Book Review by Amy Lignor
How long does it take for compassion to die? In the case of the Viet Nam* War, little was shown for the “unwanted veterans” from the very beginning. Unlike WWII, and the cheers given to the “beloved” veterans who returned home victorious; the Viet Nam soldiers were not so enamored. And although there are many books written about this particular subject—from the political to the personal—this particular memoir addresses all points. It is a baring of the soul, to be exact, laying the nightmare out for readers to understand.
Not for the faint of heart, Jerry Hall speaks about his personal battles during the Viet Nam War and beyond. In this, Volume 1, readers are introduced to a young man who’d chosen the Air Force when he had to take ROTC upon entering college. We then dive head first into the summer of 1968, when he and his three friends (the “fantastic four” was their title) graduated, ready to fly. The probability for survival, said their instructor, was one in three over in Viet Nam. But their youth and excitement at their accomplishments led them to believe that they were a particular quartet that would end up all still breathing when victory was achieved.
That was the beauty of it all; the initial belief that saving the country would be a good thing and that he and his friends had earned those gold bars that were now pinned to their lapels. Then, however, that shiny gold begins to rust. The young man who began by seeing “the Nam” as a place with “golden beaches leading to a lush jungle,” soon rides down a road with vegetation that’s been completely burned on both sides, so that the “villains” no longer had the ability to sit in ambush. We meet a man he must bunk with who speaks more like the enemy than the American friend. The inner fear is felt when Jerry takes his first solo flight, and everything from the word-for-word account of battles fought to the introduction of Agent Orange that went on to collect numerous victims, is experienced.
Readers will go back and forth—even head to the beautiful Washington State for prison camp survival training. Fights with higher ranking officers; brawls in pubs; a man named Father William who readers will come to love; cease fires that were most definitely not ceased; and the flow of liquor running faster as friends are taken out are faced.
There are no apologies given in this memoir. Readers will not wonder, after watching the pain and darkness that was constantly stored away in Jerry Hall’s mind, why a person would have to fight to keep their morals in this situation. It is almost hard to believe that someone would even fight for their own mortality while stuck in this hell, and not just decide to end it once and for all.
What Mr. Hall must do when he returns home to a country that barely, if ever, accepted the people they trained to kill, is find a way to climb out of the bitterness, liquor bottles, and the overall horror he refers to as a vortex, in order to fight for the only one who deserves his attention: himself.
Volume 1 is filled with pages that slap you upside the head as Mr. Hall delivers his story without editing out one second of humor, trauma, or absolute reality that he had to deal with.
*Americans typically write Vietnam as one word. The Vietnamese use two, Viet Nam, when referring to their country. Out of respect, Jerry Hall chose this version.
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Source: Baret News