For the last five years I had Brig. Gen. James E. Shelton’s book The Beast Was Out There: The 28th Infantry Black Lions and the Battle of Ong Thanh Vietnam, October 1967 on my must read list. I finally picked up a copy and read this book in just two days.
I first learned of this book while reading David Maraniss’ They Marched into Sunlight review here about the Battle of Ong Thanh while at the same time in Madison Wisconsin a campus protest against Dow Chemical resulted in a riot with City police violently clubbing students.
Shelton, a major at the time of the battle was the Operations Officer for the Black Lions in 1967. He was removed from this unit just two weeks before the battle. He knew so many of the soldiers who died. This was an event that changed his life. Two of Wisconsin’s sons died in this battle: Jack Schroder and Daniel Sikorski.
The loyalty of a solider is not lost upon this book. James reveals an expected dedication to those men from the 2/28th and the loyalty of fellow officers in combat. Many have written commander, Terry Allen Jr., son of General Terry Allen had ignored critical reporting from his senior staff who engaged the same enemy the previous day. James writes is deep detail of the battle development from many interviews with his former 2/28 unit and retells the heroic stories of men facing an overpowering, well hidden enemy in the jungle.
The second storyline I felt was the death of Major Don Holleder. A football all american at Army Don was circling over the battlefield until upon landing he charged into battle to rescue his fellow Black Lions when he was killed by a sniper. Terry Tippets wrote a great book about the amazing life of Don Holleder called A Spartan Game. The Tippets book is a worthy read. Shelton reveals more about his experience with Don and the 2/28th in describing Don’s final great rush into battle.