Wiest works as a history professor and teaches classes on the Vietnam War. Maybe that is why this book works great as an introductory story of the war. The book encompasses most of the story of Vietnam with the men in this story all part of the 9th Division which was specially formed to go to Vietnam.
The 9th Division was built up specifically to serve in Vietnam and arrived 1967. Training was conducted at Ft. Riley in Kansas and the men traveled by troop ship to Vietnam. The Division served in the Mekong Delta as part of the Mobile Riverine Force (MRF) where they alternately stayed on land and a troop ship and took smaller ships along the rivers to where they would work.
Wiest covers the stories of a lot of the men in the unit. He had access to a to of primary sources: platoon, company, and divisional reports. Letters, diaries, and reel-to-reel recordings. Interviews and news articles. Citations and awards.Wiest uses that info to good effect by telling the soldiers's stories from their childhoods to draft notices, training, military service and their return to the U.S.
Fighting in the jungles of the South in 1967 and 1968 means the men were doing all the Vietnam stuff I've read about over the years:
- Drafted versus volunteering.
- Arrival as a know-nothing trooper who needs to quickly adapt and learn to survive.
- Operations in thick, clinging mud as they avoid biting red ants, develop a love/hate for the locals, drink beer, visit prostitutes, and visit orphanages on downtime.
- Endless and dangerous patrols with multiple booby traps, landmines, and infrequent but vicious firefights.
- Anger and impotency when friends and unit members lose a foot against a mine and the remaining soldiers have no enemy in sight.
- Commanders fucking up and foolishly walking men into minefields or ambushes.
- Quick and efficient discharges from the service with the soldiers immediately losing the close relationships with other soldiers and unable to reintegrate into civilian life.
- New civilians now unable to sleep, jumping at noises, scared in crowds, and drinking aware their nightmares and paranoia.
- Some marriages falling apart. Families of the dead trying to move on and the dead soldiers' children wishing they knew their fathers.
- PTSD issues. PTSD will will always be around for many of the men and will be for all future soldiers. The trauma effects everyone in the family and many people cannot, or refuse, to acknowledge or deal with the trauma.
There are also the standard battle stories of death, elation, terror and burning rage. One of the best stories is one that I wish Wiest had more information on. Throughout their time in Vietnam there was an Lieutenant who was hard-charging but incompetent.
Early in their time in the Delta the Lieutenant led his platoon into an ambush that killed and wounded several men. After that disaster the Lieutenant was assigned different staff jobs in the read. But, once casualties mounted the Lieutenant was put back in the field. After having been on base for so long Lieutenant was raring to find the enemy and attack.
The now experienced soldiers in the platoon dreaded going out with Lieutenant and actually tried to have Lieutenant relieved of the command. Their worries bore out when the Lieutenant;s inexperience and foolhardiness got several men injured and killed.
After a couple decades of loneliness by some of the former soldiers several of the men starting finding one another and arranging reunions. They did not invite everyone though. They did not invite Lieutenant. The first big reunion was in Las Vegas. The unit had one ballroom and another hotel ballroom was hosting a wedding. That wedding was for the Lieutenant's daughter.
Sure enough, all the soldiers are in the ballroom drinking beer and reminiscing when all talking ceases and heads turn to the entryway where Lieutenant is now standing in a tuxedo. He had seen the sign pointing to the "Company C Reunion" and walked over. Lieutenant kinda looked around and one of soldiers walked straight over, leaned over, and told uninvited Lieutenant to "Get the fuck out." Lieutenant gave an exaggerated look around, said, "there's no one I want here I want to see anyway" and left.
That's a story I wanted to know more about. What are Lieutenant's memories of Vietnam? He must suffer the same trauma and bad memories of all those other men. But, his actions of 30 years ago leave him completely alone from the unit. The other guys can share and express sorrow but Lieutenant is left playing it tough and pretending to not care.
I suppose Lieutenant refused to talk to Wiest. I don't know.