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Invasion of Laos, 1971Invasion of Laos, 1971

Lam Son 719

Robert D. Sander

Narrated by Stuart Appleton

Available from Audible

Book published by University of Oklahoma Press

The political planning and military execution of one of the most costly losses of the Vietnam War

In 1971, while U.S. ground forces were prohibited from crossing the Laotian border, a South Vietnamese Army corps, with U.S. air support, launched the largest airmobile operation in the history of warfare, Lam Son 719. The objective: to sever the North Vietnamese Army’s main logistical artery, the Ho Chi Minh Trail, at its hub, Tchepone in Laos, an operation that, according to General Creighton Abrams, could have been the decisive battle of the war, hastening the withdrawal of U.S. forces and ensuring the survival of South Vietnam. The outcome: defeat of the South Vietnamese Army and heavy losses of U.S. helicopters and aircrews, but a successful preemptive strike that met President Nixon’s near-term political objectives.

Author Robert Sander, a helicopter pilot in Lam Son 719, explores why an operation of such importance failed. Drawing on archives and interviews, and  firsthand testimony and reports, Sander chronicles not only the planning and execution of the operation but also the maneuvers of the bastions of political and military power during the ten-year effort to end Communist infiltration of South Vietnam, leading up to Lam Son 719. The result is a picture from disparate perspectives: the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations; the South Vietnamese government led by President Nguyen Van Thieu; and senior U.S. military commanders and army aviators.


“Sander’s conclusion is at once powerful and persuasively clear. Lam Son 719 was doomed in both the planning and execution—a casualty of domestic and international politics, flawed assumptions, incompetent execution, and the resolve of the North Vietnamese Army. A powerful work of military and political history, this book offers eloquent testimony that “failure, like success, cannot be measured in absolute terms. In the final days of the operation, I watched at Khe Sanh as every UH-1 helicopter returned fully loaded with withdrawing troops and an additional four to six ARVN troops hanging on the skids. Robert Sander has done a truly superb job of telling what really happened in Lam Son 719.  Great book!”

—Maj. Gen. Benjamin L. Harrison, author of Hell on a Hill Top: America‚Äôs Last Major Battle in Vietnam

“With the keen eye for detail that comes from having served in combat, Bob Sander’s Invasion of Laos is an important addition to the history of one of the pivotal battles of the Vietnam War.  Sander’s vivid accounts of the heroic actions of his fellow helicopter pilots and crewmen are especially noteworthy. Invasion of Laos deserves to be a part of any Vietnam War library or collection.”

—Andrew Wiest, author of Vietnam‚Äôs Forgotten Army: Heroism and Betrayal in the ARVN

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University Press Audiobooks