AURORA — Earl "Dusty" Trimmer, who has recently published his third book, said the U.S. entered the jungles of Vietnam with a naïve understanding of the country’s culture and history, particularly when it comes to the small southeast Asian country’s military history.
"Unbreakable Hearts," available on Amazon since its publication last summer, describes Vietnam’s history of defending its turf against overwhelming odds.
Trimmer served in 1968-69 in the 25th Infantry Division, was shot, exposed to Agent Orange and has been fighting multiple health problems, including cancer, and PTSD, which he attributes to the war.
"It gives a tribute to our enemies," said the Aurora resident. "It shows what an absolutely worthy adversary they were. They were not at all what President Nixon labeled them, a bunch of farmers with knives and pitchforks. They are the best guerrilla fighters in history."
Trimmer’s other books are "Condemned Property," published in 2013, and "Payback Time," published in 2015.
But he described "Unbreakable Hearts" as a book he "had to write" because it offers a better understanding of what U.S. soldiers in Vietnam were up against. It addresses some of misconceptions surrounding the war, for instance that U.S. soldiers were "baby killers."
He said that misconception was derived from the actions of "one guy who got caught."
"The media and war protesters just went with that," said Trimmer. "It’s what they called us when we got off the planes. We were told to take off our uniforms."
The book provides a form of redemption for U.S. soldiers who served in Vietnam by redefining the Viet Cong as worthy adversaries with a tradition of military strength.
"I don’t have to hold my head down," said Trimmer.
More than once in their history, the Vietnamese used guerrilla tactics in the cover of the jungles to repel tough enemies, including Mongols, said Trimmer.
"Kublai Khan was in power, the empire was at its peak, and they were still rolling over one country after another," he said. "The Mongols, as was their custom, invaded and wiped out the northern barriers to Vietnam. The Vietnamese retreated, regrouped and ran to the hills and jungles. The Mongols were so proficient because of their horses, but they didn’t work too well in the swamps and jungles."
After several years of enduring disease, the tropical climate and persistent guerrilla attacks, Trimmer said the Vietnamese defeated the Mongols. The Vietnamese were led at the time by Gen. Tran Hung Dao, and an illustration of him graces the cover of "Unbreakable Hearts."
Trimmer said the U.S. didn’t prepare soldiers for an enemy with the Vietnamese pedigree for defending itself.
"They never, never ever indoctrinated us and prepared us for what’s ahead," he said.
After returning to the states, Trimmer said he was, for years, drawn to the jungle. Ironically, despite the misery of warfare and all the health problems that followed, he called the Vietnam War "the greatest adventure of my life."
He said he took trips to South America and other places in an effort to recreate the excitement of the experience.
"That was the greatest adventure we ever had," he said. "There’s no way to go back."
At one point he said he signed up with a mercenary unit, figuring he would probably eventually get killed in the pursuit, but, two weeks before he was scheduled to join the unit, he met his wife, Ginny.
"It was really was a case of the Italian princess saving the warrior," he said. "Fortunately, I can still hang out with my two best buddies that are still alive."
He said he hopes he’s finished "Unbreakable Hearts" in time for other veterans to read and strengthen their sense of pride in their service.
"There’s still more World War II veterans living, I think, than there are Vietnam vets," he said. "Over half of Vietnam vets have died. Everyone’s got some disease from Agent Orange or PTSD. The ones who are hanging on are hanging on loosely."
Reporter Bob Gaetjens can be reached at 330-541-9440, firstname.lastname@example.org or @bobgaetjens_rpc.