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Book Q&A: We Few
Vietnam Veteran Nick Brokhausen tells us about the secret lives of the Vietnam Special Forces
Thank you Nick for talking to us about your book, We Few. Can you start by telling us a bit about yourself – where in the States are you from?
I grew up in Missouri, North Dakota and Minnesota. We were a farming family and woodsmanship was an essential part of growing up. I had my first rifle when I was ten and we used it to eradicate the varmint populations, but also for hunting rabbit, pheasant etc. We learned how to track and dress game, so we were comfortable in the bush. When you turned 18 you were either drafted, enlisted or went to work for the railroad. Since I am not designed to work around 90 ton rolling murder wagons like boxcars, I went into the service when called.
How did you become involved in the US Army, and in particular the Special Forces, which led you to Vietnam?
I already had a combat tour when I tried for Special Forces training. In those days you had to be a sergeant, and had to speak a foreign language in order to qualify. I had been to tough courses but Special Forces (SF) training was as challenging as one could want. Camp McCall, or phase one, had a sixty percent wash out rate and SF had a general 20&percent; that made it through to being qualified. McCall was interesting and we learned land navigation and patrolling until we could navigate by the stars, map, and compass if needed. I remember being hungry all the time. Three of us slipped through the wire and raided the nearby cantaloupe field and got caught with forty melons. They made us eat all of them. I couldn't look at a melon for years without looking for the nearest loo.
Vietnam was the epitome of where you wanted to be if you were at the top of your game, and everything was shunted in that direction. We were still sending people to Korea, Thailand, Germany etc. But most were headed over the pond to Nam. I volunteered for a levy and voila, I got shifted from my ideal assignment which would have been an A camp or the Mike force, to Special Projects, MACSOG, CCN. There was no special selection, no qualifying test. If you were a combat vet you had a leg up on the guys that came right out of training group; you already knew that it was a dirty business. War is full of testosterone and terror, sort of like speedballing with steroids and alcohol, with bad smells, loud noises and fear.
What made you want to put your memories and stories onto paper for others to read?
I had been out of the service for several years, 17 ½ years total service. So I wrote the book twenty five years after. I had some difficulties in my life and had went to Alabama to stay with my One Zero from Habu. Two weeks turned into two years and we fished and led the life of Tom Sawyer for most of it. As part of screwing my head back on I started to write the book. I did not intend it to be fine literature, nor the great American Novel. I wrote it as a catharsis and as a fitting tribute to my peers. I wrote it as I experienced it. I tried to keep the 'Sergeant Rock and his Howling Commandos' aspects down and relate what it was like to live the missions and to survive.
I have seen some reviews that call us a cross between barbarians and an outlaw motorcycle club. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our missions were daunting and incredibly risky, but we never thought of them as suicidal. You conceived the tactics and techniques of how to stay alive and prosper in that environment. I had a knot in my gut all the time I was there. We also became very very efficient at handling the unexpected. Our small team could take on a hundred man unit and make them back up, and if cornered we could remove any doubt about having an easy fight to kill us. That's not bragging, that's hard facts.
We Few is full of stories – do you have a particular memory or story from your experience in Vietnam which stands out?
Our missions were Top Secret and for years the only people I spoke with about those times were other survivors from the unit. When John Plaster wrote his definitive history, he called a lot of us and we refused to speak of it even after it was declassified. The book was written about the men, not the specific missions although there is a thread.
The book has just been re-released, but was actually first published over 10 years ago – has your perception of your memories and stories changed in those intervening years? Have you made any changes to this latest edition?
My perceptions of the war and my own politics have not changed. The nation called, we went and served honorably and in many cases valorously, the old saying, "uncommon valor was a common virtue," applies. I never met anyone in Recon that ran from a fight, I knew a lot of them that gave their all. My service tempered me and shaped who I am. I am basically conservative, more of a Libertarian than either one of the two aisle positions, whom I think unilaterally abuse their position. You find a lot of fans of Kissinger, Johnson, Nixon, or that crowd of liars from Dupont that assured us that agent orange was a benign protein based herbicide. We are not politically correct. I am still involved occasionally with Special Forces and the military, and I am impressed and proud of today's veterans. The memories never fade, sometimes the dates, times and names blur, but get four of us together with alcohol, and it flows.
What do you make of the changing public opinion on the Vietnam War and veterans in recent times?
Public opinion only perceives to change. We still treat our veterans as cast offs as soon as our lives are out of danger. Someone explain to me why veterans are homeless, and unemployed, and dependent on a crony-filled, shiftless bureaucracy for their well being, while the progressives continue to give a free ride to the welfare state and illegal aliens. Public opinion still considers Viet Vets to be slightly deranged.
What do you hope readers will take away from the experience of reading We Few?
I hope that the reader doesn't try and make sense of it as a tome, nor a comic relief of the inanities of war. I wanted the book for my peers, that great unwashed fraternity of men, who have seen the face of the reaper and survived. For the general public please take it as a glimpse in time from my perspective. We are a martial society, though we deny it. We have had constant war for over two hundred years. For all the grief and trauma, each one has made us stronger and more capable. We are going to need it to survive.
Finally, what's the best thing about being Nick Brokhausen?
What do I like about being Nick? That's a good question. I turned seventy in March, I can still walk three miles twice a week with a forty lbs rucksack, I'm a little slower and you can sneak up on me with a tank, but I am hale and hearty enough to hurt you if you pose a threat. I love kids, the greatest of gifts as they are still pure, and the little goobers believe almost anything which is pure entertainment for old guys. I am more tolerant these days unless you try and impose your lies on me, then I can be cantankerous. I have been blessed with good fortune in my friends and my suffering over minor felonies and indiscretions. I like being American, and will rush to the shield wall any time the Republic is threatened. I like Dairy Queen, old single barrel Rye, and my favorite color is a hundred dollar bill.
Nick's book, We Few, is currently available to buy via the Casemate Publishing website – check it out at www.casematepublishing.co.uk