My admiration for Hill 488 derives from the excellence of the writing and the willingness of the authors to depict combat unreservedly in all its hideousness. I recommend the book because I want people to know how ghastly combat is. I want Americans to understand what they are subjected their young men and women to when they decide that we must go to war.
The men I served with in Vietnam were very young. The average age was nineteen. These were kids. Some were barely shaving. Some had never tasted alcohol before they went into the service. Some had never before been away from home. And they died on the battlefield beside me.
Toward the end of Hill 488, the authors offer some statistics and interpretation of the numbers. That paragraph, quoted below, brought tears to my eyes:
“Contrary to popular opinion, most Vietnam casualties-—-70 percent—were volunteers, not draftees. The army suffered the most casualties—38,179, or 2.7 percent of its force. The Marine Corps, however, lost the largest percentage of its force——14,836, or 5 percent. Forty percent of all Marine enlisted casualties were teenagers. Statistics are cold numbers. Names on a slab of marble tell little about the men or how they lived and died. It is my hope that this book brings to life the circumstances and drama of the men who defended Hill 488 that terrible night in 1966, of the six men, heroes all, whose names First Platoon contributed to ‘The Wall,’ and, by extension, of all the honorable men in all the various services who gave so much to the Vietnam war.”