MacLennon’s (Wrestling with Angels, 2016) Vietnam memoir draws from his experiences as a young Navy reconnaissance photographer.
Using his diary as a resource, the author recounts life aboard the USS Oriskany in 1967 when the aircraft carrier served to support the on-again, off-again bombing campaign against the North Vietnamese. Raised a Lutheran, the author drifted through high school in Fort Collins, Colorado, and finally, forced by his father, entered the Navy as a recon photographer. Most of this book concentrates on the author’s perspective on the increasing senselessness of the Vietnam air war, his personal spiritual searching, and his examination of Navy hierarchy from a grunt’s-eye view. “But here I am,” MacLennon writes, “riding on this steel behemoth—the most ominous killing machine ever conceived; a weapon of war with the innocuous name of carrier.” MacLennon’s life took a turn when he encountered Michael Goldberg, a helicopter pilot and lieutenant, the first Jew the author had ever met. The two struck up a friendship based on their mutual affinity for art and their spiritual yearnings, but MacLennon seemed baffled when Goldberg began to address the “not-so-subtle bigotry” he had experienced in the Bible Belt. The author’s exploration of his own racism, his discovery and adaptation of Buddhism, his willingness to be open to new ideas in the midst of war all give this memoir a strong core. And the straightforward prose suits the subject. The author’s frequent focus on everyday observations, however, becomes somewhat tedious and limits retrospective comments that might offer additional context and perspective on the war. MacLennon also includes some black-and-white photos.
A sometimes-gripping war memoir with a narrow focus.