A number of years ago, I reconnected with an old friend on Facebook (what a surprise!), and learned that she had written a book about Vietnam called Seek On!: The History of the US Combat Tracker Teams in the Vietnam War.
Recently, I learned that she was publishing a revised edition of the book, and I thought it might be interesting to interview her. Her name is Susan Opsut Merritt, and she is one interesting gal.
Joe: So, Sue, what made you decide to write this book in the first place?
Sue: When Frank and I got together almost 25 years ago, we were really blessed to have had a shared “childhood.” Both of us went to the same schools, the same church, and our parents were friends both in and out of politics. With that background, we found that we could talk about everything and anything. We became “partners.” He began relating his experiences in Vietnam. He had been an MP K9 handler and then, a Combat Tracker Team graduate of the British Jungle Warfare School. But, by then, he was becoming more interested in making contact with “his guys”—the Combat Tracker Provisional Teams. We had no idea if the specialty had continued past 1968. We realized there was nothing public regarding this specialty. However, Frank had been found by some of his original team.
I must say, when I realized what these guys did, how they were trained (the level of excellence) and the fact that they had all been separated and intentionally kept apart, I became intensely motivated to do something for these heroes. There are very few Special Ops groups that have their roots in British anti-terrorist tactics that were hard-learned by winning British “small wars” around the world. The Combat Tracker teams were General William C. Westmoreland’s answer to the “elusive enemy,” those North Vietnames fighters who melted into the jungle and drove the line officers crazy (“How do you catch a glimmer?”). These teams found the ambush squads, the “sappers,” the actionable intel, and “friendlies” who had gotten lost.
At the time, we knew about fifteen veteran Trackers. The group that formed was made up of mostly early Provisional Team members and one guy from ’71. We set up a website for them to re-connect, and started searching throughout the veteran communities.
Joe: That must have been quite a job.
Sue: Yes, it was. We started by searching telephone books from areas where someone had remembered “something” about a guy on his team. Meanwhile, the Trackers were going to veterans’ groups, where they were met with total disbelief. Worse yet, in going to the VA, they found that there was NO information in their documents that they had been Trackers or that they had been trained in the Jungle Warfare School—nor that they had ever been in combat!
Joe: That’s amazing!
Sue: Yes, it certainly was. In fact, Frank’s DD214* stated that he was a “Clerk/Typist” with two Bronze Stars (one with “V” device) and two Purple Hearts—strange awards and honors for a clerk/typist!
Joe: I should say so!
Sue: The whole thing was so incredibly unjust and, in my mind, intolerable. So, we had three goals: find as many of the surviving Trackers as we could; reconnect with the British Instructors and those from the School at Ft. Gordon, GA; and to get the specialty back into today’s military.
Joe: Sounds like you had your work cut out for you. What happened next?
Sue: I decided to write a book for the guys, to let the public know about these heroes. I obtained first-hand accounts and recovered information that had been sequestered behind miles of red-tape. It took about ten years for the first edition of Seek On to be published.
Joe: Were there any particular hurdles to writing the book?
Sue: Well, this was my first attempt at writing a book. I had written articles and other things before, but nothing of this magnitude. It was a labor of love, but I had difficulties due to my own ignorance.
Joe: I know this is a “revised” edition. What kind of revisions did you make and why?
Sue: There were definitely some “holes” in the original book. There were also repetitions and rough spots, as I worked my way through the process of creating it. Fortunately, my “better half” got really involved in the second edition, and, along with adding material, became my editor and did the cover design.
Joe: The cover is very impressive. So, how long did it actually take you to do the revision?
Sue: Well, there was a hiatus between publishing the first edition in 2011 and when I began the serious work on the revised version in 2016. There was a year and a half filled with medical issues, which pretty much relegated everything else to the back burner. We are also bringing up our grandson after the tragic death of our son Ed in 2013. So, the book was set aside for “a bit.”
Joe: What can a reader expect to learn from reading your book?
Sue: There were a group of superbly trained, counter-terrorist teams that made a “commendable difference” (according to General Westmoreland) in the winning of the war in Vietnam. You must remember, according to many Vietnam veterans: “When I left, we were winning!”
From the time of the French and Indian Wars, we, as a country, had forgotten the lessons of “asymmetric” warfare. We had forgotten how to fight insurgents, using non-conventional war tactics. These heroes and some of the other “specialities” brought the missing components to the war. No matter what one thought of the war, these boys volunteered for the most difficult assignments and excelled.
Joe: It’s important that readers understand that, don’t you think so?
Sue: Yes, most definitely! They returned “home” to a completely “upside-down” world where they had become a symbol of disdain and outright disgust—unimaginable but true. And yet, those veterans returned to civilian life to become family men and community members, and went about life. They have now “come home” from Vietnam in a spiritual sense.
Joe: You mentioned that Frank, your husband, is your co-author. What experiences did he have that helped him expand the scope of the book?
Sue: You will find Frank’s experiences throughout the book. I have to tell you that some of them evidence our shared, warped senses of humor! Frank added the “leavening” to the making of this book. I may have had all of the numbers and documents and other cut and dried information, but Frank and the others added their own recollections, which definitely “make” the book! The other individuals are named in the book and in the dedication.
Joe: Did writing this book change any of your feelings regarding the Vietnam War?
Sue: I believe that the book allowed me to express my pride in the country and her military. I was so disappointed by the public reaction to our warriors who came back after honorable service and were treated like dirt. It is only since 2001 that the public acknowledged that they had never celebrated the individual service members for putting their lives on the line during that terrible war.
Joe: That’s an understatement.
Sue: The Vietnam vets are finally receiving some of the laurels that they so justly deserve. With this book, I am hopeful that the small group of specialists known as the Combat Tracker Teams of the Vietnam War will become known as the heroes they truly are—even though they will tell you to a man that they were “just doing their job.”
Joe: Where can people buy copies of your book, and can they purchase autographed copies?
Sue: Well, Amazon is my publisher through its subsidiary CreateSpace, but I have opened the channels to all major booksellers. I hope to set up a website so that I can get autographed copies out to people. [Note: I will be helping Sue with the website, and will let you all know when it is finished.]
Joe: What else would you like readers to know about you and your husband?
Sue: We have both evolved as people through our life experiences and regressed into an earlier time in our lives. It’s very easy to slip back when you have the shared lives that we have had. The kids go nuts as we really don’t complete full thoughts, because we understand what one another is saying/thinking before completing them! We have a love for adoptable dogs—BIG ones! We are “recycled” parents of a teenager, with us being in our early 70s. And that’s funny! But then, that’s probably one of our strongest characteristics: an ability to find humor in so many things! We love our extended family—two daughters, ten grandkids, and three great grandkids, not to mention cousins and all. I was an adoptee and only found my birth family just over ten years ago.
Joe: Wow! I never knew that. That’s wonderful.
Sue: Yes it is. And I have two amazing sisters and a plethora of neat cousins. It just keeps getting better. I believe that I may have used the word “blessed,” and I surely am. Frank and I are ever so grateful for our world of family, friends, and, of course, “my” Combat Trackers! (And, yes, Joe—that includes you!)
Joe: Now you’re making me blush. Well, Sue, I really appreciate your spending this time with me. I just know the book is going to be a real winner. Thanks so much for sharing your story with us.
Sue: It was my pleasure.