A debut, memoir-based novel chronicles the experiences of a platoon in the Vietnam War.
Jones served in Vietnam in 1966-67 with the 173rd Airborne. He wasn’t drafted; he enlisted—at age 19—because he thought it was the right thing to do. In this book, he is James Fowlkes (“Prof”), the narrator. Others in his platoon—all nicknames, of course—include Dragline, Arkansas, Vocab, Deetroit, Preacher Will, Pineapple, Nasty, and Hammerhead. Three of them will not make it home alive. So this is mostly a story of real grunts out on patrol, and, in frequent battles, they are one for all and all for one, as the title implies. White guys, black guys, and an Asian guy. Nasty is the one in the platoon that the rest loathe, but they would save even him in a pinch. (One they would not rescue, and that they come close to killing, is Lt. Taylor, who puts them at risk time and again to advance his career; he remains loathsome.) Ultimately, Fowlkes survives, and returns home to Texas to a hero’s welcome. But flash-forward a half-century and he is undergoing treatment for a lung cancer that is trying to kill him. Is it Agent Orange? Will Vietnam finally claim him? Except for short looks at war protestors in San Francisco, this book focuses almost exclusively on Fowlkes’ time in Vietnam and what it is like to be on patrol—filthy, tired, scared—for days at a time. And what it is like to lose guys that a soldier has come to love, the double-edged sword of bonding. At one point, Fowlkes says that he was “covered in blood, none of it mine, but then again, all of it was mine.” The writing is straightforward but a reader comes to like and respect this kid from Texas, now a man. This work could almost be a template for all the books that have come out of the Vietnam War. No new ground is broken, but all the standard ingredients are here. The novel comes with a short glossary of the terms that Fowlkes or any other grunt would and does use.
A vivid war story about a soldier and his comrades that delivers a satisfying read.