“Black Ops” is military-speak for the most dangerous, and often horrifying missions imaginable. These “black operations” are always denied by the government and are one of the key sources of conspiracy theories. The new book Reaper 6 by Andrew Rafkin deals with Black Ops, but there are no conspiracy theories in it. “Reaper 6” is the nickname of Staff Sergeant Larry FitzGerald of the U.S. Army Special Forces. The book tells FitzGerald’s story, as the leader of a Black Ops team in Vietnam in 1965.
Reaper 6 opens up with an introduction to FitzGerald, who comes from a military family (his father had spent his career in the Navy). The first chapter also enlightens us as to what was going on between America and Vietnam circa 1964. FitzGerald had a swimming scholarship to USC and worked the summer of ‘64 as a lifeguard. According to the book, his job made him eligible for the draft, and he was inducted into the Army.
FitzGerald apparently made a big impression on his superiors during basic training, as he was selected to go on to “advanced individual training” afterwards. Welcome to the world of Black Ops. FitzGerald and his fellow AIT’s were “different” from standard Army personnel and made to feel that way. Unlike the Navy Seals, or the Green Berets, these men were not really treated as the elite. Throughout the book, Rafkin does a great job of illustrating this for us. As ugly, and almost unimaginable as some of the things these soldiers were ordered to do, I found myself empathizing with them often.
Some of these missions are so extreme that it is hard to believe that they actually happened. Most of them were classified, and the possibility that Rafkin had one hell of an imagination briefly crossed my mind. My apologies to him for that. After reading Reaper 6, I believe every word. Strangely enough, it is not so much in the tales themselves, but in the bitterness in which they are recalled. Something had to have caused that anger for FitzGerald. I have met people in my own life who were treated terribly by the V.A. after their service was up, and the tone rings true.
FitzGerald served three tours of duty, from 1965-1968, with almost no breaks in between. He took his orders from General Westmoreland and General Abrams, which was pretty high up there. Early on he meets a native who goes by the name of Rith. As we soon see, this man saved FitzGerald, and everyone with him on countless occasions over those years.
The main body of the book recalls the missions of Reaper 6 and his fellow soldiers. I am not going to go into the grisly details here; I will leave that for readers to discover for themselves. Allow me to just say that for those who have an interest in the world of Black Ops, Reaper 6 will most definitely appeal to you.
I was not very familiar with this type of material previously, and was a bit shocked by some of the missions. FitzGerald pulls no punches in recounting what happened, and Rafkin has captured it all very well.
The bitterness I mentioned earlier comes from the way FitzGerald was treated after his service had ended. For a man to go through what he did, only to be cut off from his V.A. benefits just made me sick. No wonder he is angry. There is redemption on the literal last page of the story though. Rafkin informs us that just as the book was going to press, all of FitzGerald’s benefits had been restored.
It feels like a personal victory, as we have come to know this man very well. I am not sure if these Black Ops type of books are a genre I will continue to read, but I must say that Reaper 6 was an unforgettable tale. Andrew Rafkin is an author with a very engaging style, and I thoroughly enjoyed his previous smuggler’s tale, Angel’s Gate.
Reaper 6 is a powerful book, and one that I could not put down. Just be aware that it is not for the faint of heart.