit. Don “Doc” Bee was one of our medics. He was a great soldier.
It looks like a great book. Sorry for not getting back sooner, but I have been having trouble with my email.
One thing you could put in; “what was it like serving with Captain Miller?” It was like serving with Patton, but without Patton's sense of humor.
Jack Himber was a member of Task Force Builder, was a great soldier, and is a much valued member of our reunion group.
About 30 pages into Di Wee's book a thought came to me.This book and TFB then and now is like the 49 Chevy truck my friend and I are building. Twice now, Di Wee has taken a bunch of parts and arranged them into something that runs smoothly, all the pieces were there, but it took the right person to fit them together and make the engine hum, or maybe even roar.
Henry McClernan was one of my faithfull and reliable lieutenants in Task Force Builder.
MIKE, I THANK YOU FOR LETTING US SEE THE FINAL ENDING OF
YOUR BOOK .
IT IS A GO FOR ME. PLEASE HAVE YOUR BOOK PRINTED. I HAVE SAID THIS BEFORE,
THERE WAS A REASON WHY WE <T.F.B.> WERE ALL TOGETHER AT THAT TIME AND IN THAT PLACE
IN OUR LIVES. THE MAN UP STAIRS PUT US THERE. HE WANTED US JUST US TO KNOW EACH OTHER
ALLOW US TO BOND AND TO LOVE EACH OTHER.
I KNOW THAT GOD LOOKED OVER US THEN, AND HAS ALLOWED US TO BE TOGETHER AGAIN. MIKE THANKS YOU FOR BEING HIS CHOICE TO LEAD US AND HELP TO TAKE CARE OF US. THANK GOD COL GRAY LISTENED TO HIM. MIKE YOU KNOW THAT I LOVE YOU. I WILL ALWAYS BE PROUD OF WHAT WE DID,
THANKS TO YOU AND COL. GRAY I LIVED A LIFE of ADVENTURE. I KNOW THAT ALL MY BROTHERS TOOK CARE OF ME AND WOULD GIVE UP THEIR LIFE FOR ANY ONE OF US. I WOULD HAVE DONE THE SAME.
ALWAYS A BROTHER
MAC (Henry McClernan)
This wonderful piece was written by my 39 year-old daughter Melanie after she read the book:
This is a true story.
Michael Miller was an Oklahoma farm boy who went to West Point. In 1968 he was a captain and was sent to Vietnam. He was assigned as commander of an Army unit known as Task Force Builder. They were tasked with building schools for poor rural South Vietnamese villages in the Mekong Delta.
Michael did everything he was “supposed” to do for his country and his family. He returned from Vietnam a highly decorated hero. He got an MBA from Harvard University. But when he reached his fifties, life seemed to have failed him, and he was not sure how this happened. He had an emptiness inside him that could not be filled with the joys of civilian life. He faced major disappointments with his marriages, teenage children, and failed businesses. This is not how life was supposed to turn out
Then in 2005, he began to reconnect with a few of the soldiers who had served with him in Vietnam. The miracle of the internet made locating other veterans possible. After a few years of searching for comrades, they formed an email forum, began exchanging experiences, and that led to a reunion in September, 2005. Men of every walk of life got together after thirty-eight years, and immediately embraced, cried, and finally started to heal from an “injury” many had not confronted. And once they were safe again with each other, the stories came out and certain things started becoming clear.
Some men had shut down. Some were on disability. Some seemed fine. But majority of the men were plagued with anger issues, nightmares, alcohol or drug dependence, failed marriages, difficulties coping with life and difficulties relating to family. Michael calls it “broken heart syndrome.” Others call variations of it PTSD. For a moment none of that mattered because they were back with the people in which they shared a deep love; a love that most of us will never understand.
Combat has profound changes on a man, changes still not fully understood. That love between men in combat is a component is revealed by their story.
All this resulted in A Terrible Beauty, the book about them.
Now, forty years later, their powerful message about building schools in order to make friends with “The People” in third-world countries in which we make war is dynamic and important. In addition, they tell the eternal message of how, when faced with almost-certain death, mankind can reach deep within himself to prevail.
Men need love or else they will perish. The love born to a group of young, innocent men that were sent off the war, woke up next to piles of dead soldiers, saw other soldiers crack up, lived in constant fear of the VC (that tried to kill them on a daily basis, especially because they were doing good for the South Vietnamese), the VC that bombed their schools, the ambushes, midnight mortar attacks, the “womp”, “womp” sound of mortar rounds that were “walking” closer to their unit... deep fear. What does a red-blooded American boy do when he has no outlet and no safe physical safe haven – he looks to his brother. These boys formed the strongest bond, a bond most people will never understand, that shrouded them with love and provided them with the fight to save their brothers’ lives. The men went beyond what was required of them as a “soldier” to ensure each of their loved brothers survived.
This is the story of TFB. It is a story that takes you through their country’s shameful journey of putting these men in the middle of hell, and then tells you how they survived by forming a love-bond that protected them. Outsiders saw it. The South Vietnamese felt it. It was awesome. It was war.
In those days, our nation was on the verge of coming to terms with social awareness, civil liberties and injustice. Equality for women and blacks was at the forefront, but there was little understanding or recognition for the men/women of the Vietnam War. The pure hostility that met these men upon their return to the country (that put them in this mess to begin with) did more damage than we as a nation claim. It is like taking someone out of ICU, breaking their leg and then sending them out on the street.
Michael had mixed feelings when the Gulf Wars in Kuwait and Iraq broke out. Our nation treated the men/women returning from combat as heroes. The soldiers were separated from the war. This was not the case in Vietnam, where the soldiers were blamed for the war. While Michael was happy things had changed, he hurt deeply remembering what was done to him and his boys so many years earlier.
The only thing that healed them was reuniting with the men they loved more than their families – the brothers of Task Force Builder. And their bonds of brotherhood shall last forever.
John Emery was my friend at the Harvard Business School many years ago. I appreciated his comments about the book:
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