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I SERVED
is a wild romp of a journey through one decade in my life, a decade that made me who I am today. Above all, it is a story of great love and friendships. During this ten-year period, I was, at one time or another, a prisoner, a traveler, a naïve child, an altar boy turned warrior. I have no regrets whatsoever, even about the hard times, because I can look back with fond memories about the love I found and the friendships I developed that will last a lifetime.

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I made the focus of I SERVED be the characters in the story. That is its greatest strength and what makes it such a good read. Because I focused so closely on character, by the time the story reaches Vietnam, the reader really cares about the person Don Hall because he or she has learned what makes him tick, what is important to him, and what drives him. The reader is also engaged by the other people in the story because they are so clearly drawn. A person doesn't have to be a military buff to enjoy the book.

I always wanted to be a writer, though as a kid I was told by many an adult that I didn't have what it took to be one. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, kids with dyslexia were relegated to the "dumb" side of the classroom. I was one of those kids. God decided I needed help if I were going to be a writer, so he sent me Annette. Besides correcting my multitude of spelling and grammatical errors, she helps me make what I write say exactly what I mean.

In 1984, after having spent years making notes, I finally sat down in front of a computer (a dual-floppy 8088 MS-DOS PC with no hard drive and only 128K of memory) and began typing out the first draft. Annette took each chapter as I finished it and made it readable. Because she was part of my life from such a young age, she was able to add content from her own knowledge that fleshed out the story. In 1985, when we finally finished the first draft of twenty-three chapters, we started sending out queries to a large number of literary agents and publishers. We received nothing but rejections. We were told no one was interested in reading  memoirs about the Vietnam War.  Finally, Annette and I shelved the manuscript. In 1991, I went to my first company reunion, and put to rest much of the guilt and anguish I had felt all the years since 1968 when I had gone home from Vietnam and left my team-mates behind. The 1991 reunion of Co. F, 51st Long Range Patrol (Airborne) Infantry was a watershed event in my life. Seeing the guys again helped put to rest so many of the anguished feelings I had carried with me all those years. My friends had survived, just like I had. I came home from that reunion walking on air. That reunion also opened the floodgates of memory. In reminiscing over old times with the guys, so many memories were revived that I knew I had to add more chapters to my book in order to do justice to the men of  F/51st LRP. I was revitalized and came home ready to get back to work on it. In 1992, with the book now thirty chapters long, we were offered a publishing contract with Random House, which we initially accepted. For a variety of reasons, we decided we wanted to remain independent and retain complete control of
I SERVED, as well as full copyright ownership, so we backed out of the contract, returned the advance we had received at the signing of the contract, and chose to self-publish instead. In 1994, we published a 500-copy hardbound limited collector's edition of I SERVED.

The events in Vietnam about which I wrote are backed up by official U.S. Army documentation. In late 1997, Col. William C. Maus, the man who formed F/51st LRP, and who was its first C.O., told me where to find that documentation. By the time I finished acquiring it all, I had over 6000 pages of documentation about the company and about the units in our area of operations. F/51st LRP was fortunate to have had as its first commanding officer a man like Col. Maus, who believed in keeping meticulous, accurate, contemporaneous, and voluminous records about everything that went on in the company. We had dozens of clerks whose sole job was to monitor the radios and record the radio communications, type up the after-action reports, transcribe the officers' daily logs, and document everything that occurred in the unit.

Col. Maus was a visionary. He knew our unit was the vanguard for future U.S. Army military strategy and tactics. I remember his telling me at the time that F/51st LRP was making history. Being just a young naïve 19-year-old staff sergeant, I didn't understand the significance of what he was saying. I do now. He knew that in the future, the U.S. Army would study the operations and tactics employed by F/51st Long Range Patrol (Airborne) Infantry and would apply the lessons learned from this great unit. The huge amount of documentation that came out of F/51st LRP would be instrumental in teaching future generations of soldiers. Ultimately, this valuable storehouse of knowledge was used to train the modern-day Ranger and Long Range Surveillance units.

Before he died in April 1998, Col. Maus told me how much he enjoyed reading the book. He praised me for having written such a great story about a unit he was proud to have commanded. He gave me a lot of excellent feedback and was looking forward to reading the next edition. I am deeply saddened that he died before that could happen.

In 1998, Annette and I began shooting a documentary about my unit. Shooting began in August 1998 and ended in September 1999. In addition to many of the men who served in F/51st LRP, we were very fortunate to have interviewed General H. Norman Schwarzkopf (U.S. Army, retired) and author Michael Lee Lanning. We finished the rough cut in late 2000 and held a sneak preview for the 2nd Battalion Ranger team leader trainees at Ft. Lewis, WA, in July 2000, and then a second sneak preview for an invited list of 100 on Veteran's Day, November 11, 2000, at a local community college. We completed the final editing in May 2002.  The title is "Silent Victory: the Story of Co. F,  51st Long Range Patrol (Airborne) Infantry." Click here for more information:
SILENT VICTORY.

Word of mouth about the documentary began to spread, which generated a renewed interest in
I SERVED. We began to receive orders for the original 1994 hardbound edition of the book, which we could not fulfill because we were sold out. We were already working on a much expanded version of I SERVED, which is still in the works, but we wanted to make an edition of I SERVED available now. As a result, we decided to publish a softbound version of the 1994 edition, with corrections, updates and some new material. The main body of this new edition is substantially the same as the original 1994 edition, with some new content added to a few of the chapters, and a few corrections made that I felt were necessary after going over all the National Archive documentation I had obtained in 1997 and 1998. There is also a new section, called War Stories, that contains stories from some of the men who served with me. We've also added a Resources section and a Summary of Operations section.  We've updated the Preface, Acknowledgements, Glossary, and Afterword, and added new photos and maps. Even if the reader has read the first edition of I SERVED, he or she will find enough new information in this edition to enjoy reading the book again.

--Don Hall

Note: our good friend, CSM Jeff Mellinger, is serving in Iraq. See articles by blogger Michael Yon.


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