Vietnam: A View from the Front Lines (General Military)

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9781849089722: Vietnam: A View from the Front Lines (General Military)

Vietnam: A View from the Frontline traces the American experience of Vietnam from the war's popular inception to its morale-crushing and bitter conclusion. Vietnam features a grunt's-eye view of the conflict - from the steaming rice paddies and swamps of the Mekong Delta, to the triple-canopy rainforest of the Central Highlands, to the forlorn Marine bases that dotted the DMZ. Like Karl Marlantes' groundbreaking novel 2010, Mattherhorn, this book will change the way we think about Vietnam. Told in uncompromising, no-holds barred language of the soldiers themselves, the stories contained within this book detail everything from heroism to fragging, from helicopters hitting the LZs to rampant drug use. It is a true and grippingly accurate portrait of the American war in Vietnam through the eyes of the men and women who fought in that far away land while a few are drawn from medics, corpsmen, nurses and widows. The book is based on rich collections housed at the National Archive, the Center of Military History, and at the Vietnam Archive at Texas Tech.

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About the Author:

Andrew Wiest, author of Boys of '67, was an advisor to History Channel's Vietnam in HD  and has written or edited several books on the Vietnam War, including Vietnam's Forgotten Army (winner of the Society for Military History's Distinguished Book Award), Rolling Thunder in a Gentle Land, and America and the Vietnam War Generation. Mr. Wiest lives in Hattiesburg, MS where he is the Charles W. Moorman Distinguished Professor at the University of Southern Mississippi.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Introduction
 
World War II and the Vietnam War are perhaps the events that best define America in the twentieth century. During World War II the United States strode onto the world stage, marking the dawn of a period of world dominance not seen since the Roman Empire. One can argue, though, that it was in Vietnam that the United States came of age. The newest world power failed in a war against a tiny, third-world nation. Certainly that third-world nation had superpower backers; certainly the Americans fought with strict, self-imposed limits due in part to roiling problems on the home front. The explanations for failure, some valid and some not, are legion, but the truth remains: the United States committed itself to defending the freedom of South Vietnam, a nation that is no more. America failed in its stated military mission; the colossus had stumbled.
 
Vietnam and its era very nearly pulled the United States to pieces. Protests ripped at the fabric of American society, pitting generation against generation, class against class, race against race. Assassins’ bullets rang out; presidents fell from power; cities burned in great blazes of societal anguish. The United States that emerged at the end was still dominant, but it had changed. Perhaps it was all part of a great national maturation process. Perhaps it signaled the beginning of the end of America’s international authority and greatness. Regardless of its perceived long-term impact on America’s future, the Vietnam War is without doubt a part of what it means to be an American today.
 
As is to be expected of such an important period in American history, a plethora of books detail the Vietnam War. Generals, politicians, historians, journalists, novelists, and filmmakers have all turned their attentions to defining the conflict. Arguments, sometimes intriguing and sometimes dangerously ill-informed, abound on the thorny questions in the intellectual briar patch of the history of the Vietnam War. Did the United States enter the war for valid reasons? Could America have won the war, or was it an unwinnable exercise from the beginning? Who was to blame for the eventual American failure – the military? The media? Protestors? The South Vietnamese? How did the war affect the United States, and why does it remain a source of political angst after so many years? The historical fight for the soul of the Vietnam War remains in doubt.
 
Sometimes lost in the high-stakes academic struggles for ownership of the Vietnam War are the simple and eternal stories of the soldiers and Marines who fought it. All too often in academic, journalistic, or film attempts to seize the high ground of the Vietnam narrative, the fighting men – the frightened, dirty, bloody actors in battle – are either ignored or are treated as stock characters to make a larger point. The battlefield, the sharp end of war, is where doctrine becomes reality, where orders become action, where the narrative intersects with life and death. Battle is the true story of war, and those who fight battles are the scribes of conflict. Those who have never served can understand much about war – its leaders, its driving forces, its outcomes – but anybody who has not been there will never understand combat; its true nature will always hover just beyond our collective grasp.
 
