CBA Record

torical context and provides background, followed by excerpts from Pena’s journal. Pena writes in his journal with anger, bitterness and dismay, but also questions why we are participating in the war. His writings also assess the Vietnamese, who Pena portrays in his journal as resolved to the war and way that the world and the United States viewed Vietnam at the time. He also writes about the lack of care by the American public regarding the war. (He asserts that the “spitting in the face of soldiers” generally was not an accurate depiction, but more a politic maneuvering by the Nixon administration.) Raw and Riveting The book does at times “leave [the readers] with chills,” as promised on the book cover. At the same time, the book is relatively short and a number of the pages are written in the present. Many of the journal entries are not sequential but jump back and forth during the 10 months Pena served in Vietnam. For the reader, more of the complete raw journal entries in sequential order would have allowed the reader to truly experience what Vietnam was like from one American soldier’s viewpoint. In addition, at times the journal entries read as if Pena edited them with thirty years of reflection, rather than the raw, unedited observations of the soldier in Vietnam. Throughout the book, Pena comes across as a bitter opponent to the war fought in Vietnam. The book is a must read for everyone to get a better understanding of what we as a nation do each time we send our ser- vice personnel overseas to fight a war in a foreign land. Despite some critiques of the book for format and briefness, the book is well written and provides a firsthand glimpse into the VietnamWar and the tur- bulent times in our nation as the war was coming to an end. Pena and Hagan have given us what may be the most personal account of the Vietnam War. Pena, who was awarded the National Defense Service Medal, the Army Commendation Medal and the Vietnam Service Medal, is to be commended for his honorable service to this country and for sharing his experience with us.


Hagan, John D. MacArthur Professor of Sociology and Law at Northwestern University, team up in their book, Last Plane Out of Saigon, to provide such a first person perspective. The book title derives its name from a photo hanging in the Ho Chi Minh City’s War Remnants Museum entitled, “Last Plane Out.” The photo depicts one of the last planes to leave Saigon with United States military person- nel, including Pena. When he and his wife visited Vietnam in 2003, his wife saw the photo and recognized Pena boarding the plane carrying his briefcase. When Pena returned from the trip to Vietnam, he read through the journal that he kept during his year in Vietnam. Hagan encouraged him to write about it. One of the Last Drafted Pena was a law student who had just com- pleted his first year at the University of Texas at Austin Law School when he was drafted. On June 14, 1971, he entered the U.S. Army. Pena would be one of the last Americans drafted into service, as “Con- gress abandoned the draft several months before the conclusion of his tour of duty.” Pena decided to keep a journal of his expe- rience in Vietnam. The book is “a faithful reproduction of the journal he kept.” Pena was assigned to the largest operat- ing room in Vietnam, serving as an Operat- ing Room Specialist. His tour lasted from May 1972 through March 1973, when soldiers were evacuated fromVietnam. His journal writings reflect the gore and harsh- ness of what he saw during his tour and in the operating room, with “an underlying tone of bitterness.” The 133-page book contains six parts, with each part generally being introduced by Hagan. Hagan sets the political and his-

Last Plane Out of Saigon By Richard Pena and John Hagan Story Merchant Books, 2014

Reviewed by Daniel A. Cotter M any books have been published about the Vietnam War. Hol- lywood has portrayed the war from various perspectives as well. How- ever, few books or movies have portrayed the war from a contemporary first person perspective. Richard Pena, a Vietnam veteran and attorney licensed in Illinois, with John Daniel A. Cotter is a Partner at Butler Rubin Saltarelli & Boyd LLP, where he chairs the Insurance Regulatory and Transactions practice. He is a member of the CBA Record Editorial Boardand Immediate Past President of the CBA.

50 OCTOBER 2015

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