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4.5 out of 5 stars
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4.5 out of 5 stars
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on 5 August 2014
In most capacities, this is an insightful and fascinating memoir of a "grunt" marine and his experiences in the A Shau Valley and An Hoa campaigns after the 1968 Tet Offensive. What makes the account especially compelling is Clark's unflinching description of the brutality and chaos of jungle combat, and the slow, agonizing attrition of his platoon-mates as the days and weeks wear on. It really brings home how the US lost 58,000 men, one man at a time. The Vietnamese, both military and civilian, as is usually the case in these memoirs, vary from prostitutes to cowards to stone-age villagers to faceless killers. But the author, even if the book was written in 1984, can't be faulted more for this than the authors of countless war memoirs that have done this before to Germans, Koreans, and even, on rare occasions, Americans. Rare indeed is the war autobiography that sees the enemy as human, which is part of the reason we keep fighting wars.
What is a bit harder to handle, however, and what makes "Guns Up!" for all it's insight, a lesser book than "Chickenhawk," is that the evangelical Christian message is laid on with a trowel. The author, through his own musings and conversations with his closest friend, quotes long bible passages, and descriptions of how the two, working in tandem, tried to comfort their fellow-soldiers by bringing them to Jesus are frequent. If that's the way it happened, so be it, and the author has every right to emphasize the religious aspect of his experience, but readers should be prepared.
The only time it goes over the top and becomes disturbing is when the two compare Vietnam to the old testament stories of David and Goliath, which implies that the war itself was a religious crusade. Frankly, that view should have gone out the window once we realized, as a country, that we were repeating the arrogance of the British, the French, and other would-be imperial conquerors with is idea. Equally disturbing is their discussion how a young, female NVA soldier was somehow less of a person because she wasn't Christian and that this, rather than dying slowly after her stomach was blown away by fragmentation grenades, is the true tragedy.
On the other hand, the discussion does illustrate, as well as any I've read in memoirs or novels about war, how good people can commit acts of unspeakable brutality again and again by repeatedly telling themselves they are serving a higher purpose. I've yet to read a war book that offers a solution to this vicious cycle.
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on 21 August 1999
This book not only was accurate in it's detail of what American Marines faced in Vietnam, it brought every emotion that the American Marine felt. The descriptions of the battles was more captivating than anything hollywood could ever create. This story will bring you back or it will it educate you on the perils on the Vietnam marine.
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on 7 March 2007
This is very well written and has the remarkable ability to make you feel real emotion for what those men went through. The description of combat is real and raw and the sense of loss when comrades are killed is palpable. A fine book to rival Chickenhawk, and that is quite a complement.
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on 20 June 2004
This is probably the most moving book about Vietnam written in the first person I have read. I enjoyed Masons 'Chickenhawk' hugely but this author I can relate to. You know the feeling when you are experiencing anothers world first hand?
Not since reading 'Stephen Kings' Christine when i was 16 have i felt such empathy for an author, outstanding!!!
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on 28 May 2015
Wow - what a book. Really well written by someone who is not claiming to be a literary genius but just told it as it was. A good account of a US soldier caught up in the choas of Viet Nam and the experiences that he underwent.
The book really helps you understand the background of the War, the apparent lack of what the US call `offensive` action. They went looking for the enemy but never really consolidated ground; partly due to the fact that the political masters wouldn't let them. You get a really good feel for what it was like as `grunt` level - these boys lived in the field until their clothes rotted (and their feet) - you really get to appreciate the terrible conditions that they (and their enemy) lived in. The sheer fear and constant paranoia.

This is another `raw` account of the War with no real political agenda - Johnnie Clark was a soldier and did what he was told. They never saw the `bigger picture`. He spends most of him time in the field with his friend Chan - as part of an M-60 gun crew (real bullet magnets due to the enemy desire to silence them as soon as possible - an M-60 could literally win or lose a firefight). Every time `guns up` was heard it was their job to get to the acion. Their sense of humour is at times quite astounding, but you start to appreciate the `black humour` of being in combat 24/7. They took risks but they survived (Chan's story itself at the end of the book is quite amazing as well).

