What the Guys Say

After I learned that the Naval Institute Press would be publishing Last of the Annamese, I sent copies of the ARC (advance review copy) to men who had seen combat in Vietnam. I wanted to know how they reacted to the book and, if they wanted to, I hoped they’d write and publish reviews.

They’re feeding back to me now, a little at a time. I’m moved by the mix of pride and pain they show in their responses—pride that they stood their ground for their country and risked their lives for what they believed was right; and pain at remembering the gruesome experiences they went through in combat.

They’re all younger than me. So many of them were 18 or 19 when they arrived in Vietnam. By the time I got there in 1962, I was already 25 with a wife and my first child. I’d finished my military service and was a civilian operating under cover. Most of the guys I knew went to Vietnam after 1964. When Saigon fell (I was 38), most of them were still in their twenties.

So I was more mature than the guys I served beside on the battlefield. I looked so young that they assumed I was their contemporary when I was actually old enough that I qualified for the name “Pops” as they called men serving with them who were already in their mid-twenties. Worse, in civilian-to-military equivalency, I outranked their commanders. Nevertheless, once they saw that I was going to be with them through it all, even in combat, they accepted me and we worked together.

What I’m starting to understand is how rough it must have been on them. I was older, more experienced. By the mid-sixties, I’d already been through combat; they hadn’t. Besides, they were fighters. I was just there to help and was armed, at most, with a pistol. They were there to kill or be killed. I struggle with my own memories. How much worse it must be for them.

I do sense their pain, and I understand their unwillingness to talk about their memories. But I also feel—and share in—their pride. To paraphrase Ike in Annamese, they did what they had to do, whatever it took. I salute them and honor their pride.

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