It's 1990. The Cold War is over, and Communism is being rejected by most of the dying Soviet Union's former vassals. Only a handful of die-hard regimes still hangs on to Marxism-Leninism, grasping at power with the grip of those who are about to die. One of these nations is the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, which rules the northern half of the Korean peninsula with uncommonly fanatical dedication to socialism and the discredited theories now being discarded by Eastern Europe and even the cradle of World Revolution, the USSR.
With a population of less than 20 million, North Korea has the largest per capita standing army in the world, with some 784,000 men under arms. It is also a poor country, has little contact with the outside world, is heavily into the "personality cult" of the Great Leader Kim Il Sung and his succesor, Kim Jong Il, the Dear Leader.
Now, with South Korea once again embroiled in a cycle of student riots and apparent political instability, and with a power struggle between two factions within the Communist party in Pyongyang, the North Korean Army suddenly and deliberately attacks its southern neighbor -- an invasion that the United States has hoped to forestall ever since the July 1953 cease-fire agreement that ended the first Korean War.
Caught up in the horrors of war are Captain Mark Isen and the men of Charlie Company, part of the 25th Light Infantry Division. Deploying quickly from their base in Oahu, Hawaii in the largest such operation since Vietnam, the 25th LID arrives in Korea in the wake of several guerrilla attacks against American personnel and a huge buildup of North Korean military forces across the 38th Parallel. And no sooner has Charlie Company reached its assembly point when the radio crackles with the code phrase "38 North Yankee," meaning the North Koreans have indeed crossed the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and that American forces are committed to combat.
Ed Ruggero, a captain in the Infantry branch and assistant professor at West Point at the time, made his writing debut with this engrossing novel that truly captures the heart and soul of the American soldier. Each character is described so well that he or she seems to be a living, breathing human being, and Ruggero takes us into the mind-numbingly terrifying and bloody battlefields of the Korean peninsula, describing night patrols, ambushes against armored columns, air assaults, and harrowing firefights in an amazingly realistic and honest fashion.
Ruggero went on to write a second Mark Isen novel, Common Defense, but for some reason he hasn't found the same literary success as Larry Bond, Stephen Coonts, or Harold Coyle, all former officers turned novelists. Pity, because he writes amazingly vivid prose that is at once both elegant and realistic.