Book Reviews – Defcon 4 & Call Sign: Purple Three
Mark Heathcote is an American veteran of the North Korean war, having served just short of 400 patrols of the Demilitarised Zone between North and South Korea, a sort of no-mans land much like the bandit country of Northern Ireland during ‘The Troubles.’
I discovered these two books quite by chance from a comment on one of my previous review blogs. From what I understand, the author is working on a third book, a spin-off From Defcon 4, and there is a possible documentary being discussed based on Call Sign: Purple Three, both of which I’m looking forward to …
Although these two books were written several years ago, the current situation with North Korea and its leadership ensures the subject matter of both books remains topical; whilst there have been steps of late to bring a lasting peace to the area, given the bravado and king-sized egos of the two ‘leaders’ in question, as well as the possible consequences should hostilities escalate there, this still remains a dangerous and volatile part of the world.
See also: Twitter: Mark Heathco @dmzpatrolleader
Defcon 4 Korea:
Land of the Morning Calm
More a novella than a novel, this is a short but enjoyable read that packs in a lot of content. Set during the mid 80’s this was very much the cold war of North-East Asia during the very real tensions that existed between the American backed South Korea and the Chinese backed forces of the North, and given the current state of affairs between the USA and that part of the world, a story that indeed echoes the continuation of that conflict.
The heart of the story centres around the activities of an American front-line infantry unit along the North-South Korean border and their frequent encounters with their North Korean counterparts. Inter-spaced with these firefights we witness the saving of some North Korean refugees fleeing to safety, and through their rescue learn more of the seedier side of such conflicts, the human trafficking, the spying and ruthless exploitation of the most vulnerable; related to this we also hear a little about secretly dug tunnels along the border in aid of such activities, drawing parallels with the more widely known Vietnam conflict.
The author has clearly blended fact and fiction based on his own experience and service during the time; not having served in the American military or in that part of the world myself I can’t really vouch for the authenticity of the events or the ground fighting descriptions but from a purely reader’s perspective they were fast paced, well written and entertaining, and the author’s decision to write in the first person gave the writing an added pace and intimacy. There’s a lot of American military terminology and abbreviations just as there is with any military force whatever the country but the author does, for the most part, make clear their meaning, and in those instances where he doesn’t the context in which it/they are used makes it easy enough to guess without having to resort to the glossary at the end.
As a British veteran, I can appreciate the author’s view of this being a ‘forgotten war’ in much the same way many British veterans who served tours in Northern Ireland resent their service being largely forgotten, overshadowed as it were by more recent conflicts.
If I had but one gripe I would suggest the author should either make the eBook version freely available via Amazon KU or reduce the price somewhat given that it’s currently almost the same price as that of the paperback version (which is also only available via third-party sellers on Amazon which might be a bit off-putting for some people).
Overall, an enjoyable little read that should appeal to fans of military-themed action/conflict stories, and I’m looking forward to reading the author’s other, book Call Sign: Purple Three.
Call Sign: Purple Three
Patrolling the US Sector of the Korean DMZ
As I said in my review of the author’s previous book, Defcon 4, the Korean war and the Cold War type conflict along the Demilitarised Zone, or DMZ, between the North and South is a largely forgotten one, and little known or understood by most of the world. In this respect, it is much like the conflict between the British Army and the IRA terrorists during ‘The Troubles’ at the same time.
Just as Russian tanks and personnel vastly out-numbered their NATO counterparts in Germany and the rest of Western Europe during the Cold War, North Korean forces also out-numbered the American and South Korean forces in the ration of 12 to 1, making for a frightening prospect should they decide to invade, a very real possibility at the time. As well as the military situation on the ground, the author also highlights the psychological and propaganda aspect of the war, mentioning the regular blasting of North Korean music along the border for the American patrols to hear. Not only did they face the threat of full-scale invasion on a day to day basis, but had to be constantly alert to infiltration and tunnelling from the North to the South. Despite the cessation of open hostility, lives were lost on a regular basis, and those on patrol were most at risk, both from the North Koreans and hidden mines.
This is a book written very much with the military or veteran reader in mind. The author has spared no effort in his attention to technical and operational detail. I’m also pleased to say, included are dozens of photographs that supplement the vivid picture the author has created, detailing what it was like for the infantry patrols of the time, in this case, the mid-80s. Although heavy on description and minute detail, it is written in the first-person and is interspaced with lots of excellent dialogue between Sgt. Heathco (the author) and other military personnel he served with. This gives much of the book an easy to read conversational style, providing context to much of the military description. As you would expect, some of this dialogue might appear raw to the point of crudity for anyone who hasn’t served, like when Sgt. Heathco is explaining the toilet arrangments for some men on their first patrol. Through this and some of the regular conversation, the author brings emphasis to the human and personal side of the conflict rather than just an ‘account’ of it.
Although a well deserved 5 stars, for the benefit of the civilian reader, or indeed non-American military, I would have preferred a glossary of American military acronyms and terminology at the beginning rather than the end of the book. I would also have prefered the excellent photographs to have been evenly spread throughout rather than all being placed roughly in the middle. But these really are minor considerations. Overall this is an exceptionally well-written book with an authenticity that could only come from someone who has lived every moment of what they’re writing – a poignant and fascinating insight into just what it meant to be on a real patrol along and in the DMZ.
*Further to when I read the first of Mark Heathco’s books, both the eBook and paperback versions are now available directly via Amazon.