A sprawling, passionate account of the Vietnam and postwar journeys of Annapolis graduates John Poindexter, Robert McFarlane, Oliver North, John McCain, and James Webb. Timberg, deputy Washington bureau chief for the Baltimore Sun and himself a Naval Academy graduate and Vietnam veteran, uses these five men to tell the story of a generation's ""anguish and sense of betrayal."" He draws disparate portraits of the five protagonists, who graduated from Annapolis over a ten-year period, from 1958 to 1968. Cerebral scientist Poindexter graduated at the top of his class and earned a doctorate in nuclear physics from Caltech. Fun-loving hell-raiser McCain suffered more than five years as a POW in Vietnam and on his release built a successful political career. McFarlane, intellectually and spiritually inclined, nearly decided to become a minister rather than a Marine. North, a highly competent and dedicated Marine officer, also had an aggressive gift for self-promotion. Webb became a lawyer and successful novelist after his combat experiences. As young plebes, all heard what the author calls ""the nightingale's song,"" which told them that serving America in the military was and ought to be a source of pride. For each man, that song was silenced for years by the knowledge that civilians viewed the Vietnam war as a misadventure and held the men who fought it in low esteem. Timberg contends that Ronald Reagan's assertion that Vietnam was a noble cause reactivated the nightingale's song in a different way for each man, leading Poindexter, McFarlane, and North to the excesses of the Iran-Contra scandal; resulting in high-level government appointments for Webb, including a brief tenure as secretary of the Navy; and providing the foundation for McCain's tenure in the Senate. Timberg uses the stories of five men and the transformation of the Naval Academy to chronicle America's loss of innocent faith in itself and the consequences of that loss for a generation.