Unfortunate Sons: A True Story of Young Men and War
In February of 2008, Larry James was contacted by a history professor
from a small liberal arts college in the Midwest who wanted to know
if he could come to the campus to meet her class to talk about his
book Unfortunate Sons: A True Story of Young Men and War. The book,
published by Cambridge Dent on Veterans Day, 2005 (www.unfortunate-
sons.com) details the ambush and destruction of Charlie Co. 4th Bn
9th Infantry on March 2, 1968. The book had been added to the
reading list at Monmouth College in Monmouth Illinois. In late March
of 2008, James went to the campus to talk about the book and then
returned a few days later with four other Manchus - Hector Colon, Dan
McKinney, John Strnad and Larry Ward to share their experiences of
the Vietnam conflict. What follows is an account of the experience
that appeared in the college newspaper, following by are the
reactions to the visit, first from the professor, Dr. Stacey Cordery,
and then her students.
Monmouth College Newspaper
Vietnam War... "just a point in time"
Veterans visit Cordery's class and bring history to life
By: Ian Van Anden
9th Infantry Regiment
Five vets visited class on April 1
It is not often that professors are given such grand opportunities to make history matter really come to life. However, on Tuesday, April 1, professor of history and chair of the history department Stacy Cordery had that distinct honor and privilege.
Cordery and her Vietnam Era class (HIST 340) sat with five veterans of the Vietnam War for nearly an hour and a half. Larry James, Hector Colon, Larry Ward, Dan MiKinney and John Strnad discussed their experiences as soldiers in the Vietnam War, and how it had affected them and their families.
James, the uncle of Leah McLaren, secretary of academic affairs, and Stephanie Kinkaid, secretary of student affairs, is the author of “Unfortunate Sons,” which Cordery’s class read in preparation for this meeting.
Featured in this book is the story of Charlie Company of the 9th Infantry Regiment and March 2, 1968, the day they were ambushed. McKinney was the lone member of the panel who had not only been at the scene of the ambush, but also lived through it. The men of the 9th Infantry Regiment are also known as the Manchus. McKinney was wounded seven times during the ambush, and only survived thanks to a medic’s brave sacrifice. As McKinney lay dieing in the middle of the road, Ron Slane ran to his aid, but after giving McKinney morphine, Slane himself was shot and later died. Thanks much in part to James’ book and research, McKinney had the honor and privilege to meet Slane’s mother and sisters to thank them for the life that their brother and son had saved.
Larry Ward would have been in the field on the date of the ambush had he not been on leave, marrying his fianc». In February of 1968, Ward was promoted to company commander; he had originally been the second platoon leader of Charlie Company. During the discussion, Ward commented, “We all feel that the reason we are here today is by some sort of divine intervention.”
Hector Colon was also a platoon leader, only in Bravo Company. Colon served from Sept. 1967 through Feb. 1968 and received the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions on Jan. 5 1968. On that date Colon and his platoon were left behind during an evacuation of a rescue and recover operation. With everyone else airlifted out Colon’s platoon was left on the ground receiving heavy fire from all directions. Colon and his men set up a defensive perimeter at about 4:30 and it was not for another two hours that the enemy broke contact. Artillery needed to be called in only 10-15 meters from the position of Colon and his men.
Colon was the last man off the field, according to Ward, “[Colon] wanted to ensure all of his men were off.” For these actions and his bravery under fire Colon was given one of the highest honors in the army which was bestowed upon him by what he describes as “a crusty old man.”
Colon had also been away during the March 2 ambush getting married. Colon was married on March first and only retuned to Vietnam on March 4 to find the aftermath of a horrific ambush.
John Strnad served later in Vietnam and joked that it was good to find someone that served shorter than he did, referring to McKinney. On Dec. 22 1968, Strnad was hit by shrapnel in the face rendering him badly wounded and eventually blind. Strnad and his company had been placed as bait in Mole Cite. The North Vietnam Army (NVA) and Viet Cong took the bait and in a horrific battle nearly destroyed the company. In an interesting connection to the March 2 attack on McKinney’s Charlie Company, an M-79 rocket launcher was found at Mole City that had been removed from the killing zone by the NVA/Viet Cong and then used just months later.