It is not the purpose of this study to evaluate the causes, tactics, or societal impact of the Vietnam War. Instead of contributing to the enduring historical debates that surround the conflict, this study will center on the lives of the American combat soldiers during the Vietnam War. Each soldier was a young man with his own story, torn away from the most formative time of his life to spend a year in a violent and surreal world. Truly, to understand the Vietnam War we must understand the soldiers’ lives. What was it like to receive a draft notice a week after you were married? What was it like to burn leeches off of your skin after slogging through the rice paddies? What was it like to feel your body lurch as bullets struck home? What was it like learning that you would never walk again? These are the deepest questions of war.
 
Although their hair is graying, the members of the Vietnam generation are still here. Their presence is a historian’s dream come true. They are the living history of the war. All you have to do is talk to them. Oral history, interviews with the men themselves and their families – men who often have been waiting for decades for someone to ask them about their war – is perhaps the most efficient tool for understanding the beating heart of warfare. Like any other historical implement, oral history must be used with great care. Memories dim over time and details fade. But when leavened with corroboration from other sources, including unit histories and after-action reports, oral histories can serve as an important window on the past. For many, the memories of the most important events of the Vietnam War are seared onto their minds. The moment when they first met their bellowing drill instructor. The moment they first killed someone. The moment when they opened the door to learn that their husband was dead. These indelible memories allow us to experience, at least in part, the reality of war.
 
Soldiers, sailors, airmen, coast guardsmen, and Marines served in and around Vietnam in a variety of essential functions, ranging from driving trucks to piloting fighter aircraft. While those positions were all vital to the United States’ war effort, this study will focus on the experience of members of the US Army and Marines who served in ground combat. Even with this limitation, no collection of oral histories can pretend truly to be representative of the overall experience of the over one million Americans who served in combat slots in Vietnam in a war that lasted for eight years. Since a sample of statistically meaningful size would fill an archive, not a book, this collection will instead use a dual focus in an attempt to bring the soldiers’ experience of the Vietnam War to life in a meaningful way.
 
Wars are prosecuted in units, ranging in size from fire teams to armies. Especially at the sharp end of war, men function and live or die in groups. The military is well aware that it is not patriotism or love of the flag that makes men risk their lives in battle; it is small unit loyalty. It is devotion to one’s comrades. Men who endure the rigors of training and the crucible of war together form the closest of bonds. Soldiers struggle past their own fear and charge a bunker line not because of tactics or orders, but because the very best friend they will ever have might die if they don’t. Combat is a story of brotherly bonds, whether bonds of boozy fellowship at base camp between missions or bonds born of battle. It is often difficult, however, for oral histories, as singular stories, to reflect the intricate bonds formed by a group of men in wartime. To best understand how it felt to lose a friend in battle, you have to understand the depth of the shared friendship, its genesis and its nurturing as well as its violent end.
 
To illustrate the powerful group dynamic of war, one group of oral histories in this study is taken from men who all served in the same unit – Charlie Company, 4th Battalion, 47th Infantry. Charlie Company was the focus of my last book, The Boys of ’67:Charlie Company’s War in Vietnam, which had as its research foundation a series of over 60 interviews with survivors of Charlie Company and their families. During the interview and writing process for The Boys of ’67, I became about as familiar with a military unit as an outsider can be. Because of that familiarity I knew how the unit functioned, how it hung together, and how its stories intertwined. In this study a few of those stories are revisited – stories that are interlocked pieces of the puzzle of how a unit of brothers comes to be and how that unit functions in war.
 
But Vietnam was more than 1967, the year of Charlie Company’s service. Vietnam was more than the Mekong Delta, the place of Charlie Company’s service. Vietnam was geographically and chronologically complex. If the collective testimony of Charlie Company serves to illustrate the depth of the group nature of the conflict, a second series of oral histories must stand for the war’s breadth. The Oral History Project of the Vietnam Center and Archive at Texas Tech University has done a wonderful historic service by first gathering and then transcribing and digitizing hundreds of oral histories with Vietnam veterans. The collection represents the raw materials of history, a vast mother lode awaiting prospectors. The second group of interviews in this study is taken from the collection of the Oral History Project, and investigates different places, different experiences, different forms of combat, and different relationships in an attempt to hint at the vastness of the experience that was the Vietnam War for Americans in combat.
 
