Lost In Translation Vietnam A Combat Advisor’s Story

Lost In Translation: Vietnam: A Combat Advisor’s Story is a very well-known book, which was penned down by Martin J. Dockery. The author of the book has presented a very well-documented account of the experiences of a young officer’s which he encountered during the early years of America’s Vietnam War. This is a description of the time when President Kennedy had sent hundreds and thousands of advisors to Vietnam in order to teach the South Vietnamese Army the ways to fight their war. The author has basically presented the history of American military.

The book is fairly enjoyable and informative at the same time. The author of the book, that is, Martin J. Dockery was one of the advisors that were sent by President Kennedy to Saigon. Initially he was a very strong-minded, idealistic first lieutenant of the Army of the United States of America. When he arrived at Saigon, Dockery was certain of America’s coming up victory in Vietnam. A vast number of in-country military advisors of the United States of America filled basic support positions in Saigon and other major cities of Vietnam, Dockery was one of the few advisors who had been assigned Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) combat units.

Dockery lived with and fought with an ARVN infantry battalion in the Mekong Delta for nearly eight months during which they carried out missions and operations that usually lasted for a number of days. Dockery here was the single American soldier in the entire unit and most of their time was spent traipsing all the way through the sweltering jungle which was infested by leeches, hiking across canals, or getting involved in unexpected firefights.

This stay with the ARVN right in the beginning of the American participation in Southeast Asia provided Dockery with a chance to understand Vietnam far more better than any of the other Americans.  Through this book, the author has gained attention towards the chiefly disregarded part of American combat advisors in the war. By the use of sounds, smells and the view of the country as well as its people, Dockery has put forward the image of an army that was not properly trained, was ineffectual, and reluctant to fight for a government, which was perhaps as corrupt as the French colonial empire which it had replaced.

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But, for Dockery, his seclusion, threat and annoyance were nothing as compared to his emergent certainty that the advisory program was prone to turn out as a disaster. He believed that even though the advisors would work to their best and that too under the most difficult situation, they would not be able to succeed in the war. Basically, through this book the author has tried to tell us about the reasons which were the cause of the American failure in Vietnam.

These causes range from the arrogance of the American views of people and culture to the complete misapprehension of the Americans regarding the influence of the dead on a culture. Through this book, the author has depicted the transformation of his preliminary zest and optimism into discontent with the responsibility that was laid down upon him by his government. The experiences of the author are extremely absorbing, but the most insightful experiences are those which he encountered during his encounters with the hosts of Vietnam regarding the cultural differences. His expression of the social values and the traditions of the Vietnamese people are extremely emotional and touching.

Book Report

As mentioned above, Lost In Translation: Vietnam: A Combat Advisor’s Story by Martin J. Dockery is a very well-known which was written by the author in order to raise awareness regarding the causes of the loss suffered by the Americans in the Vietnam war. Right in the beginning of the book the author writes, “This book is not a scholarly work or a comprehensive history. There are no footnotes. It is a memoir based primarily on my recollection of events that occurred when I was a combat advisor in Vietnam in 1962-63. It is only my story” (Dockery, Acknowledgements).

Clearly this book is just his memoir, but it has raised much awareness and has unfolded the mistakes of the American government and the military. Further on he says, “next to the birth of my sons, Vietnam has been the defining experience of my life; it has impacted me profoundly. Not a day goes by when I do not think about Vietnam and my experiences there. Even now I recollect with clarity the sounds, smells and vistas of that place and its people. My tour of duty in Vietnam was marked by isolation, frustration and danger. Nevertheless Vietnam transported me.

This is primarily an account of my assignment as a combat advisor to a South Vietnamese infantry battalion. It is an old tale from an old war, but I think it is relevant and instructive today” (Dockery, Preface). This opening statement basically clears out the fact that the book was written in order to inform us of the wrong doings of the American military and government, but when we look closely as the statement it shows how much the author, or in that case all the combat advisors had suffered during those trying times.

The book begins by the author describing his history. He begins by telling us of his family background. The memoir guides the reader through the life of the author in a very interesting yet morbid manner. Starting by his birth and his family’s background, his education, he moves on to tell us about his military training and then eventually guides the reader to his experience in Vietnam, which include not only his views over the war but also a number of interesting stories and encounters with the people and information about the land itself.

Perhaps through this book the author wishes to share the grief and frustration suffered by him as a completely isolated man. This can be seen in a number of places where he constantly mentions his loneliness. In the words of the author, “I lived and fought with a South Vietnamese infantry unit. Much of the time, I was isolated from the other Americans and was usually the only American soldier with these Vietnamese soldiers. Most field advisors in 1963    had experiences similar to mine.

