wombat_socho (wombat_socho) wrote,

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21 books, part III: Three books about Vietnam

These three books all came out during or shortly after the Vietnam War. They were all written by veterans, one Marine and two Army. Two of them are fiction, one of them is not. I read quite a few books about the Vietnam War in my teenage years, but these (and one other, which I'll get to later) were the ones that stood out. I think you'll see why as we go through them.

365 Days, Ronald K. Glasser
I first came across this book in the base library at Bolling Air Force Base, and read it obsessively through my high school years. It's not a novel; rather, it's a collection of personal stories about the people Dr. Glasser treated while stationed at Camp Zama in Japan. As a pediatrician, Glasser normally wouldn't have been involved in treating the wounded who'd been medevac'd from Vietnam, but there's always a shortage of doctors in the Army, and so he wound up pressed into service. I'd never seen anything like 365 Days before, but in the years to come I'd see flashes of it, reflections of the stories about Bosum, Brock, Dennen, Macabe, the medics, the ambushers, the chopper pilots, and the kids who went home in closed coffins because what was left was too horribly mangled for even a master undertaker to restore to anything resembling a human body. There are many scenes and images in the book that will grab you by the heart and squeeze hard, especially if you've known people in the service; having known my share of Army medics and Navy corpsmen and paramedics, I can't read Chapter 3 without tearing up.

Hammer's Slammers, David Drake
I first read "Under the Hammer" in my high school library's copy of Galaxy Science Fiction and its sequel "But Loyal To His Own" (to which the above line, from "Standing Down", refers) a month or so later, and I was hooked forever. Drake's work has been criticized by some for being "carnographic conservative military SF" but in truth the exploits of the Auxiliary Regiment commanded by Alois Hammer are based on the real-life history of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment in Vietnam, a unit Drake and I both served in (at thirty years remove, mind you) and don't show a lot of sympathy for politicians of any stripe. Jim Baen saw the stories for what they were, which was well-written SF, and the series grew to the point where the new collection in hardback from Night Shade Press will take up three volumes. Hammer's men (and women, for the most part) are complicated characters; there's a lot more going on with them than just filling a role in a tale of combat, and that's especially true of Joachim Steuben, the rather flaming and extremely deadly commander of Hammer's military police company, the White Mice. Suffice it to say I've barely begun to describe the character.
Quite aside from their literary merits, the Hammer's Slammers stories got me interested in David Drake's writing, and while I haven't yet picked up his fantasy works I daresay I've read (and own) pretty much everything else he's written in the SF and horror genres. He's also one hella interesting person in the flesh, and I look forward to being back in his end of the country where I'll have the chance to see and talk to him more often.

Fields of Fire, James Webb
This is a hard book to describe, because there's a hell of a lot going on. Much like his later sociological treatise Born Fighting, Fields of Fire covers a lot of history as background to its main story, the tale of Lieutenant Robert E. Lee Hodges, a young Marine lieutenant whose family has fought in nearly all of America's wars and who now heads off to Vietnam to lead a platoon into action in the I Corps zone. It's also the story of Snake, Senator, Ogre, Bagger, Dan, Cat Man, and the rest of Hodges' platoon, a story of revenge, betrayal, and deadly combat against the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese. It's not a pretty story, it doesn't have a happy ending - in fact, it has multiple unhappy endings. Awfully true to life in that regard, it is. There's a lot of story packed into the ~500 pages of Webb's debut novel, and I can't recommend it enough.

Tags: back in the day, books, history

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