Short version: journalist and writer meets an old Sergeant in Afghanistan (Iraq?). Old Sergeant was in Vietnam and says writer should write about it. Writer ends up doing so.
Long Version: I enjoyed this book. Stanton did a lot of research with interviews, after action reports, correspondence, and other original sources and history. He focuses on Stan Parker who joined the Army once he turned 18 and was eager to fight in Vietnam. The book follows the standard war biography with:
- Stan joining the Marines against his mother's wishes
- Stan going to training
- Stan excited and proud of being in the paratroopers and reconnaisance
- Stan eager to go overseas, frustrated over being sent elsewhere, ignoring the warnings of people now in combat
- Stan arriving in Vietnam and ready to win the war
- Stan adjusts to combat
- Stan sees his friends suddenly killed and civilians suffering
- Stan is numbed by combat
- Stan leaves Vietnam and has trouble adjusting after a sudden reintroduction to peace time
An unusual part of this is that Stan joins the Army a few years later and goes into Special Forces with the Reserve guys based in Colorado.
- An Aside: how does the Special Forces unit in CO work? Special Forces soldiers have to be so highly trained and experienced that I don't understand how a part-timer can stay proficient. All the things they have to keep up with: high level of fitness, working with their team, shooting skills, parachuting, hiking, stalking, spy guy skills, language skills, tech skills, blowing stuff up skills. How part-time are the reservists? -
Stanton loves being in the service and continues on through several other deployments until a career capper as a Command Sergeant Major in Afghanistan (Iraq?).
After all that time in the military and working in several danger zones Stan is still haunted and unable to talk about Vietnam. Many of the men he served with will not tell anyone they were in Vietnam after the reactions they had upon their return to the U.S. Stanton ends up traveling to Vietnam with Parker and visiting a battlefield where Stan was badly wounded. They end up meeting a local guy who was a commander in the battle and - by all evidence - Stan and he were trying to kill one another.
1. A. I was at a meeting this morning that spoke about children's health. One topic was toxic stress. How young children who act out are doing so because of stresses at home over domestic violence, abuse, boozing, so on, so forth. They are constantly on alert and reacting with a flight or fight response. A teacher's frown can set them off because at home a frown presages a yelling or a beating.
1. B. The same thing happens to people in war zones. The brain is conditioned to act quickly to survive. Civilians end up with depression, suicide, and other troubles - a recent article on Sri Lanka. Since we don't have war zones in the U.S. we hear about our military veterans who we send away to war.
2. Years ago I read a Vietnam memoir by an infantryman who had an arm blown off. His preface or afterword said he was standing on a street corner when a guy walked up and asked
3. Stan is in Vietnam during Tet and his unit is sent north to the area around Hue. From previous reading I knew Hue was a big objective of the NVA but never read about the fighting outside the city. Well, this was Tet after all, which means there were a shit ton of NVA and Vietcong there trying to take over. Stan and his Company were in contact every day. Death was normal. Death became a nonevent.
4. I was reminded my theory on war I devised back in 2006.
- When in a war zone the first thing you should do is immediately leave.
- If you cannot leave make sure that you leave.
- If for some reason your exit is blocked, leave anyway.
- If normal modes of transportation are unavailable, leave.
- If borders are blocked, leave.
- If you have spent your whole life in that one place and all your belongings, money, prestige, and security have been there forever, leave.
- Above all else, the first thing you must do when caught in a war zone, is leave.