The thousands of U.S. combat troops who came after me had different experiences and faced perhaps greater dangers. They have their own stories, unlike mine” (Dockery, Preface). But, the author also moves on to say that these experiences have had a profound effect on his personality. He believes that he was rather immature when he arrived in South Vietnam, but these experiences, the hardships he faced; even the loneliness helped him build his character and perhaps become a much stronger man.

According to the author, “the cumulative effect of these events was to turn an immature and insecure person into someone capable, confident and caring. That is how I see myself today. We all grow up; the Vietnam War was the period during which I matured. Although my character was tested, I was fortunate and came home a stronger person” (Dockery, Preface).

The book has been written by the author in a rather very interesting way, beginning as mentioned earlier from his childhood to his military services and then eventually to his return to USA and then back to Vietnam. The chapters have been given names which give us hints as to what to expect in the chapter. The names of the chapters are: Early Lessons, A volunteer, The participants, In the field, The cement plant, Delta Life, Back to the USA, Reflections, Return to Vietnam. The book has succeeded in presenting the

abrupt and invalid of superfluities. The author portrays his aggravation with moral compass to eventually realize self actualization as persistent warrior turn civilian. This book is highly recommendable for anyone interested in policy planning, volunteerism and also for students of Asian American studies. The contents of the book are particularly persuasive for those obligated in the meandering rational, that basic disagreement founds a respected democratic value system.

The reader here is given a loose end to think as to why unshakable dishonest civil war settings over and over again prompt this “Christo-American” reaction. After going through this book, it is hard to believe that anyone actually believed that experienced Vietnamese commanders, a vast number of whom had a very different schema, would take suggestions from a few newly appointed, rather inexperienced Americans.

The author has criticized the ways of the Americans in a rather clear and concise manner without any care for anything. In very clear words, the author’s has presented a testimony which provides unavoidable confirmation that the outcomes of the Vietnam war were extremely clear since perhaps the start of 1962, when the troops had arrived there.

The result of the war was evident but it went ignored by the higher authorities. The author has put forward the fact that perhaps the U.S. leaders would learn in a decade what the young officer’s at Vietnam learnt in perhaps a year only. The book and its realities are extremely important to go through and should especially be ready by the authorities that send soldiers off to war. The author in the book has openly claimed that for most part of his life, he was not a very caring person. He was never sensitive and could never understand the feelings of others, not even his mother, sisters or family.

But after all that he saw in the Vietnam war, his heart started realizing and feeling these things. In the words of the author, “the letters I wrote to my parents from Vietnam were devoid of hardship, danger and combat. They touched on politics, weather, food, geography and religion. I was learning to be sensitive, incrementally. Still am” (Dockery, p.6). The book has a morbid outlook all the way through, for it is the tale of a man who has suffered a lot. It should be read by those who wish to join the military services for they have the right to know just what they might face during war. The realities and truths within these pages are to be read by all. Especially those who believe in the righteousness of the American military to know just how wrong their actions were.

Every combat advisor at war has his own distinctive incidents and Martin Dockery provides us with something very readable and worth turning pages for. He explains that when they arrived at Saigon, both of the troops (the American and the South Vietnamese) were completely different from each other. They had difference cultures, religions, philosophies, educational backgrounds, traditions etc. What was worst was the difference between their languages which was the basic cause of an umber of misunderstandings and conflicts, which basically shows why he named the book ‘Lost in Translation’.

As he was completely isolated, his qualities started being brought up in him. His service ended when he had ended up with malaria, hepatitis, dysentery, skin fungus and worms. The books takes us from his birth in White Plains, NY, to his education, the Vietnam experience as well as his service in the American army’s “Old Guard”. It is full of interesting stories from which we derive much morals and realize just how wrong the American military was during the Vietnam war.


In the light of the above discussion, we can hereby culminate that Lost In Translation Vietnam A Combat Advisor’s Story, is a very well-known book which has been written by Martin J. Dockery. Martin J. Dockery was one of the vast numbers of combat advisors that were sent by President Kennedy to South Vietnam in order to teach them how to fight. The book is basically the author’s personal tale and he has written this in order to show just where the American military went wrong and faced disaster at Vietnam. He believes that most of the wrong doings were the attitudes of the Americans towards others, their arrogance etc.

The book is a must read for all and it presents us with information about the sufferings of the combat advisors who had long before predicted that the American would face disaster but the higher authorities had ignored their warnings. Anyone who believes that the military is out to work for our best or that they would win the hearts of many must read this book to see what the military made these innocent people go  through. The outlook of the book is very morbid but that is because of the baseline of the book. It begins form his childhood and then guides the reader through his entire life including his education, military training, the Vietnam experience, then coming back to USA and then going back to Vietnam. The book is full of interesting stories and can be read by all especially the students of history.

Works Cited

Dockery, Martin. Lost In Translation: Vietnam: A Combat Advisor’s Story. United States of America. Presidio Press. ISBN-10: 0891418512


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