QL 20 - Road War Vietnam

An Historical Fiction Novel
“It was a vicious circle in that roads couldn't be built until areas were relatively secure, and roads couldn't be secured until they were fully built.” This was the Engineering News Record assessment of Roadbuilding, one of the principal strategies of the Vietnam War.

Jim Decker, an Army lieutenant, is not much on war but - educated to be an engineer - he wonders if his talents can “make a difference” in this unpopular struggle. With the assistance of his street-smart driver Young, his wizened Platoon Sergeant Green, a wheeler-dealer often-demoted equipment operator Smitty, and some skilled local Vietnamese papa-sans, he first overcomes the challenges of weather, tools, equipment, and VC rocket attacks to complete a high visibility bunker project for the U.S. Third Corps. In this endeavor he meets key people who will influence the balance of his combat tour.

  • A no-nonsense Special Forces major advising ARVN soldiers who has little time for military courtesies but needs results, as when Decker has a short notice mission to install emergency lighting to protect a vulnerable and key QL 20 bridge over the Rhang Fhet marshland.
  • Weathered warrant officer helicopter pilots of a combat aviation battalion that Decker horse trades into getting key supplies for his men.
  • A dishonored lieutenant colonel of the Corps Headquarters who is the epitome of spit and polish in a combat zone, and places similar continual demands on Decker and his men, but who has a heart for soldiering and turns out to be a valuable asset.
  • Another new lieutenant of the battalion who makes such a poor first impression that he is relegated to the most menial of duties and responsibilities; but whose actions earn him a Silver Star and eventually redemption.
  • A good old southern boy, Corporal Johnson, who comes up with unexpected ways to keep the work moving.

These pieces fall into place when Decker must establish a base camp along QL 20, in the heart of deadly Ambush Alley. Can Decker and his men build road and simultaneously prepare for potential attack by major NVA and VC forces? Persistent, demanding challenges and novel solutions lead to an exciting surprise ending.

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This was the product of nine years of work. It began when Bonnie bought me a digital recorder and I narrated the story on my way to and from Celebration, Florida, a 75 minute one-way commute from our home in Valrico. Bonnie did the typing and a lot of the proofing. Other proofing came from family members and friends, my Mom and my older daughter Karen being major proof readers. The work began as a screenplay and ended as a novel.

Interestingly, controlling the road network as one major means of controlling the country appears to be a strategy employed today in Afghanistan. The terrain, tactics, and techniques differ, but the challenge is the same.

I was asked, "Why did you do this and how much of this is based on your own experiences in Vietnam?" The answer is that I did it to give my children and grandchildren some insights as to what I experienced as an engineer lieutenant in Vietnam. Some percentage of the book comes from real world personal experience; some percentage is fiction. Readers have found the mix to be 100% interesting. Enjoy - and get a very readable and fascinating perspective on a part of the war few people really know about - yet something that is as important today in the Middle East as it was over 40 years ago.

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The sequel to QL 20 is Delta Dogs. Jim Decker, now an Army captain, returns for a second Vietnam tour. He finds himself assigned to command a combat engineer company in support of a separate airborne infantry brigade, but relegated to a base maintenance role. Can he train up his unit and gain the confidence of these airborne soldiers so they can benefit from his company’s skills and expertise? The answer appears to be “no,” but that is before the brigade becomes decisively engaged in Operation Valley Fury in Phúc Yên Valley.

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QL 20 - Road War Vietnam, is available for purchase at Amazon.com.

For more on Jay Braden's military career, to include some humor, click here