County celebrates, honors veterans Local resident pens Vietnam memoir

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Bill Shanahan grew up in Alabaster. He graduated from Thompson High School, where Shelby County Commissioner Dan Acker remembers, &uot;He played all three sports.&uot;

&uot;He was a very good student and after high school, went into the service,&uot; Acker said.

Acker said when he returned from fighting during Vietnam, Shanahan worked as a photojournalist among other things, played golf and went to church.

But, Acker said, as he rarely talked of his time during the war, he was unaware of what Shanahan had experienced.

Now, Shanahan has written a book about those experiences, and the commission took time to honor him along with other veterans in the county on Monday morning during the Shelby County Commission meeting.

&uot;I could relate a lot of my life to this book,&uot; Acker said, indicating he could not put the book down once he began reading it.

He spoke of the organization, the planning, the training, the responsibilities and teamwork required as a member of a special operations group in the United States Army.

The book, titled &uot;Stealth Patrol &045; The Making of a Vietnam Ranger&uot; begins in April 1968, when Shanahan was only 18, just drafted and sweating &uot;like a stinking pig&uot; in the jungles of Vietnam.

After leaving the country and landing at Cam Ranh Bay and then quickly heading deep in-country, it wasn’t long before Shanahan realized that his line company &uot;search and destroy&uot; duty for Company D, 4th Battalion, 173rd Airborne Brigade wasn’t safe at all.

The enemy moved in silent, guerilla units through a mountainous and jungle terrain they had been fighting on for years.

&uot;Being in the line company meant constantly being in danger,&uot; Shanahan writes in the book. &uot;We were working at such a disadvantage that before long, I started feeling like a sitting duck. Literally, like a duck, just sitting, waiting to get shot.&uot;

After seeing a friend die and an entire company suffer numerous casualties from mortar fire, Shanahan’s frustration mounted and his morale sank. His focus on soldiering, however, never faltered, and soon he was handpicked to join the elite Long Range Patrol. The mission of the Lurps, as they were called, did not amount to less danger. But it did allow Shanahan to address the enemy on equal terms.

The Lurps operated in five- or six-men teams dropped into the dense forest behind enemy lines.

They observed enemy troop movements and staged ambushes, and when their missions were complete, they called for quick helicopter extraction. Back at base, they were debriefed by their superiors and two days later, were back in the bush.

This soldier’s memoir of survival behind enemy lines offers a unique perspective for the reader on a wartime philosophy that stresses the importance of teamwork and the small unit in the modern U.S. Army.

Shanahan was touched by the honor given him by members of the Shelby County Commission on Monday.

&uot;I’m a proud veteran,&uot; he said through tears.

Fellow veterans Don Armstrong, Larry Dillard and Billy Thompson expressed their appreciation to Shanahan and other veterans in Shelby County.

Co-author of the book was John P. Brackin, also an Alabama resident, was present at the meeting as well