On Christmas afternoon, I finished reading Mark Bowden’s Huế 1968 (Grove Atlantic, 2017). There is much to be said about the book and my reaction to it.
Another Vietnam combat veteran recommended it to me. He served as a U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman-Field Medical Service Technician (HM-8404/0000) with Charlie Company, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division in combat in the Chu Lai area of South Vietnam in 1967. Wounded twice, he received a Purple Heart, a Gold Star (for the second wounding), and a Bronze Star with “V” for valor.
I include here so much detail about this man’s background because it’s important to understand that only a man who has been through the rigors of combat can thoroughly appreciate the validity and value of Bowden’s book.
Why? Because the book is overloaded with the details of the bloody combat that lasted 24 days in the pitched battle for Huế. Too often I’ve read accounts of battles that lacked credible descriptions of combat because the author himself had never experienced it. I wanted the recommendation of a man who knew combat well before I delved into this book.
Huế 1968 has all the grisly facts and has them right. Bowden’s bio doesn’t mention any military service, but as the “Source Notes” at the end of the book make clear, Bowden spent four years interviewing combatants from both sides in the battle. Those who survived provided Bowden with minute and precise details of men being wounded and killed on the battlefield. To his credit, Bowden does not back away from narrating the ghastly events as they occurred.
As I have mentioned before in this blog, I want writers to tell their audiences the gruesome facts because I want people to know how unspeakably grim combat is. If we Americans understand what combat is like, maybe we’ll be better prepared to make decisions about going to war.