A medic recollects a year of service during the Vietnam War.
Debut author Hinson volunteered to work as an Air Force medic in Vietnam for one year starting in March 1967. On the fourth day following his arrival at the Air Evacuation Hospital in Da Nang, he was sent on a mission to retrieve wounded soldiers when the C-130 cargo plane transporting him was forced down. His group—led by Green Berets—stumbled upon a Viet Cong patrol, and the author was forced to shoot and kill an enemy soldier with a shotgun. That shotgun became his constant companion during his year of service, which routinely included similarly perilous missions. He developed a reputation for grace under pressure—and a willingness to accept dangerous assignments. Hinson often went on assignments with Air America, a CIA–supported but civilian-run airline used for classified transportations. He once learned, at the conclusion of a trip, that his plane was ferrying 500 pounds of opium paste. Another CIA flight carried a bedroom set for a general from the Philippines. The author recounts his brushes with death with both humor and gravity by turns; once a piece of shrapnel was prevented from piercing his chest by a collection of Hemingway stories. Another time, Hinson dove into shark-infested waters to rescue a lieutenant; he only learned there were sharks after he was roundly congratulated for his bravery. Hinson’s memoir comprises a series of generally brief recollections, presented more impressionistically than chronologically, each a trove of action and insight. Accompanying the author’s quick wit is a gimlet-eyed appraisal of war in general: “War is a terrifying and violent environment. Human beings do brutal things to other human beings without remorse and without pity. All wars are alike, whether people are hit with rocks or vaporized with nuclear weapons.” Hinson’s remembrances are deeply absorbing and supply an ideologically unencumbered meditation on human nature.
An engrossing depiction of the Vietnam War.