Thoughtful, provocative memoir of slogging through one of the worst of many bad years of the Vietnam War.
Clark, now an attorney in the federal government, signed up for the Army in 1966 as a college kid without much direction in a class of enlistees dominated by young men trying to avoid poverty or jail. There was only one destination, of which the author writes, meaningfully, “while Vietnam wasn’t likely to be a good war, it was the one I had.” Educated, smart, and contrarian, Clark earned demerits for his lack of religious belief (“I was certainly going to try to be the atheist in the foxhole”) but respect for his intelligence. That earned him a not-very-coveted job as a radio operator, a bullet-inviting standout in any landscape for its long antenna and proximity to a senior officer. Clark survived the long odds before finally taking a hit, returning wounded to an “America that I had almost forgotten,” filled with people who didn’t really want to know about the war. Half a century on, the author tells a nuanced, morally complex story of class division, racial enmity, and the always-looming danger of death. In one memorable episode, he tries to convince a young Vietnamese woman to take cover in a firefight. “The look she gave me,” he writes, “was an elegant combination of utter hatred and disdain which held no trace of ambiguity.” He was no white knight but the enemy, and an enemy with all the firepower in the world. Veterans will recognize several tropes that the author carefully overturns, too, including the timeworn “recurring GI fable” promising that a short-timer would be posted to base camp to reduce his chances of being killed on the last days of his tour. No such luck, especially for someone who, like Clark, “wanted to be in the infantry, out of ignorance.”
A worthy entry in the vast library of books devoted to a misbegotten conflict.