Elite Bastards: The Combat Missions of Company F, LRP Teams in Vietnam Review

elite bastards`

By Edward L. Dvorak
Havertown, PA: Casemate Publishers, 2023
ISBN 978-1-52-678965-5
Photographs. Pp. x, 296. $37.95

Edward L. Dvorak provides a fast-paced autobiographical account of his experiences in Vietnam as a soldier of the late 1960s. Starting as a rifleman in the 173d Airborne Brigade, he weaves a tale that takes him to Company F, 51st Infantry, Long Range Patrol (LRP) (Airborne), where he served at various times as a team member, assistant team leader, and team leader. In Elite Bastards, Dvorak takes readers from initial training to combat patrols in Vietnam, sharing all of his experiences: the fear and excitement of firefights, encounters with local wildlife, injuries and wounds, sickness, and more.

Vietnam has long been a source of military history books and biographies, ranging in focus from the strategic and operational to the tactical and personal. Elite Bastards falls squarely within the latter group. Dvorak brings to life the perspectives, challenges, and issues of the lowly grunt charged with carrying out sometimes questionable orders and plans of those far removed from the reality on the ground. He provides a first-person view of life and combat in Vietnam through the eyes of the numerous teams and the men who risked their lives to form them. LRP teams operated in some of the most hostile environments, and were charged with conducting four-to-five-day patrols into enemy territory to carry out a variety of missions including reconnaissance, ambush, bomb damage assessments, search for prisoner of war camps, and planting sensors. These patrols comprised either light (six-man) or heavy (twelve-man) teams, depending on the mission.

Dvorak outlines his arrival in Vietnam and his initial experiences as a regular grunt before joining the LRPs of Company F. He describes Recondo school and frequently refers to the training as he relates his experiences on patrol. From insertion and extraction techniques, mission preparation, and landing zone selection, to weapons and equipment selection and use, team organization and responsibilities, and life back at the base camp, Dvorak paints a clear picture of life in Vietnam. In doing so, he does not hesitate to criticize leaders whose decisions unnecessarily risked missions and led to casualties. His approach is balanced and fair, and he dishes out compliments as readily as complaints.

Elite Bastards is not a scholarly work, but it is not intended to be. It is raw and real, written by one who relives the experiences through his words. Dvorak includes photographs to add visual effects to his narrative style, and he writes in a conversational tone. He chronologically shares his life from before he enlisted in the Army to after his return from Vietnam. Veterans of all ages will find his book and its story relatable, both in subject and style.

Several improvements, however, would make this book even better. First, there are no maps. Inclusion of maps would have provided geographic reference to the patrols and combat actions. Second, there is no glossary, which would have provided a good reference for those readers not familiar with many of the acronyms, slang, and other terms used by the military.  Third, an index would have given readers a quick way of finding major points of interest. Finally, the book is in sore need of an editor, as it is full of minor spelling errors and inconsistencies, such as the use of “then” for “than” and “di di mow” for “di di mau.”

Elite Bastards is a fast-paced read that is equally enjoyable for military historians, veterans, and those simply curious about wartime experiences. Dvorak takes readers on a journey that will make them laugh at times, as well as feel the frustration at circumstances beyond control. The book is a tale of war, but it is also a personal story of growing up and maturing as a soldier and as a man. Elite Bastards is a must-read for those seeking a glimpse into the character, nature, and psyche of the “men on the ground” in an unpopular war during a restless time in American history.

Major Michael J. Taylor, USMC-Ret.
Whispering Pines, North Carolina