John Alan Coey was an American who fought and died in Rhodesia. This article is a commentary and analysis of a complicated and unique person based on his memoirs. It was received well and regarded as accurate by those who knew him, including his brother.

I consider Rhodesia a bit of American Military History due to the fact that an estimated 300 Americans, mostly Vietnam vets, went there. Some were dirtbags, fleeing their life in America, or trying to live the image of a Soldier of Fortune, while others proved professional and valorous in their war against communism.

The 1960s and ’70s was a tumultuous era. It was a time when people questioned and rebelled against the government of the United States, in large part due to the Vietnam conflict. Many of America’s best and brightest were sent off to a place that most couldn’t point out on a map and could not conceive what national security threat it posed to the United States. Vietnam was a multifaceted problem that started off directly after World War Two and incrementally evolved into American involvement through Advisors, then to a full-fledged conventional military commitment. The faithful continued to support our government and tried to do their duty to stop the advance of communism. However, a doctrine of containment left the military and political establishment in a quagmire. There was no clear objective that could be attained.

The seeds of discord began to grow among the people, especially in our universities. From student protests, the burning of flags and draft cards, to armed retaliation against student protesters at Kent State, things began to ignite into a social inferno. The Cold War was far from cold and was being contested in places seemingly irrelevant to national security in the minds of the average person. However, there were many who believed that communism was indeed a worthy foe to be engaged and put down.

Most Cold Warriors believed that allowing communism to spread would eventually lead to the decline and disintegration of Western and Christian civilization. And those men believed that our own government was weak in its resolve and cared more for détente than aggressive protection and destruction of the opposition.

John Alan Coey wearing the coveted SAS tan beret (

As the Vietnam war began to close shop, those professional soldiers who were true believers found an outlet in many areas of the world to employ their trade and live according to their conscience. Here we find one of the first Americans to see Rhodesia as a place in which there a true battle between communism and Western civilization was taking place.

John Alan Coey was from Columbus, Ohio. Unlike many of the soldiers to follow the road to Rhodesia, Coey had not served in Vietnam. A devout Christian, who made no bones about mixing his politics and religion, he was preparing to enter the Marine Corps. He was in the ROTC program and had spent the summer of his junior year at Quantico to set his career in motion. Yet, in 1971-72 he began to rethink his commitment to serve in the armed forces of the United States.

He saw the “Vietnamization” of the war as a betrayal of the cause to which the U.S. was committed to. His opinion was that the fighting men of the Korean and Vietnam conflicts were betrayed by politicians who lacked the will to engage and crush communism. He cited the dismissal of Douglas MacArthur and other famous military leaders as examples of a weak will to win and preserve Freedom, Democracy, and Western Civilization.