These men told moving stories of what they went through both before and after their service in the Vietnam War.
Between James’ book and the stories of these five men truly brought history to life. These are the rare opportunities that Monmouth College students have, to learn from the people that went through the actual events.
Dr. Stacey Cordery's Thanks You Note
It’s hard to know where to begin to thank you for all that you’ve done for our students. Thank you for an extraordinary book from which we all learned a tremendous amount. Terry Dagit sang its praises when he was in to speak – that was a nice affirmation from another vet. Thank you for coming to talk with the Vietnam Era history class, even though I couldn’t be there for it. It is an amazing thing to see the author of the book appear in the classroom. The students thoroughly enjoyed their time with you, and I remain sorry to have missed it. Thank you also for bringing your Manchu friends to class to tell about their own experiences. It’s pretty amazing to have someone walk out of the pages of your book, as Mr. McKinney did. As I told you all before you left, your visit will be what students remember twenty years from now – nothing I can teach them from books or from documents has the power that your presence in the classroom does.
I am so glad that we could get all of the details worked out so that you could be with us. I wish I had a zillion dollar budget to reimburse you for your travel and your time. I hope at least that when your glance falls on the paperweight, you will remember how grateful we all are for you service then and your efforts to retell those critically important stories now. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.
Stacey A. Cordery
Department of History
Student Thank Yous
Thank you very much for taking the time out of your life to talk about your book, and for bringing your four companions to our class as well. Your two-day visit here will forever stick in my mind, so I thank you for that. I also enjoyed your book and am honored to have heard you speak about it. Thank you again!
Thank you so much for coming to our class and telling us about your book and your experiences. It really helped me see another part of the war and bring it to life.
Thank you very much for coming to our class and discussing your book with us. It was very interesting and worthwhile to read the stories about these men. I also appreciate how you brought other veterans with you so we could hear their stories as well. Thank you again.
Thanks. Your book was fascinating and it was fascinating to hear you speak after reading your book. Thank you again for the book and the talk. It opened my awareness so much. Thank you!
Thank your for taking the time out of your week to come speak to our class. Your stories were very interesting and made the war seem very real. I enjoyed your book and I feel privileged that you came to share your story with us.
Thanks so much for coming to our class and speaking. I really enjoyed reading your book and it was great that you brought more veterans to speak as well. Thanks for telling the story of the Manchus! Thanks again,
Thank you for writing the book that you did. And thank you for taking the time to come and discuss it with us. I enjoyed hearing about the creation of the book. It was helpful in understanding the final product. Best,
Thank you for coming to class and sharing your story with us. It is a rare thing to a class to be able to meet the author of a book they read in class. And the fact that you brought others with you made the day that much more fulfilling. Thank you.
Your book was very interesting. I am glad you wrote it, so that the events of that day are known. Also, thanks for bringing in your friends. Sincerely,
I really enjoyed your book. It gave us a different perspective than what we had been exposed to before. Thank you for you time and service.
Rarely do we get a chance to meet and talk with the authors of the books we read. Thank you for giving us the opportunity. It was great.
Thank you so much for coming to talk with our class. It was so interesting to hear the author of a book we had read talk with our class. Also, thank you for bringing in the other vets, it makes it so much more interesting to hear everyone’s experiences.
Thank you for coming to talk to our class and bringing your friends. It was great to learn more about your book and your experiences. It really helped me to hear about the first hand accounts of the war. I really appreciate you taking your time and traveling so far to visit our class.
Thank you for speaking to our class twice. It was realy nice to have an author of one of our books come and speak to us. It was also realy awesome of you to bring you friends for us to talk to them.
Thank you very much for coming to our class and discussing your book. It was really helpful to use to be able to ask questions. Also, thank you so much for bringing your veteran friends in to talk to our class.
The story you have told in “Unfortunate Sons’ will undoubtedly bring a sense of peace and purpose to many who served in Vietnam. We often speak of bravery on the battlefield but your own bravery lies in your willingness to take such a difficult and emotional journey to uncover the real story of the Manchus. Thank you for writing this journey and for allowing us to meet the other veterans who have touched your life.