"NO LONGER ENEMIES, NOT YET FRIENDS: An American Soldier Returns to Vietnam" by Frederick Downs
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"NO LONGER ENEMIES, NOT YET FRIENDS: An American Soldier Returns to Vietnam"

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KIRKUS REVIEW

An erstwhile warrior's powerful and thought-provoking report on his unsentimental journeys to Vietnam 20 years after a wounding tour of combat duty. Between 1987 and 1989, Downs (Aftermath, 1983; The Killing Zone, 1978) made five trips to Hanoi in his capacity as the VA's director of prosthetic and sensory aids. A decorated veteran who lost his left arm during a 1967-68 stint as an infantry lieutenant, he was a member of the so-called Vessey mission, which explored opportunities to provide the Communist regime humanitarian assistance (from nongovernmental organizations) in return for franker discussions of POW/MLA issues. Once back in country, the author found to his surprise that he had embarked on a voyage of self-discovery. Initially determined to focus on ways to furnish medical help to a backward, dirt-poor nation, Downs soon found himself drawn to his sometime foes by a sense of shared pain and loss. In his chronological journal, the author offers perceptive accounts of two sets of travels--the semiofficial efforts of former antagonists to move toward rapprochement, if only at a low level, and the personal odyssey that gave him an appreciation of the need for healing. The tough-minded narrative has a full measure of acute observations on latter-day Vietnam, as well as reflections on the casual brutalities committed by American soldiers during the war. Downs also recounts the revelatory visit to the US of a hattie-hardened North Vietnamese surgeon whom he guided around Washington, D.C., and welcomed into his Maryland home. While he deals summarily with home-front opposition to the Vessey mission, the author leaves little doubt that he and colleagues were puzzled, even hurt, by the ad hominem attacks that dogged them in the States. A masterful storyteiler's cleareyed tribute to the postbellum reconciliation.

Pub Date: Nov. 11th, 1991
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Norton