It’s not widely known, but writer Tracy Kidder—the author of
such critically acclaimed books as House and The Soul
of a New Machine and the winner of the Pulitzer Prize and
National Book Award—served in the Vietnam War. For a year, he
was a lieutenant in charge of eight enlisted men in an Army
Security Agency detachment inside a well-fortified infantry base
camp near Chu Lai. Kidder tells his war story in the insightful
My Detachment: A Memoir (Random House, 208 pp., $24.95).
warrior, Kidder joined ROTC in his junior year at Harvard to
avoid the draft. Two years later he was in Vietnam, in a war
that he had soon decided was “unnecessary” and “futile.” As an
ROTC cadet and later as an Army officer, Kidder felt “separated
from my social class, from my student generation.”
In Vietnam, he
detached himself emotionally from the Army bureaucracy, from his
ticket-punching superior officers, and from his work-shirking
enlisted men. In Kidder’s Vietnam War story there are no heroes.
There are, in fact, few “war stories.” He presents, instead,
realistic day-to-day reports on what happened at his detachment
where the mission was to interpret enemy troop movements using
raw intelligence data supplied by eavesdropping technology.
His account is
an introspective, de-mythologizing dose of reality as seen by a
perceptive though immature Army intelligence LT. War isn’t hell
here; it’s hellishly bureaucratic and infused with mind-numbing
Army rules and regulations exacerbated by the fact that it’s
played out in a war zone. “I was never more than a few miles
away from a village being bombarded or a platoon caught in an
ambush,” Kidder says, “and yet [the war was] an abstraction,
dots on a map.”
BOSCH & BROKER
Connelly’s latest Harry Bosch detective novel, The Closers
(Little, Brown, 403 pp., $26.95), doesn’t disappoint. Connelly
brought Bosch to life in 1992 in The Black Echo, a
riveting thriller in which we learn that the LAPD homicide
detective served in the Vietnam War as a tunnel rat. Bosch’s war
experiences played smaller roles in the eight subsequent books.
The readable, well-plotted The Closers deals with an
unsolved murder. Bosch’s Vietnam War experience rears its head
several times as our hero, back on the force after a brief
retirement, barely manages not to get himself into deep
departmental trouble (his usual M.O.) as he works over a two-day
period to solve a vexing crime.
volunteered for the draft in 1967, went Airborne, and did a
Vietnam War tour as a radio operator with small advisory teams
around Dong Ha in northern Quang Tri Province. After the war,
the Detroit native moved to Minneapolis, became a staff artist
with the St. Paul Pioneer Press, and in 1996 published
his first book, the top-notch thriller Hunter’s Moon.
That book featured Nam vet undercover cop Phil Broker. Since
then, Logan’s turned out six more Broker novels, including his
latest, Homefront (HarperCollins, 368 pp., $16.95).
predecessors, Homefront is a tense, dark page-turner set
in northern Minnesota. This time, Broker must deal with a pack
of malevolent sociopaths intent on doing severe harm to him, his
wife, Nina (a young Army major recovering from her own encounter
with bad guys), and their 11-year-old daughter. Along the way, a
lot of bad things happen to the family and to Griffin, Broker’s
old Nam buddy and partner in fighting crime.
Butler, who won the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for his
Vietnam-themed short story collection, A Good Scent from a
Strange Mountain, has been a creative writing professor at
Florida State University since 2000. Butler served as a U.S.
Army translator in Vietnam, and the war and its aftermath have
strongly influenced his fiction, beginning with his first
published novel, The Alleys of Eden (1981), and including
On Distant Ground (1985), The Deuce (1989),
They Whisper (1994), and The Deep Green Sea (1998).
latest book is not fiction, but it deals with fiction writing.
From Where You Dream: The Process of Writing Fiction
(Grove, 272 pp., $24) is Butler’s how-to for aspiring fiction
writers. The work is based on the creative writing class he
teaches to graduate students at FSU. In addition to this
insightful series of lectures, edited by former student Janet
Burroway, the book includes “Open Arms,” one of the short
stories from Good Scent.
thing about George Hay’s novel, Agent Orange (AVBooks, 11
hours, $19.95), the story of a POW rescue mission in Vietnam, is
that it has been released as an audiovisual book. That is, it’s
a single CD that can be listened to on any portable or car MP3
player, DVD player, or iPod-type device, and can be read or
listened to on any personal computer. The book, which is read by
William Shatner, looks just like a hardbound book on your
computer with pages that turn. To find out more, go to
A SORT OF
the poet and writer whose work is shaped by his experiences as a
U.S. Marine in the Vietnam War, has collaborated with another
Vietnam veteran, Don Fox, on A Sort of Peace: Echoes and
Images of the Vietnam War. It’s a book of photographs and
poetry that originally appeared on the “Today in Literature”
website. You can take a look at
collaboration is now available in a full-color chapbook (Fox
Photo Arts, $20). It’s made up of eight of Fox’s photos, most
from Vietnam, and Ehrhart’s verse. For more info, write to Fox
Photo Arts, 1611 Wheatstone Dr., Farmington, NY 14425 or go to
Clyde Edgerton (The Floatplane Notebooks, et al.) has
just written Solo: My Adventures in the Air (Algonquin,
296 pp., $23.95), an engaging autobiography. Edgerton’s love
affair with flying began when he was four years old and his
mother took him on a trip to a local airport. It picked up steam
in 1962 when Edgerton signed up for Air Force ROTC as a
University of North Carolina freshman. His goal: to become a
fighter pilot. The Air Force, though, turned him into a Forward
Air Control pilot during his 1970-71 tour. He flew over the Ho
Chi Minh Trail out of Nakhon Phanom Air Base in Thailand. It was
often dangerous work, and he was awarded the Distinguished
Flying Cross for his part in an unsuccessful rescue mission.
