Richard L. Stevens assisted in the arrest of Hoang Thi Nu, the “Vietnamese Annie Oakley,” a Viet Cong guerilla leader, during a July night in 1969 beneath a full moon.
What he witnessed her accomplish that night, leaping into a river and sprinting through gunfire, and what she faced in captivity later, transformed Stevens’ opinion of what humans are capable of, and of war. This fast-paced, true adventure story captures the frantic and fearful feel of a war in which it was frequently difficult to know who the enemy was. Stevens was the sole American advisor to a South Vietnamese unit of 105 “ex”-Viet Cong tasked with uncovering enemy activity along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Trail to Redemption tells the intertwined stories of a Vietnamese woman warrior and a former U.S. Marine. It is a tale of treachery, capture, questioning, jail, and escape. It is primarily a tale about individual bravery, love, and respect.
Richard Stevens, who was raised in Prairie City, Iowa, enlisted in the Marines right out of high school mostly for the sake of adventure. He served in Vietnam for three years in both military and civilian capacities, suffered two wounds, was reported missing once, and was awarded the Purple Heart in addition to several Vietnamese honors. He has been a teacher for more than thirty years and has won numerous honors for his work in education, native tree planting, and the restoration of historic trails, including the Dr. Richard Linn Stevens Endowed Scholarship for Restoration and the U.S. Department of the Interior’s National “Take Pride in America” Award.
“My advice to writers is always ‘Let the pictures tell the story,’ and in Richard Stevens’s The Trail to Redemption, the ‘pictures’ are vivid, unforgettable, and go straight to the heart. The woman he calls ‘the Vietnamese Annie Oakley’, Hoang Thi Nu, is a superhero for our times. Her life, as it becomes entwined with her ‘enemy’ (Stevens), is like no other story. Read this book: You will see love and war in a new light.”
— David F. Oyster, Documentary Filmmaker; Cosmos (Carl Sagan), The Astronomers
“Move over Apocalypse Now! Richard Stevens’ memoir is powerful, moving, and rare amongst the primarily macho accounts of the Vietnam War. A US Foreign Service Officer during the Vietnam War and adviser to an elite unit of ex-VC guérillas, Stevens describes his struggle to retain his humanity in the midst of a terrible conflict. He develops understanding and respect for the bravery of the enemy, and especially for Hoàng Thi Nu, a young woman Việt Cong being tracked by his unit. But his attempt to lessen her suffering when she is captured backfires and she finds herself in even worst conditions of detention and subjected to torture. By telling his story, Stevens courageously bears witness to the forgotten and shameful history of US torture during the Vietnam War.”
— Sherry Buchanan, author of On the Ho Chi Minh Trail: The Blood Road, The Women Who Defended It, The Legacy
“The Trail to Redemption is an unforgettable memoir that traces Richard L. Stevens’ journey from war to peace in Vietnam. Stevens, despite his civilian status, becomes an active participant, and his adventuresome spirit leads him to nearly kill the person he comes to most admire, and even loves––Hoang Thi Nu, aka the Vietnamese Annie Oakley. He and his comrades capture her and carry her into captivity as one would carry a slain tiger suspended from a pole. Stevens, who works side by side with Vietnamese personnel who purportedly support the U.S. presence in Vietnam, is immersed in a shadowy world of double agents whose loyalty and intentions are always in doubt. Stevens navigates uncertainty with a deep empathy for the Vietnamese.”
— James Janko, author of What We Don’t Talk About and Buffalo Boy and Geronimo
“This is a well-written, even poetic memoir by a young American advisor during the Vietnam War. It is a fast-paced, real-life adventure story that captures the frenzied and fearful flavor of a war in which it was difficult to know who was on your side and who was the enemy. Above all, it is a story of personal courage, respect and love in a time of war. This book provided the perspective of a principled contemporary who enthusiastically sought out the adventure of war and embraced it. It is a book of many surprises.”
— David Krieger, President emeritus of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and author of many books
“Richard Stevens became one of the few Americans to ever penetrate into that Asian Heart of Darkness—the Ho Chi Minh Trail. That almost impossible feat became an even more improbable pursuit of war and love in this remarkable personal story. Like Stevens himself, it is a life and a Vietnamese encounter that is one of a kind.”
— Bill McWhirter, correspondent for TIME and LIFE in Vietnam and winner of several major journalism awards
“Few Americans know Vietnam — the war and its toll, the people and their beauty—as Richard Stevens does. Since 1965, Stevens has charted some of the least known corners of Vietnam, and now, returning to that tortured land, and his own past, Stevens brings a keen emotional intelligence to tell the story of the ‘Vietnamese Annie Oakley’—a woman he knew and, thankfully for 21st century readers, in Trail to Redemption has brought back to life.”
— Andrew Meier, Associate Professor of Writing at The New School in New York, and author of Black Earth: A Journey Through Russia After the Fall, which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize