Fortunately, I won’t be reviewing Command at Dawn. The book came out last year. And my love for the book is personal, not likely to be shared by the reading public. To be honest in a review, I’d have to point out the writing flaws that prevent the novel from being a top runner. I believe that Carney writes about Vietnam for the same reason I do: to vent his Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI). At the end of the text is a note that says the book “is the result of writing to stay sane.”
The novel ends with Ledbetter returning to the U.S. He is greeted by mobs that spit on him and call him “butcher” and “baby killer.” I experienced those rebukes repeatedly each time I came home from Vietnam with the troops starting in 1968. Like Ledbetter, I didn’t speak of my time in Vietnam for decades after the war ended. Like him, when I was finally received warmly, the emotions overwhelmed me. The first time a young person hugged me and said, “Thank you for your service. And welcome home,” I cried.
This isn’t the first time a book about Vietnam has awakened my anxieties. Over the years, it’s happened many times. The memories that cause PTSI never go away and never weaken. It doesn’t take much to trigger them. A sound, a smell, words from long ago—anything can bring them back. So much of my writing was done to help me vent those unbearable memories. Every little bit helps. But I’ll never be healed.