Hartman effectively captures the hectic life at a medical clearinghouse in this exhaustive journal of his in country experiences during the Vietnam War.
Hartman explains that he enlisted as a Goldwater conservative—“I hated liberals, ‘pinkos’, and socialists, but above all I hated that filthy slave of Moscow and Peking, Ho Chi Minh”—but his view of the war changed. “I had turned against the Vietnam adventure,” he says, “that grossly mistaken attempt to prop up the corrupt mandarins, landlords and generals of the Saigon regime against their own people.” Still, after contemplating a draft dodge in Canada, he went to Nam—“not out of patriotism, but out of fear: of being forever cut off from friends and family in the USA, of someday being grabbed by FBI slave-catchers and dragged back to a life sentence.” Per the memoir’s appropriate subtitle, the highs for Hartman included his indulging in many of the easily available drugs to numb the pain and exhaustion of working for the American military. The lows, which the surgical tech thoroughly tallies, involved many wounded and dead soldiers who passed through “Charley Med.” Sprinkled into the journal are doses of politics: “The American public—a huge, inscrutable, torpid, star-spangled toad—didn’t catch on,” he says. “‘America—love it or leave it’, said many bumper stickers, foreshadowing the equally stupid ‘Support our troops’ of Junior Bush’s regime.” Also appearing throughout is correspondence documenting his relationship with Stella, the girl he left behind in Texas. Hartman successfully adds perspective to the journal with narrative jumps in time that place his Vietnam year within the timeline of his life. The large cast of characters and military acronyms are difficult to manage, though they undoubtedly contributed to the feeling he and many others had of being overwhelmed by the military machine. Likewise, his recording of endless drug use by himself and fellow soldiers will leave many impressed, though the psychotropic jumble of observations goes toward explaining the continuing effects of the Vietnam War, not just on its participants, but on the American psyche.
One soldier’s chaotic life serves as an instructive microcosm of the American military experience in Vietnam.