When conceptualizing this project I first envisioned arranging it chronologically. But it struck me that the chapters would get endlessly repetitive – here is combat in 1965; here is combat in 1966; here is combat in 1967. Jettisoning that idea I moved toward organizing the project around the “big events” of the war – the Ia Drang Valley in 1965, Tet 1968, Hamburger Hill. But that organizational scheme seemed so tired and worn – focusing on well-known stories and mega-events. Neither format lent itself to what I wanted to accomplish – to tell the soldiers’ story of Vietnam, of the war in its infinite small-unit complexity. After internal debates and external discussions, I decided to arrange the book in the manner that the soldiers themselves experienced their war. Readers will be able to follow the soldiers and their families through the conflict, from before they were drafted, through training, through their first experiences of war, through combat, through hospitals, through funerals, to today. Although the stories contained in the study vary chronologically, they are eternal stories of civilians becoming soldiers, warriors, and veterans. In this manner readers will be afforded the clearest understanding not of individual events but rather of what it meant to be a soldier in Vietnam.
 
Each chapter is preceded by a short introduction intended to provide necessary context for the oral histories themselves. How many people were drafted and how? What was “Search and Destroy?” Where were soldiers trained? When were the major periods of combat in Vietnam? How did the soldiers come home? Providing insights on such basic questions is necessary to frame the stories, to tack them onto the bulletin board of history. While the introductions will often by necessity address points of contention – the draft, US tactics, the poor reception of returning soldiers – they will not descend into taking sides in the roiling historical debates on these issues. The introductions will serve only as the picture frames; the pictures themselves are the point of focus.
 
Oral history, in its raw form, does not always make for riveting reading. Interviews are often somewhat conversational in nature, full of asides, bantering between interviewer and interviewee, long pauses, ummms and hummms, yawns, sneezes, and potty breaks. What is contained in this collection are transcripts of interviews that are edited enough to make them readable. Most questions from the interviewers are redacted, but some are incorporated into the transcript when needed to help the answer make sense. Some colloquialisms, when not central to the story, are cleaned up. The oral histories will not include ellipses to indicate omissions – or the entire manuscript would be littered with endless dots. In the
end, I had to strike a balance between readability and transcript accuracy. The editing attempted to adhere as closely as possible to the original transcript, with its original meaning left intact at all costs. Readers can access the original, raw transcripts themselves to see more of the stories. Those transcripts taken from the Oral History Collection of the Vietnam Center and Archive are digitized and available online at www.vietnam.ttu.edu/oralhistory/. The oral histories taken from Charlie Company are housed at the Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage at the University of Southern Mississippi. Transcribing and digitizing the interviews is presently underway. Researchers can access the interviews as they become available at www.usm.edu/oral-history. While listed as a single author book, this study has been a collaborative effort. Robert Thompson, a Ph.D. student who is working on pacification efforts in the Vietnam War at the University of Southern Mississippi, has played a major research and authorship role in the project since its inception. Rob helped to identify the interviews used in the study taken from the Texas Tech collection, he handled many of the transcriptions, and he authored chapters 3, 7, and 9. Without Rob’s capable across-the-board help and his willingness to write three of the chapters, this project might never have seen the light of day.
 
Chapter One: Who We Were
 
It was the 1960s, an era in American history that was already destined to be tumultuous. It was the time when the massive baby boom generation came of age – a generation collectively determined to do things differently than had their World War II-era parents. It was the era of Civil Rights – with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the legislative peak of the movement had passed. But militancy, assassinations, and cities on fire in the long, hot summers were still in the offing. It was the time of the counterculture, of rock-n-roll and Woodstock and Altamont, of the Stonewall Riots, and the beginnings of the Gay Rights Movement. The discord in America was palpable, almost a living thing. The final, and perhaps the most corrosive, element of this toxic mix was the Vietnam War – a war that would have been difficult at the best of times. A war made almost unwinnable by the buffeting storms and crashing seas of its historical era.
 
