Vivid, creative use of oral history (here, with the remembrances woven together by incisive commentary) that takes the conventional combat-report format—induction, boot camp, raw recruit, seasoned vet—and breathes new life into the war experience. Ebert (who teaches high-school history and social studies in Wisconsin) interviewed approximately 40 Army grunts and Marines for this report, and also drew on interview-transcripts of South Dakota's Vietnam Veterans Oral History Project. He and his subjects paint the Southeast Asian battleground in its true, unglamorous colors: One soldier likens his first exposure to the country's heat ``to having someone hold a hair-dryer up to his nose''; the author says that Vietnam's pervasive odor was characterized by many as ``seminauseating and often likened to dead fish''). In this Vietnam, grenades are dangerous to friend and foe alike (one soldier describes standing in a chow line as someone accidentally pulls a pin, killing two and wounding 26), and ``humping'' the bush is a miserable, surreal existence, but one that most grunts stick to in order to avoid being branded a quitter—the lowest of the low—even though most days nothing is attained but total exhaustion. Also detailed are offensive operations, corpse mutilation, booby traps, drug use, racial conflict, and varied atrocities. As the soldiers' time in Vietnam gets ``short'' (Army men serve 12 months; Marines, 13) their primary aim becomes survival before their luck runs out. Finally—as detailed in a too brief epilogue—the soldiers fly home, muster out of the service, and then often must withstand criticism for their part in a hated war. Even jaded or knowledgeable Vietnam War-readers will find fresh material here.
Read full book review >