Friday, August 8, 2014

VMI Summer Reading (Unofficial): Vietnam (21 to 25)

"In a 1968 Associated Press photo from Vietnam by Art Greenspon, a soldier guides an unseen medevac helicopter to a jungle clearing where wounded comrades wait."
Two novels, both written by combat infantrymen; two personal memoirs, one by a former POW and the other by a combat infantryman; and, one group biography of five Annapolis graduates all of whom served during the Vietnam era in some capacity.

21. Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War, Karl Marlantes

"An incredible publishing story—written over the course of thirty years by a highly decorated Vietnam veteran...Matterhorn is an epic war novel in the tradition of Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead. It is the timeless story of a young Marine lieutenant...and his comrades in Bravo Company, who are dropped into the mountain jungle of Vietnam as boys and forced to fight their way into manhood. Standing in their way are not merely the North Vietnamese but also monsoon rain and mud, leeches and tigers, disease and malnutrition. Almost as daunting, it turns out, are the obstacles they discover between each other: racial tension, competing ambitions, and duplicitous superior officers. But when the company finds itself surrounded and outnumbered by a massive enemy regiment, the Marines are thrust into the raw and all-consuming terror of combat."

22. The 13th Valley, John M. Del Vecchio

Prior to the recent publication of Matterhorn, this was the novel hailed by Vietnam veterans as the one that most accurately represented their experience. The day-to-day detail is as remarkable as the chaos and confusion of the combat scenes.

23. When Hell was in Session, Adm. Jeremiah Denton

No offense to #24 below, but this is the book that should be on high school reading lists. A shocking testimony to human cruelty, and man's capacity to transcend suffering:

"The punishment was so gory that each day Happy [a prison guard], after tightening the ropes, would still be weeping when he went to the next cell to let Mulligan out to empty his bucket. For five more days and nights, I remained in the rig. My back got one respite in that time. I managed to lean against my bucket, which I had maneuvered into position on the pallet, and relieve the strain enough to get some sleep. Even a roving guard took some pity. He saw me leaning against the bucket but didn’t report it for 18 hours. By the fifth morning, I was nearing despair. I offered myself to God with an admission that I could take no more on my own. Tears ran down my face as I repeated my vow of surrender to Him. Strangely, as soon as I made the vow, a deep feeling of peace settled into my tortured mind and pain-wracked body, and the suffering left me completely. It was the most profound and deeply inspiring moment of my life."

24. The Things They Carried, Tim O'Brien

“A true war story is never moral. It does not instruct, nor encourage virtue, nor suggest models of proper human behavior, nor restrain men from doing the things men have always done. If a story seems moral, do not believe it. If at the end of a war story you feel uplifted, or if you feel that some small bit of rectitude has been salvaged from the larger waste, then you have been made the victim of a very old and terrible lie. There is no rectitude whatsoever. There is no virtue. As a first rule of thumb, therefore, you can tell a true war story by its absolute and uncompromising allegiance to obscenity and evil.”  

25. The Nightingale's Song, Robert Timberg.

This is an outstanding group biography of five Annapolis graduates, John McCain, Jim Webb, John Poindexter, Oliver North, and Robert MacFarlane. The account of now-Senator John McCain's torture and captivity in North Vietnam is unforgettable. There's a lot here about honor, responsibility, ambition, and the traps we fall into. You will also want to read former Marine Jim Webb's novel of Vietnam, Fields of Fire.

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