President Kennedy once told a navy buddy who he’d appointed to a high Pentagon office that because he had been given a close exposure to history, he had an obligation to write about it. Michael Archer, now of Carson City, found himself in 1968 at the significant, dramatic battle of Khe Sanh, and he has written about it in an award-winning series of three books, including The Gunpowder Prince.
Tell me about the new book.
The book is about a captain in the Marine Corps [who] showed up at the siege of Khe Sanh when about 6,000 Americans were surrounded by about 35,000 north Vietnamese soldiers, heavily armed, heavily supported with tanks and artillery and so forth. This gentleman, Mirza Munir Baig [called Harry], he had been educated at Cambridge University, had come from a very wealthy and notable family in India—precolonial India … came to the United States. … He enlisted in the Marine Corps as a private and worked his way up. What he brought to Khe Sanh was he was fluent in French, he had read all of everything [Vietnamese military commander] Gen. Võ Nguyên Giáp had written … he studied every aspect of the battle of Dien Bien Phu, and he made the assumption that Giap was going to repeat that at Khe Sanh, and Giap did. And consequently, Harry was waiting for him.
How is the book being received?
Quite well. In fact, last night—funny you should ask—the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation awarded it the best biography of 2019. … To be honest with you, given the nature of the book, writing about an immigrant, kind of an unusual marine and unusual situation … I didn’t know whether something like that … would be accepted, and it wholeheartedly was by the Marine Corps.
How often do you hear from people who have found your books?
Just this morning. Yes, I hear almost every day from somebody, seriously. … It’s surprising how many Vietnam vets—I know it’s kind of clichéd, but, you know, are still unable to deal with that whole aspect of their life, for personal reasons, you know, everybody’s experience is different and the things they were asked to do. But, yes, it’s very rewarding. I heard from somebody this morning that was actually at Khe Sanh. … He’s just coming to grips with things. So it’s kind of nice.
Did you ever feel that your fate was being decided by people standing off at a safe distance?
Absolutely, particularly at Khe Sanh because Khe Sanh became very political, as you may recall. The Tet offensive, it was part of the Tet offensive. It was an election year. President Johnson actually—on March 31st of 1968, before the siege of Khe Sanh had ended—he actually made that famous speech that he would not run and so forth—
And would start peace talks.Yes, and would start peace talks. Exactly. And it was very demoralizing for those of us that had watched so much carnage. And later, when I got to know some of the people we fought against—I went to Hanoi, and I’m still friends with several north Vietnamese soldiers that were wounded at Khe Sanh—and I came to know that their plight was pretty much the same as ours. And then I really felt bad, because there was just an enormous amount of bloodshed on both sides at Khe Sanh for the 15-month period from mid ’67 until mid ’68, and, you know, it was all for naught … and we were only 19 then.