Before he entered the prison system, James served in the US Army in Vietnam and was part of a battle for the Fire Support Base Ripcord. The battle was considered one of the worst in the war and has the dubious distinction of being referred to as The Second "Hamburger Hill," for the number of lives lost for nothing. James King recounts his time on Ripcord in his book, "Strike Force Widow-Makers" and is here to tell us about the experience of writing it.
In Strike Force: Widow Makers, you write about a very traumatic time in your life that most people tend to want to forget. Why did you write it?
Strike Force Widow Makers is a story forty-five years in the making. In fact, although it was untitled, the story of Ripcord and other aspects of my two tours in-country were written thirty-five years ago at the advice of a VA therapist who said to me, “if you don’t want to or can’t talk about it, then try writing about it. You have to let those demons out, not bottle them up.” So I wrote it all down, 345 heartfelt and tear-stained pages that were etched upon my memories and tattooed on my soul, then thrown into the fireplace because I felt no one wanted or cared to read them. But in short, I wrote the story because no official report was made about those dead and wounded souls we left behind. They deserve to be heard!
Not only is the memory painful, but you are currently incarcerated, a difficult environment for most people. Did being in prison help you in some emotional way to write your memoir, or did it make the process even more painful?
Some memories are painful but there were some good ones as well. The most profound are the memories of the camaraderie and the friendships made in spite of the hostile hill. But being incarcerated to write this story was somewhat painful due to the fact of my embarrassment of being in prison. Many of my brothers in arms went on to lead respectful and law-abiding lives in spite of the same traumatic experience of war, and I somehow couldn’t get it together. But not only that, but not having someone to talk with as old wounds were again opened and new tears shed at the memories of that time in my life. I still don’t sleep well because of those memories, 2 hours on and 2 hours off as if I’m on LP (listening post) duty all over again, at times waking up back in the steaming, hot jungle of I-Corp or on top of that windy hill that give me the chills at the memory of it. However, it was because of those friendships that helped me pen this story. We used to say sometimes when things got rough, “If a man can make it through Nam, he can make it anywhere.” Mister Jungle certainly taught us that much. Yet I admit writing this story did release some of the demons caused by that war. There are other aspects of the war that plague my memories needing to be exorcised. Maybe writing about it will help with those demons also. We’ll see!
How long did it take to write the book, and did you ever want to quit?
It actually took three and a half years to write “Strike Force Widow Markers.” It was unique in its own way because being a platoon op conned (operational-control) to another larger unit, we were only given a small mention of our role in the Ripcord fiasco. Even though we, the 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry, brought “Operation Texas Star” to a conclusion, which FSB Ripcord was opened in support of at the beginning of “Texas Star.” At the beginning, I did want to stop as unwanted memories came back but once I really got into it, it kinda flowed outa me. I think a release valve was opened and it couldn’t be stopped.
What do you hope to achieve by writing about the siege of Firebase Ripcord?
First to clear my conscience and, simply put, help those voices from the graves of those dead and wounded soldiers that need to be heard. Also, I hope that others who were there would come forward lending their voices to that tragedy as well. I know there are others including retired Colonel Benjamin Harrison.
You saw men abandoned on the top of the firebase that July day in 1970, do you feel that you have been abandoned as well and why?
I am proud of my service with those men who fought so valiantly during the siege of Ripcord. The men who fought there, wounded there, and died there. We were all abandoned, not just the wounded. But all of us at the time blamed higher-ups (MACV-Saigon) because they did not send the reinforcements needed to hold that position that so many had given their lives to keep. Just as all the other hills numbered and unnumbered, named and unnamed, that were taken at the loss of many American lives, only to be given back to the enemy. Ripcord was the last hill added to that list. Yes, we were abandoned not by the generals who wanted to fight, but by the jerk politicians who fought that battle for political gain. That was who abandoned us on that Hill called Ripcord,
Without giving away a spoiler, do you still feel that prison would have been a better path for you to take in life instead of enlisting?
I can’t say with a certainty that prison would have been a better choice for me instead of enlisting. Maybe, if I could have gained some insight into the issues I was dealing with back there.
Strike Force Widow Makers is available in both print and eBook, and you get a copy here or by clicking on the image above.
You can write to Mr. King at the following address:
P.O. Box 4430