what was it like to be a U.S. soldier in the Vietnam War?
chances are that this book is the closest i'll ever come to finding out. that's compelling.
Andrew Wiest (The Boys of '67, Rolling Thunder in a Gentle Land) does a fine job of compiling and editing personal accounts that paint a picture of the war. the personal stories in Vietnam: A View from the Front Lines come from two collections of oral interviews. the stories of Charlie Company, 4th Battalion, 47th Infantry were also the source for Wiest's "The Boys of '67". the remaining accounts come from The Oral History Project of the Vietnam Center and Archive at Texas Tech University.
"Vietnam" is arranged into sections in the order that they were experienced by the soldiers.
in the words of the author: "Readers will be able to follow the soldiers and their families through the conflict, from before they were drafted, through training, through their first experiences of war, through combat, through hospitals, through funerals, to today."
each section is framed by the author's introduction. these introductions provide historical context that set the tone for the descriptions of events that follow. the information in the introductions is supported by a number of secondary sources for historical accuracy.
admittedly, i'm not a historian or a war buff. my primary interest in this book lies in the relating of personal experiences by those who lived them. i tend to be more interested in life's hardest times than the best times. my experience is that the hard times are where the most lessons are learned and where we come to know who and what we are at our core. Weist's "Vietnam" shines in this area.
my only difficulty with this book was that as i progressed through the sections, i didn't feel like i had a complete picture of any one soldier. then i decided to find and follow the soldiers who were included in the most sections. Anthony Goodrich's story spans the most sections (8 of 10) of any soldier in the book. i found this by doing a search on the Kindle edition.
reading the 8 entries for Anthony Goodrich really tied things together for me. i was completely absorbed as i followed Anthony's story from growing up in a military home all the way through to his life after the war. along the way reading of his being drafted, his training and deployment, and his combat experiences. these frank accounts were courageous in their own right. Anthony told of being scared, wetting his pants, vomiting, spending the night with the bodies of fallen soldiers, divvying the gear of Marines killed in action, following orders that didn't make sense, even making a deadly mistake that he believes cost the life of a fellow soldier. i've seen folks who wouldn't even admit to pressing an incorrect button on their computer keyboard.
Anthony's stories were so candid, so vivid. they made things as close to real for me as possible. i needed to read them together to really feel like i had the tiniest idea of what these soldiers went through. six stars hands down if this book included several "complete pictures" like Anthony's. the hardcover version does have an index that includes entries by soldier name. i think it's an essential feature to make it easy to read any soldier's segments together as one story.