for Peace in Vietnam, 1964-1968 (Texas A&M University, 406
pp., $40) is a compilation of 22 essays by top-tier Vietnam War
scholars on the many peace initiatives—all of which went
nowhere—that arose during the first four years after the big
American build-up. Editors Lloyd C. Gardner (Rutgers University)
and Ted Gittinger (LBJ Library) include well-documented,
revealing entries by—among others—Robert K. Brigham and George
Herring on the 1987 Pennsylvania Peace Initiative; Ivan Gaiduk
on the Russians’ role in peace talks; and retired Army Col.
Herbert Schandler’s take on the Pentagon’s role in peace
negotiations after March 31, 1968.
enlisted in the Marines in the summer of 1967. By the end of the
year he found himself dug in with the 26th Marines at Khe Sanh.
Archer tells his Vietnam War story exceptionally well in A
Patch of Ground: Khe Sanh Remembered (Hellgate, 192 pp.,
$15.95, paper). In clear, evocative prose, Archer relives his 13
months at the pivotal Marine base, where he served in the thick
of things as a radio operator. Archer’s first-hand account,
fleshed out with historical background, adds a significant voice
to the history of the Khe Sanh siege.
Henry G. Cole,
a retired Army colonel, served from 1952-88, including tours in
the Korean and Vietnam wars. He fought in Vietnam in 1966-67
with the 5th Special Forces Group and in 1969-70 in Kontum at
the Command and Control Center of SOG, the famed covert Studies
and Observation Group. Cole offers up his war memories in
Soldiering: Observations from Korea, Vietnam and Safe Places
(Potomac Books, 255 pp., $27.95), in which he includes
perceptive profiles of many of the men with whom he served.
The father in
John H. Richardson’s My Father the Spy: An Investigative
Memoir (HarperCollins, 314 pp., $24.95) is Jack Richardson,
a longtime CIA man who was the agency’s station chief in Saigon
from 1962-63. U.S. Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge abruptly sent
him home because of Richardson’s close ties to the Diem regime.
The younger Richardson, an Esquire writer at large,
offers a personal view of his father’s tumultuous time in
Saigon. The book is a mixture of memoir (9-year-old John was
with his family in Vietnam) and well-researched family history,
including Richardson Sr.’s life story before his son came along
in 1954. It adds up to a fascinating insider’s look at a
post-World War II CIA family’s life.
Stansfield Turner, who commanded the guided missile destroyer
USS Horne in the Tonkin Gulf during the Vietnam War,
headed the CIA from 1977-81. In Burn Before Reading:
Presidents, CIA Directors, and Secret Intelligence (Hyperion,
320 pp., $23.95), Turner looks at the relationships between all
of the DCIs and the presidents they served. Turner shows that
very few presidents worked well with their CIA directors and
that the relationships often were severely strained over matters
of politics, personality, and loyalty. That includes Vietnam War
matters under Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon.
Mikesh, a former USAF Forward Air Control pilot in the Vietnam
War, offers a long, detailed history of what once was the
world’s fourth largest Air Force in the profusely illustrated
Flying Dragons: The South Vietnamese Air Force (Schiffer,
224 pp., $49.95). Norman Polmar’s Historic Naval Aircraft
(Brassey’s, 165 pp., $34.95) contains illustrated chapters on
two aircraft used during the Vietnam War, the McDonnell F3H
Demon, and the Grumman A-6 Intruder.
the State Department, the USIA, and the Smithsonian—working with
private organizations, art dealers, and collectors—sent
countless art exhibits overseas to offer favorable impressions
of American culture to allies and neutral countries in the Cold
War. Michael L. Krenn, the chairman of the History Department at
Appalachian State University, takes a critical look at this
intriguing aspect of the Cold War in his deeply researched,
smoothly written Fall-Out Shelters for the Human Experience:
American Art and the Cold War (University of North Carolina,
312 pp., $39.95).
Yarborough sketches the history of Amerasian children and tells
the not-always-happy stories of children born in Vietnam during
the war to American GIs and Vietnamese mothers in Surviving
Twice: Amerasian Children of the Vietnam War (Potomac Books,
304 pp., $25.95). Yarborough, a veteran journalist, concentrates
on five young people living in California—life stories that
represent the tumultuous legacy of the war for tens of thousands
of Vietnam War Amerasians.
WWII and Korean War veteran Herbert W. Warden III includes some
four dozen true stories from the time of the Pilgrims to the
21st century in American Courage: Remarkable True Stories
Exhibiting the Bravery That Has Made Our Country Great
(Morrow, 379 pp., $25.95). One story deals with the Vietnam War:
“Roy Benavidez, Vietnam Superman,” an excerpt from the Medal of
Honor recipient’s memoir.
Langer has put together nearly 600 short quotes from hundreds of
first-hand participants and observers of the Vietnam War, in
chronological order, in The Vietnam War: An Encyclopedia of
Quotations (Greenwood, 440 pp., $85). Langer offers many
points of view, along with biographical sketches of those who