A superb oral history of two generations at war—sometimes with each other.
For readers of Ron Kovic’s Born on the Fourth of July or Lewis Puller Jr.’s Fortunate Son, it won’t come as a surprise that the Americans who fought in WWII and Vietnam often saw their missions in radically different ways. Takiff has done a very smart thing in pairing and playing off the remembrances of veterans of both conflicts, and in that alone, this would do Studs Terkel proud. He adds yet more by focusing on father-and-son veterans, some of whom, nearly 30 years after the second war ended, have trouble talking about their experiences with each other, if less so with the interviewer. Where Gene Camp, a WWII veteran who was also one of the earliest American fighters in Vietnam, rails against the “all the liberals barking and carrying on” and “the people back here . . . protesting and making speeches and running to Canada,” his infantry captain son Greg says quietly, “I was young and naive and very patriotic. Now I would say we got into Vietnam for lots of reasons, but it wasn’t the sort of overarching, noble reason that I had thought. . . . It was like throwing good money after bad.” Even fathers and sons who more or less agree on the flawed nature of the Vietnam misadventure find difficulty in speaking in these pages. But speak they do, to each other and to the world, often eloquently, often quite movingly. To all their conversations Takiff adds a smart introduction and running commentary that addresses all the “well-rehearsed generalizations” we’ve long heard about both wars, reminding his readers that plenty of WWII vets returned with PTSD, plenty of Vietnam vets returned normal, and plenty of commentators have erred in thinking we won WWII just because we were the good guys and lost Vietnam because we were—well, something else.
An impressive and thoughtful contribution, and one that will be of considerable interest to both veterans and students of America’s wars.