“You don’t go out and say, ‘I’m going to be brave today, I’m going to become a hero.’ It doesn’t work that way. I mean, first of all, you’re scared to death. And you’re so scared you can’t even think straight. But the Marine Corps has trained you in such a way that you’re not allowed to think. You just have to perform…Theoretically when the fighting starts, the marines are supposed to get in line and fight.” William Purcell, Private 1st Class, 1st Battalion, 3rd Platoon, 1st Marine Division (p. 128).
I recently finished this book and all I can say is wow! What Ron Steinman has done is taken Vietnam veterans’ stories and pulled them together into one book. Originally, this was done for an ABC News documentary that aired on The Learning Channel (not sure when as the book doesn’t really say) and apparently, there are multiple versions of the book (for reference, I read the 2009 version). They talked to approximately 150 veterans and of those 76 veterans’ stories are in this book (p. xv). I’m going out on a limb here and say that very little editing was done as some of the grammar in the book will make the grammar police scream, but since it’s their story, I think they should tell it their way and the book is better for it.
Steinman has broken up the book into six chapters with each chapter covering a part of the war. Then veterans’ stories for that part of the war are collected and put into each chapter. There are anywhere from 9 to 15 stories in each chapter. The chapters are then organized in chronological order. So Chapter 1 covers the Battle of Ia Drang Valley and Chapter 6 covers the fall of Saigon.
There are some very graphic parts of the book but not too many. Again, it is what the soldier witnessed and felt so you can’t cut out the graphic parts or the reader won’t really understand. I’ve never experienced war first hand so I’m taking William T. Sherman’s quote that “War is Hell” literally but anyone who tries to paint a toned-down version of actual events is doing a serious disservice in my opinion. Fortunately, that’s not the case with Steinman’s book. There is very raw emotion and authentic detail. I think each story, while overlapping in some places, for the most part, is original and gives a unique perception to the Vietnam War.
The veterans cover a wide variety of topics from first-day fighting, heroism, being a POW (John McCain has his brief version in here), brotherhood, and rats (if you read the book, you’ll understand about the rats!). One of my other favorite quotes from the book:
“Love between a man and woman is not as strong as love between two men in combat. It is the strongest form of love that a person can develop. It is stronger than any other form of love. I dearly love my family. I dearly love my parents. Certainly have loved women in my life, but there’s nothing like the love between two men who were in combat together.” Dennis Deal, 2nd Lieutenant, Platoon Leader, Bravo Company, 7th Calvary, 1st Air Calvary Division (Airmobile) (p. 22).
This underscores perfectly several books I have read about the brotherhood among combat veterans.
My dad never talks about his time in Vietnam but if this book is any guide, I feel like I understand what he went through just a bit better. I would highly recommend this book (4 stars from me). Have you read this book? What did you think?
I’ve started reading “The Crimean War: A History” by Orlando Figes. Awhile back, I asked readers what war I should start with and reader David suggested the Crimean War. I’m only a chapter into this book but I think David is correct: this seems to be the war that is a major turning point in history. Thanks David!
As David also alluded to in one of his comments, “A History of Warfare” by John Keegan proved to be too much for me so I’ve had to shelve that book (pun completely intended), at least for the foreseeable future. I just can’t read boring books!
Here’s the rest of the lineup:
On deck: “Into the Rising Sun” by Patrick K. O’Donnell
In the bullpen: “Red Blood, Black Sand: Fighting Alongside John Basilone from Boot Camp to Iwo Jima” by Chuck Tatum.
What books are you reading? Any suggestions?
Happy Reading everyone!