Life and Death in the Central Highlands: An American Sergeant in the Vietnam War, 1968-1970
Featured in The Vietnam War PBS series by Ken Burns & Lynn Novick
Then Washington's politics and military strategy took his battalion to the border of Cambodia. Search-and-destroy missions became longer and deadlier. From January to May his unit hunted and killed the enemy in a series of intense firefights, some of them in close combat. In those months Gillam was shot twice and struck by shrapnel twice. He became a savage, strangling a soldier in hand-to-hand combat inside a lightless tunnel. As his mid-summer date to return home approached, Gillam became fiercely determined to come home alive. The ultimate test of that determination came during the Cambodian invasion. On his last night in Cambodia, the enemy got inside the wire of the firebase, and the killing became close range and brutal.
Gillam left the Army in June 1970, and within two weeks of his last encounter with death, he was once again a college student and destined to become a university professor. The nightmares and guilt about killing are gone, and so is the callous on his soul. Life and Death in the Central Highlands is a gripping, personal account of one soldier's war in the Vietnam War.
Number 5 in the North Texas Military Biography and Memoir Series
"Jim Gillam experienced real combat in his Vietnam tour. His stunning accounts of killing and avoiding being killed ring true. Although wounded several times, Jim did not leave the field for treatment in a field hospital, so he never generated the paperwork for a Purple Heart or two or three. Although he would be appalled at the thought, his attention to duty was 'lifer' behavior, a concern for the well-being of his squad that represents the best of NCO leadership in any army."--Allan R. Millett, author of Semper Fidelis and coauthor of A War to Be Won
"[Gillam] looks back on his experiences of Vietnam not solely as a participant in the war, but also with the critical eye of a trained historian. . . . [He] uses an impressive array of after action reports, duty officer logs, battlefield reports, and other primary source material, to back up and reinforce his recollections."-- Journal of Military History review by James H. Willbanks, author of The Tet Offensive
"Gillam, a 'shake and bake' sergeant, presents a good account of small unit infantry action during the war. He is very good at explaining the weaponry, tactics, and living conditions in the field."--James E. Westheider, author of The African-American Experience in Vietnam
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The most accurate answer to the "what was it like?" question 1969-1970 combat Infantry veterans were asked by family, friends, co-workers even strangers upon our return. Book also answers questions we had about the accuracy of the intelligence reports that formed the basis of our various missions in the Central Highlands jungles. The Gillam character's strengths and weaknesses also ring true to human reactions to the start of any firefight let alone initial combat experience. The use of after-action reports and AIT Infantry training techniques also adds credence to the story line. Veteran readers should be forewarned that some phrases ( eg "pink air" ) may trigger flashbacks. Gillam does an excellent job of describing what it was like to be in the most basic of infrantry units (i.e. a squad of 6 - 10 eighteen year old kids) in a strange jungle of dangerous wildlife. Indeed, a thousand ways to die in the Central Highlands of Vietnam!
Chapter 3 Joining the Vietnam Class of 196970
Chapter 4 Operation Putnam Wildcat
Chapter 5 Operation Putnam Power
Photo page section
Chapter 6 Operations Hines and Putnam Paragon
Chapter 7 Regional Politics Diplomacy and Military Preparations for Invasion
Chapter 8 The Cambodian Invasion