What it was to be an American during the Vietnam War era is maddeningly complex. On one hand the country seemed somehow quaint. It was a much more rural nation then – a nation that for many seemed to be epitomized by one of its most popular television shows, The Andy Griffith Show. The America of Barney Fife and Mayberry. But it was also the America of bad acid trips and Charles Manson. It was the era of Doris Day singing “Que Sera Sera” on her variety show, but it was also the era of Dennis Hopper and the rebelliousness of Easy Rider. It was in this schizophrenic era, from 1964 to 1973, that over 50 million young Americans turned 18. This largest-ever US generation, while pulled in so many directions by myriad cultural and societal forces, was quintessentially American. They were city toughs in leather jackets; they were tanned and rugged farm boys; they were California surfers; they were factory laborers. In numbers greater than ever before they looked forward to a college education. They looked forward to marriage and raising families of their own. O...

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Book Description Bloomsbury Publishing PLC, United Kingdom, 2013. Hardback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. The Vietnam War ripped America apart and charted the nation s tumultuous future. In their tens of thousands, young men went off to fight in what was an initially popular war only to face defeat and acrimony as national resolve wavered - and returned home to a nation that reviled them and tried to forget about them. Written by Andrew Wiest, the bestselling author of The Boys of 67: Charlie Company s War in Vietnam this book traces the American experience of Vietnam from the war s popular inception to its morale-crushing and bitter conclusion. Based on rich collection housed at the Center of Military History and at the Vietnam Archive at Texas Tech, Vietnam allows the reader a grunt s-eye view of the conflict - from the steaming rice paddies and swamps of the Mekong Delta, to the triple-canopy rainforest of the Central Highlands, and to the forlorn Marine bases that dotted the DMZ. The stories contained within these pages detail everything from heroism and battle to helicopters hitting the landing zones and death and injury. In their own words, this is a true and grippingly accurate portrait of the American war in Vietnam through the eyes of the men and women who fought in that far away land, and those they left behind. Bookseller Inventory # AA79781849089722

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Book Description Bloomsbury Publishing PLC, United Kingdom, 2013. Hardback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. The Vietnam War ripped America apart and charted the nation s tumultuous future. In their tens of thousands, young men went off to fight in what was an initially popular war only to face defeat and acrimony as national resolve wavered - and returned home to a nation that reviled them and tried to forget about them. Written by Andrew Wiest, the bestselling author of The Boys of 67: Charlie Company s War in Vietnam this book traces the American experience of Vietnam from the war s popular inception to its morale-crushing and bitter conclusion. Based on rich collection housed at the Center of Military History and at the Vietnam Archive at Texas Tech, Vietnam allows the reader a grunt s-eye view of the conflict - from the steaming rice paddies and swamps of the Mekong Delta, to the triple-canopy rainforest of the Central Highlands, and to the forlorn Marine bases that dotted the DMZ. The stories contained within these pages detail everything from heroism and battle to helicopters hitting the landing zones and death and injury. In their own words, this is a true and grippingly accurate portrait of the American war in Vietnam through the eyes of the men and women who fought in that far away land, and those they left behind. Bookseller Inventory # AA79781849089722

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Book Description Bloomsbury Publishing PLC, United Kingdom, 2013. Hardback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . This book usually ship within 10-15 business days and we will endeavor to dispatch orders quicker than this where possible. Brand New Book. The Vietnam War ripped America apart and charted the nation s tumultuous future. In their tens of thousands, young men went off to fight in what was an initially popular war only to face defeat and acrimony as national resolve wavered - and returned home to a nation that reviled them and tried to forget about them. Written by Andrew Wiest, the bestselling author of The Boys of 67: Charlie Company s War in Vietnam this book traces the American experience of Vietnam from the war s popular inception to its morale-crushing and bitter conclusion. Based on rich collection housed at the Center of Military History and at the Vietnam Archive at Texas Tech, Vietnam allows the reader a grunt s-eye view of the conflict - from the steaming rice paddies and swamps of the Mekong Delta, to the triple-canopy rainforest of the Central Highlands, and to the forlorn Marine bases that dotted the DMZ. The stories contained within these pages detail everything from heroism and battle to helicopters hitting the landing zones and death and injury. In their own words, this is a true and grippingly accurate portrait of the American war in Vietnam through the eyes of the men and women who fought in that far away land, and those they left behind. Bookseller Inventory # BTE9781849089722

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