First Battle

Operation Starlite and the Beginning of the Blood Debt in Vietnam

Otto Lehrack

Date Published :
August 2019
Publisher :
Illustration :
16 b/w illustrations
Format Available    QuantityPrice
Binding. : Paperback
ISBN : 9781612008011
Pages : 233
Dimensions : 9 X 6 inches
Stock Status : In stock
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Operation Starlite is a graphic account of the first major clash of the Vietnam War. On August 18, 1965, regiment fought regiment on the Van Tuong Peninsula near the new Marine base at Chu Lai. On the American side were three battalions of Marines under the command of Colonel Oscar Peatross, a hero of two previous wars. His opponent was the 1st Viet Cong Regiment commanded by Nguyen Dinh Trong, a veteran of many fights against the French and the South Vietnamese. Codenamed Operation Starlite, this action was a resounding success for the Marines and its result was cause for great optimism about America's future in Vietnam.

Those expecting a book about Americans in battle will not be disappointed by the detailed descriptions of how the fight unfolded. Marine participants from private to colonel were interviewed during the book's research phase. The battle is seen from the mud level, by those who were at the point of the spear. But this is not just another war story told exclusively from the American side. In researching the book, the author talked with and walked the battlefield with men who fought with the 1st Viet Cong Regiment. All were accomplished combat veterans years before the U.S. entry into the war.

The reader is planted squarely in America in 1965, the year that truly began the long American involvement. Operation Starlite sent the Vietnam War into the headlines across the nation and into the minds of Americans, where it took up residence for more than a decade. Starlite was the first step in Vietnam's becoming America's quagmire.

The subtitle of the book is: The Beginning of the Blood Debt in Vietnam - August 1965. Blood debt, "han tu" in Vietnamese, can mean revenge, debt of honor, or blood owed for blood spilled. The Blood Debt came into Vietnamese usage early in the war with the United States. With this battle, the Johnson Administration began compiling its own Blood Debt, this one to the American people.

The book also looks at the ongoing conflict between the U.S. Army and the U.S. Marines about the methodology of the Vietnam War. With decades of experience with insurrection and rebellion, the Marines were institutionally oriented to base the struggle on pacification of the population. The Army, on the other hand, having largely trained to meet the Soviet Army on the plains of Germany, opted for search-and-destroy missions against Communist main force units. The history of the Vietnam War is littered with many "what ifs." This may be the biggest of them.

About The Author

Otto Lehrack served with the U.S. Marines for 24 years as an enlisted man and officer. He was an infantry company commander during the Tet Offensive on his first tour (1967–1968), and the operations officer of a signal intelligence battalion on his second tour (1970–1971) in Vietnam. He has an MA in history from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Lehrack is the author of No Shining Armor: The Marines at War in Vietnam and America's Battalion: Marines in the First Gulf War.


"A tightly developed and very well researched and engaging telling of the story of the first major combat action of the Vietnam War."

- The VVA Veteran

" impressively informed and informative study..."

- Midwest Book Review

"A superb account detailing how regiment fought regiment on the Van Tuong Peninsula near the new Marine base at Chu Lai."

- Leatherneck Magazine

"The author interviewed Marine veterans, Viet Cong veterans, and conducted extensive archival research to produce a well-rounded portrayal of the war. His Viet Cong interviews provided a fresh outlook."

- The Journal of America's Military Past

“Otto Lehrack’s Operation Starlite is a fascinating account of Operation Starlite, the first major battle
of the Vietnam War.”

- Robert E. O’Malley, Medal of Honor, Operation Starlite

“Operation Starlite covers important new ground in understanding why the Marines’ war in Northern I Corps unfolded the way it did. While the Marines fought admirably and heroically in their first amphibious assault since Inchon in 1950, they were ultimately defeated in Vietnam by an Army doctrine to kill foes rather than their own doctrine to secure allies. We see exactly the same differences unfolding in Iraq, forty years after Operation Starlite, for the same reasons and with the same result—a blood debt the United States is not prepared to pay."

- Eric Hammel, author of "Fire in the Street" and "Khe Sanh"

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