Book Reviews

Reviews of “First Light”

Powerful, Insightful – Deserves a Wide Readership

S. Elliott Lawrence’s First Light: A Novel of Close Combat closely follows the 1968-69 Vietnam War tour of Lieutenant Kenneth McKenzie. The lieutenant serves with the First Cavalry first as a platoon leader. He fills out the second half of his one-year tour as the Division Protocol Officer. McKenzie grew up in Oregon and the novel often alludes to the Pacific Northwest and his boyhood there.

Lawrence shares the above biography with his character. A Vietnam veteran, he is a retired trial attorney who can write and how knows how to tell a story. His main character is the lowest of Army officers, a second lieutenant. That was rare in Vietnam since most newly minted officers chose extra training before they left the United States, which resulted in them being first lieutenants when they arrived.

Our hero was in a big hurry to get to the First Cav, so he volunteered to go to Vietnam right out of OCS, with no jump school or other foot-dragging exercises.  That’s why he was not highly valued when he arrived in country.

Lt. McKenzie fooled the powers that be, though, by surviving his first few weeks and then months in the field and doing a good job as an infantry platoon leader. His priority was to keep his men alive while also following orders. When orders placed his men at serious risk for no apparent reason, McKenzie butted heads with his commanders. This led to quite a bit of drama in the novel and to the young LT’s reassignment.

Lawrence brings his characters alive—the lieutenant and the enlisted men and officers he served with, both good and not so good. When they die, this reader felt their loss, and believed that the lieutenant felt their loss as well.

The filth and suffering of being in the field for weeks at a time without clean water, clean clothes, and decent food is well communicated. We encounter such oft-told horrors as ham and lima beans and worse. John Wayne is mentioned, but Audie Murphy surprisingly also is name-checked. REMF’s are also encountered.

Our hero becomes a REMF in the second half of his tour, but that part of the book is not as long as the combat section. The emphasis is the hero’s combat experience, but Lawrence also presents a good, solid representation of the life of a Division Protocol Officer.

I enjoyed this well-told story from beginning to end. 

David Wilson – Vietnam Veterans of America


I’m a fan of military fiction/memoirs and military strategy books in general. I was impressed by the unique and valuable contribution this book makes to the military genre. In fact, I’m not aware of another book like it, which is saying a lot.

Told as a third-person account of a young second lieutenant in Vietnam, this book follows the varied year-long experiences of Kenneth McKenzie. It has the touching focus on camaraderie of WEB Griffin books, the descriptions of how things actually get done in the Army of the “Yellow Green Beret” trilogy, an educational dose of effective boots-on-the-ground infantry tactics, the evocative and insightful reflections of our best works of fiction (don’t worry about the occasional rough editing; I’m sure this will be smoothed out in future editions), and movingly honest representations of combat’s impacts on the body, mind, and soul. The author convincingly gives us a protagonist who is both sensitive and vulnerable while being a genuine hard-a#*s who can take care of his men. Again, a rare and valuable breed. No similar protagonist is coming to mind, although this is the kind of person we want leading troops into combat. Young military officers (even NCOs?) will find food for thought and encouragement of their best inclinations in this book. The fact that it deals with Vietnam is irrelevant. The lessons extend to any war or conflict.

I’m not aware of another “war story” that deals as plainly or conscientiously with the daily challenges and obligations of ethical leadership.


I have known the author for many years. I have walked some of the jungle trails he has and been on a few of the same operations. While this book is technically fiction, I think that is “lawyer speak” for “it has been many years and I may have some facts mixed up.” Great book by a good soldier and fine officer!

A First Cav. Vietnam Grunt


Great story. This book gave me a close up look at the fears, frustrations, and amazing bravery of our Vietnam Veterans. I’ll never truly know what you heroes endured but with this book I have a better understanding. Thank you McKenzie, Doll, Koop, Kemper, and so many more. I want to read it again.

James Wilson 


I have never bookmarked so many descriptive phrases, wisely clear summaries of events, or stunning inner revelations of truth. Thank you for sharing the deepest meanings of how war affects the men and women on the ground and in the trenches. This is a book not only for those in military service or who have served, but those needing to recognize what it takes to make freedom possible. 1-6 is definitely a hero and leader.

C H Moses III 

Reviews of “Amotan Field”

Interesting and entertaining;

I read this book with a lot of interest because I’m friends with the author. I wasn’t disappointed. The history of our town was especially informative as well as the story revolving around native-American local history and culture. But the best part of the book for me was the main character’s struggles in the aftermath of his service in Vietnam. As he strategized over how to handle his main adversary, his Vietnam experience had both positive and negative influences and impacts on the final outcome. I highly recommend this book, especially to those who reside in a similar community as The Dalles, Oregon.

Richard A. Mays 

I enjoyed reading Amaton Field because I was born and raised in The Dalles and was in the class one year ahead of the author. The settings and characters of the story are very familiar to me. I enjoyed his description of the town and the history behind places of which I am very familiar. It was a delight to read a book that brought back wonderful memories of my childhood. I am proud of S. Elliot Lawrence and his endeavor as an author. Well done!

Carol Hannan