A former GI recalls his tour of duty in Vietnam, and it’s not quite the story readers may expect.
Ulander was drafted after dropping out of college in 1969. At 19, he was already self-aware enough to recognize and resist the indoctrination of basic training. Once in Vietnam, he found a different war from the one his training prepared him for. Marijuana was ubiquitous, though the officers and other “lifers” opposed it on principle. Most of the field soldiers he met wore peace signs on their helmets, smoked vast quantities of dope, and listened regularly to the latest rock music from “the World” back home. It became evident that the real enemies weren’t the North Vietnamese soldiers but his own officers, most of whom put career advancement first and the lives of their men a distant second. Luckily, Ulander found mentors in more seasoned soldiers who took him under their wings because the better he was at staying alive, the safer everyone would be. Readers follow him on his early missions, where he learned how to turn off his thoughts and just take in what the jungle was telling him. While he did endure combat—luckily, he came through unscathed—the book is really about the camaraderie and the philosophical detachment he adopted as a survival tactic. Ulander has a knack for capturing the scenes he experienced and for expressing the draftees’ dislike of the lifers. The characters are identified only by nicknames, possibly to shield them even after the passage of decades, possibly because some are composites. In the dedication, the author notes that there are parts of the story he leaves untold, and most readers will have an idea what some of those are. One thing is unambiguous: the author came out of the war with a fierce hatred of the military and the social forces that made Vietnam possible.
A compulsively readable book for anyone who lived through the Vietnam era—or who wants an idea of what it was like.