A young man contemplates his own mortality—and the Vietnam War—from a very safe distance.
Jeff Adams is an officer candidate undergoing training at Fort Benning just as the Vietnam War begins to wind down. He encounters a standard assortment of military types who strut their stuff in predictable ways: Rancek, a foulmouthed lieutenant who harangues and harasses one and all; Captain Lederer, the noble CO of Company 58; Sergeant Rooker T. Jones, an immense, powerfully built black man who offers instruction on the fine points of rape, pillage, and killing; and Captain Fosse, who likes to tell army jokes when not explaining the rights of prisoners. It’s clear that no one wants these new recruits to think of the enemy as human, something that troubles our hero. But Jeff Adams is from rural Texas, where serving one’s country is what a man has to do. He gets through the grueling routines as best he can, somehow dodging the wrath of the belligerent career men who shape up, indoctrinate, and punish the newcomers. A few of the men are gung-ho gook-haters raring to get to Vietnam and blow a few heads off, but Jeff and several of his buddies are having second thoughts. Then Jeff is assigned to Lieutenant Calley as a driver, while the latter awaits trial. He’s not satisfied with the lieutenant’s terse, matter-of-fact explanation of the My Lai massacre, and his doubts are intensified when his girlfriend Mary O’Hara shares her antiwar sentiments. Later, after the Kent State shootings, Jeff goes AWOL, accompanied by two friends. And all meet years later at the Vietnam War memorial in Washington for a rather anticlimactic reunion.
First-timer Busby has a point to make about the effect of this unwinnable war on those who didn’t serve, but it doesn’t exactly make for a compelling story.