Spite house : the last secret of the war in Vietnam /
Monika Jensen-Stevenson.
1st ed.
New York : W.W. Norton, 1997.
xii, 371 p. : ill.
More Details
New York : W.W. Norton, 1997.
catalogue key
Includes index.
A Look Inside
First Chapter

Chapter One

Chapter 1 Remembrance Day

November 11th, 1991, Crystal City Hilton, Washington, D.C., Annual Meeting, Vietnam Veterans Coalition

I sat at the speakers' table and noticed him come through the door. He surveyed the large room with some distaste and just a touch of embarrassment. Several hundred men and women were milling around breakfast tables.

He had never attended a gathering of Vietnam vets before; meetings such as these made up a world he had always heard about with sadness. He hurt for all those guys in their camouflage dungarees and bush hats, growing bald and paunchy, because they seemed unable to move past the memory of the time they spent in Vietnam. To him they were like the Wall, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, which he had never seen and never intended to see: the veterans, it seemed to him, offered themselves up, in perpetuity, as symbols of defeat.

Still, he saluted the flag and sang the national anthem with his usual spirit. He had finally recognized that this was a subculture with its own ceremonies, celebrities, and jargon. But he definitely did not feel part of it--it was too emotionally complicated. He still remembered with puzzled pride the wartime nickname he had been given without his knowledge: "Colonel Smooth." Until the day before he left Vietnam in September 1969 he had no idea that this was the image his men had of him. At a farewell party, his senior sergeants presented him with a small marble Buddha and a note that said he reminded them of the Buddha, because he "always stayed calm, no matter how tense the situation...he was unshakeable." He thought now: they had no idea just how tightly wound he had in fact been underneath. What had made him so seemingly sure of himself had nothing to do with being smooth. It was something much simpler: the belief he had firmly held since his first tour in Korea--that he was just a Marine doing what Marines do.

He had come to Washington to find a man he had hated for twenty-three years. He knew it was unlikely that his old nemesis would be here, but it was always possible. The Colonel, still obsessed by his search, blanked out the meeting, the speakers, the awards. Not encountering his man among the crowd, he would ask my help in tracking him down--Robert (Bobby) Garwood, a former Marine private, captured in Vietnam in 1965. Garwood returned from Vietnam in 1979, six years after the peace agreements were signed, only to be court martialed and found guilty of collaborating with the enemy. He figured in a book I wrote.

Greeting people after my speech, I again became aware of the visitor, a ramrod-straight, imposing figure in a dark suit, waiting patiently, an intense look on his face. He made no move to speak. Only when I began to move away did he step forward and take both my hands in his. He began to weep silently. The silence stretched on and on. Finally he said, "I am Colonel Tom C. McKenney. You must know how to reach Bobby Garwood. I directed an official mission to assassinate him behind enemy lines, because I believed what they told me. Would you tell him that I will crawl on my hands and knees to beg his forgiveness?" (1) Andrew Geer, The New Breed: The Story of the U.S. Marines in Korea. Nashville: Battery Press, 1989.

Copyright © 1997 Monika Jensen-Stevenson. All rights reserved.

Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Library Journal on 1997-05-01:
While every American prisoner suffered under Viet Cong and North Vietnamese control, few can lay claim to the physical and mental duress endured by Robert Garwood. This young Marine driver was captured only ten days before the end of his tour of duty in 1965. He spent the next 14 years as a POW and, when finally repatriated in 1979, was immediately arrested by the U.S. military and charged with collaborating with the enemy. The charges against Garwood were never substantiated but were widely believed by U.S. intelligence officers in Vietnam. Jensen-Stevenson (Kiss the Boys Good-bye, NAL Dutton, 1991, pap.) describes Garwood's ordeal both from the standpoint of the hapless Marine, caught up in events far beyond his understanding, and from that of Col. Tom McKenney, a Marine officer obsessed with killing the man he was told was a traitor. A fascinating and disturbing story, it is a useful addition to Vietnam War collections. Recommended for academic and public libraries.‘John R. Vallely, Siena Coll. Lib., Loudonville, N.Y. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 1997-02-24:
One of the most sordid episodes to emerge from the Vietnam War involved former U.S. Marine Private Robert Garwood, who vanished in Vietnam in 1965 at age 18 and returned, as if from the dead, to an astonished U.S. in 1979. The Marines said that Garwood had defected to the Viet Cong. Garwood claimed that he was a prisoner of war who, in 14 years, never stopped trying to escape. After a much publicized trial, Garwood was convicted of collaborating with the enemy. Over the years, the case has been picked up by various authors or filmmakers seeking either to exonerate or to condemn Garwood. Now comes this potentially explosive history from former 60 Minutes producer Jensen-Stevenson (Kiss the Boys Goodbye), who has unearthed the stunning secret that after his disappearance, Garwood was targeted for execution as a traitor by a clandestine U.S. assassination team. The author organizes much of her book around her interviews with Marine Colonel Tom McKenney, self-proclaimed would-be assassin and repentant Garwood-hunter. She treats readers to long, parallel descriptions of McKenney and Garwood's backgrounds and childhood experiences, sprinkling her prose with tantalizing statements that suggest Garwood's culpability ("The White Cong, as he was called by some in the closed, small circle of men who hunted him, got a reputation for cleverness beyond belief"). But Jensen-Stevenson never states her own position clearly, substituting her description of McKenney's gradual change of mind and his 1994 meeting to apologize to Garwood. Those familiar with the case may pick through the new elements to fuel their pre-existing viewpoints. The book's meandering organization may lead general readers new to the case off course, however, before they get to the generally plausible conclusion. Photos not seen by PW. Author tour. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
This item was reviewed in:
Publishers Weekly, February 1997
Library Journal, May 1997
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