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Independent Press Award

2024 Distinguished Favorite

Weeds of War: Those Who Bled at Dien Bien Phu

Paul Alenous Kluge

It was clear by the first days of 1954 that a battle at Dien Bien Phu would tip scales everywhere. By then, France was desperate for a win. Meanwhile, Ho Chi Minh was willing to roll the dice, betting on the support of the Soviets, the Chinese, and his own fire-eating army.

It was the conscripts, the coolies, and the privates—the weeds of war—who had the least to gain and the most to lose. They, of course, would pay the heaviest price.

Weeds of War is a story of common soldiers—privates with no authority—whose success was essential to the manufacture of victory. On one side are the young zealots of the communist Vietminh who do not hesitate to throw themselves into suicidal wave assaults. People like Private Nguyen.

Then there are those who enlist in the Foreign Legion, which is teeming with Wehrmacht survivors—hard core, professional soldiers. Included is a troubled and naive Irish teen.

An obscene maturity is promptly squeezed from the body and heart of youth on both sides. Young souls age quickly or are lost in the craggy fields of war.

But war is not all blood and guts. There is room for humanity and sometimes even a little romance across enemy lines. For this is a world of strange bedfellows where patience and resilience prevail.

The privates depicted here are fictional, but their experiences are from actual battles that ended one war and began another—the next time with America. This is how it really was, to live and die among the weeds.

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