I really enjoyed reading it and found it to be on a par with Chicken Hawk and Acceptable Loss. Down earth, believable and very easy to read.
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on 11 June 2009
In my opinion this is one of the few books that all other books on Vietnam should be compared against. Once you pick it up you won't be able to put it down, trust me. Clark's style of writing is a bit different from other mainstream authors but you will get used to it fairly quickly, and once you do, you'll become engrossed.

Clark doesn't waste time writing about his life before joining the marines and doesn't even concentrate on his period of training, but launches straight into the action, beginning with his arrival in Vietnam. This I found to be quite refreshing, as some books can concentrate on these periods in copious amounts of detail. From here on in its action all the way and he doesn't disappoint. It's not the longest book you will find on Vietnam, but you will still find yourself becoming attached to the different Marines that fought with Clark. It has everything you could want in this type of book - action, excitement, emotion, and what's more, it really happened.

I may not be American, but I thought the way the American public treated their soldiers after the war was a disgrace. If anyone was to blame, it was the politicians, not the soldiers. This book will above all else show you what troops/marines in Nam had to go through, and instead of being ridiculed, these men should have been respected and honoured when they came home.
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on 31 July 2007
There is no doubt that this is a good read, although to be really picky, some of the grammar could have done with better editing. As a first-person narrative it is better than some of the existing accounts, but not as good as others. I do have some major reservations though that are not reflected in other reviews here. First - and here the book shares a problem with most first person accounts of the Vietnam war - the book lacks all perspective. There is hardly any comment on the context in which the war was fought. Where there is (the author maintains that Tet was a victory for the US, and that a war properly waged against North Vietnam would have brought success) the author is often wrong. Tet was not, as recent work makes clear, a victory. Yes, the US 'won', but the price of victory was unbearable. If the US had gone into North Vietnam, so would the Chinese - Korea all over again. Second the view is very simplistic. The marines are 'God's marines'; Jane Fonda is 'a traitor' etc. Third, and this is my biggest problem, the text presents a very distorted view of life in the war. It flows as a continuous narrative (ie, each chapter starts where the other one ends, each event follows the one before) yet it very clearly is not. For example there is a discussion of a letter sent about Tet to one of the grunts many chapters before we get to Tet. Events are conflated, timelines changed, compressed, etc. This is fine, if acknowledged, but it is not acknowledged here. The impression given is that the author is in combat almost daily, which would be a very unusual Vietnam experience. The most affecting, and best, part of this book is the catch up piece written at the end. Read this first, then read the book. And for far better perspectives (with their fair share of combat descriptions) try, as others have suggested, 'Dispatches', or the more recent (and I think even better) 'The Cat from Hue'.
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on 15 January 2006
Wow! what a read, The author takes you right in with his excellent writing style,It was almost as if I was standing next to him in the heat and hell of nam!,I've read other vietnam books and seen all the movies and this easily stands up amongst them,in fact my only criticism of the book is that it reads just like a movie,all the stereotype characters are there-the old salt,the boot and the tough-as-nails gunny but this only goes to show that those type of people really do exist!-read this book,you won't be disappointed!
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on 12 April 2012
This has to be the best book I have read regarding this subject without doubt, of which I have read most. It is written from the perspective of the individual soldier, and is brutally honest regarding the darker side of war and refreshingly, the strong camaraderie that other authors seem to play down. It is a shame that others have rated this book lower due to things such as bad grammar (which is surely the fault of the publisher, not a fault with the actual account) and also that the author views are sometimes wrong in terms if the progress of the war (easy to say many years after the event with the benefit of hindsight, indeed what soldier really knows more than what is happening within their direct environs or by grapevine from other combatants)- it should be appluaded all the more for keeping true to the account rather than editing out all of the innaccuracies.

So the book must be judged for its content, i.e. the brilliant and honest account of the fighting in which the author was embroiled, including vivid descriptions of the conditions that confronted the marines in this unit, the book makes no claims to be historically flawless or to be a text to be used for academic reference.

Five stars are rarely more deserved
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on 12 September 2011
This is a great book based on machiine gunners in the vietnam war. I know there are lots of books about this tragic war but this truly is a great book without all the usual we won the war attitude.

Give this one a go and you won't be disapointed
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