Reese’s debut memoir chronicles his tour of duty in Vietnam and subsequent struggle with PTSD.
After watching the televised version of the Tet Offensive in 1968, Reese enlisted in the Marines in a fit of patriotism. As a result, he did a 13-month tour of duty as a rifleman in Quang Nam Province, Vietnam, with the 2nd platoon of Charlie Company. His experience was harrowing, and the emotional aftermath continues to resonate. The author leaps back and forth in time from the period before his service in Vietnam starting in 1969, his service as a soldier, and the many years following, during which he attended Stephen F. Austin State University courtesy of the GI Bill, married, and became a father to two children. While in Vietnam, Reese contends with the brutalities of war: deadly ambushes by the enemy and the constant state of anxiety, the grim necessity to take the lives of strangers, and the crushing experience of seeing friends die before his eyes. When the author returns to the United States, he’s tormented by memories of his service but also drawn to reconnect with his fellow Marines, longing to restore that deep sense of purpose and fellowship. He attends a reunion of his Marine division in 1996 and even returns to Vietnam in 2000 in search of some elusive sense of closure.
Reese’s remembrance is impressionistically constructed. Rather than a linear history, he furnishes a series of mostly brief vignettes. As he announces in the beginning, his primary emphasis is less an accounting of events than an interrogation of emotions—with unflinching candor, he plumbs the depths of his trauma. And his discussion is consistently a sensitively nuanced one—despite the gruesomeness of his experience, he repeatedly affirms his pride in being a Marine as well as his loyalty to his fellow soldiers. One of the most heartening aspects of the book is the support he enthusiastically offers and receives from those who suffered in the same war. Conversely, one of the saddest aspects is the encapsulating nature of the soldiers’ grief—it seems difficult for them to receive assistance from those who weren’t there, the participation in the war a precondition for understanding its emotional toll. The author boldly takes poetic risks with his prose, which is highly stylized and broodingly meditative. However, occasionally those risks don’t pay off and result in melodramatic overwriting, especially with dialogue. In response to a question from his wife, the author says, “That past has become a stranger to me. Like late-afternoon shadows that turn to face a deadening dusk, I am lost. Its clear-color outlines now bleed, to fading stonewashed madras. Once-distinct sounds mute into distant thunder from the crashing lie of heat-lightning, and cloud-formed shapes diffuse in wayward winds. Frozen and red, the touch of the wind becomes numb.”
An affecting account of war and its consequences undercut by overly ornate prose.