THE SONS OF BARDSTOWN: 25 Years of Vietnam in an American Town by Jim Wilson
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THE SONS OF BARDSTOWN: 25 Years of Vietnam in an American Town

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Wilson (Retreat, Hell!, 1988) movingly relates a small event in the Vietnam War -- a night attack by North Vietnamese soldiers on Fire Base Tomahawk, a hill held by American troops -- and its large effects on an ordinary Kentucky town. In a folksy, conversational style, Wilson briefly sums up Bardstown's history, from its founding as a frontier town in 1780, through its 19th-century eminence as a center of the bourbon industry and of Catholic learning and piety (Bardstown was made a diocese in 1808, at the same time as Boston, Philadelphia, and New York), to its small-town present. Wilson depicts Vietnam War-era Bardstown as a neighborly place where residents didn't have to lock their doors, where everyone knew everyone else, and where love of God and of country were constants. Against this background, the author tells the story of the 105 Bardstown men who made up Battery C of the 138th Artillery of the Kentucky National Guard. These men, mostly in their 20s, were engaged in the unspectacular business of starting families and finding livelihoods when Clark Clifford announced a general call-up of the National Guard on April 11, 1968. Relying extensively on interviews with survivors and their wives, Wilson tells the tale of how the men endured basic training, the different ways in which they bore the sorrow of parting from their wives, and their disorienting arrival in Vietnam. Their assignment, along with regular Army soldiers, to the strategically meaningless Fire Base Tomahawk -- a low hill surrounded by much higher ones -- resulted, on the night of June 19, 1969, in a hellish attack by North Vietnamese guerilla fighters in which ten Bardstown Guardsmen were killed. Wilson tells of Bardstown's shock at the news of the dead and the permanent scars that marked the wives, friends, and children left behind. Absorbing and poignant.

Pub Date: June 22nd, 1994
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: Crown