SEAL Team One is a classic fiction novel of the Vietnam War. There are several novels about the war in Vietnam, and this is, in my opinion, one of the better ones. However, in my mind, it is not the best. For the moment, I believe it is Karl Marlantes’ Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War that occupies that spot. Dispatches by Michael Herr, A Rumor of War by Philip Caputo, Fields of Fire by James Webb, and Chickenhawk by Robert Mason are also books that I rank highly and strongly recommend. SEAL Team One is perhaps sanitized a little here and there, but apart from that it is close, scary and personal, and belongs in this top tier of books about the Vietnam war.
SEAL Team One has been hailed for its authenticity. It was the first novel about Navy SEALs written by one of their own. Couch (see image) was a SEAL platoon leader in the Mekong Delta from 1970 to 1971, and that really shows in the book. While it certainly is a novel and a work of fiction, it is also and equally certainly a novel based on experience and first-hand knowledge both of the mode of operations and, not least, the emotional toll of a Vietnam tour on a young officer.
I read this novel very quickly. I really felt it told a gripping and at times very moving tale. It tells the story of a young man, Ensign James (Jim) McConnell, seemingly seduced by grand dreams of adventure, a desire to become part of America’s most elite fighting force, and hoping to be placed in the Caribbean, volunteered for SEAL training.
However, after training, he was soon on his way in the opposite direction as a young ensign and second in command of a SEAL platoon. Seduced by a glorious dream of grand adventure, McConnell joined the SEALs – America’s most elite fighting force. His dreams were soon replaced by the nightmarish realities of Foxtrot platoons never-ending series of nerve-wracking nightly missions into Vietcong-dominated areas of the Nam Can Forest.
I found myself fascinated by this gruesome tale of war, night-missions, and killings. It tells a story that is horrible in a plain, easy language and a matter-of-fact-tone that makes it feel very authentic. And while bad and sad are most certainly present in the book, so are honor, camaraderie, having each other’s backs, and the right to a second chance. Sometimes the worst of circumstances bring out the best in men. I recommend SEAL Team One– it is one of those books that makes an impression and therefore is well worth reading.