Wednesday, December 17, 2008
I got this book from a gift card Christmas present almost two years ago...and just now got to reading it. For some reason I always go for short books first when reading; time, I guess. :-)
This book was very good; short and sweet. It's a quick read, as it's under 300 pages, the book is quite small anyways, and much of each page is left blank as they merely contain daily journal entries.
Set in Vietnam in '69/'70, Frank Johnson's personal diary was fascinating to me. It was a very interesting look into a 19-year-old's impressions of war. I won't pretend and say it's well written, has beautiful prose, or whatever. It's a diary, written by a 19-year-old soldier, and that's what you should expect, as that's what you get.
Johnson served in the Army Rangers for most of the year he was in, doing the tough work of an LRRP (Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol). The LRRPs were small teams of men "infilled" in hostile territory with the intention of reconnaissance and often to make "contact" with the enemy. (As a note of interest, he kept this diary a secret as it was forbidden for LRRPs.) The book depicts the feel of war (and the LRRP aspect, with all the small engagements, narrow escapes, and risky run-ins) page-turningly. I thoroughly enjoyed Johnson's diary.
Some readers may find the constant slang and military terminology difficult, but the good glossary makes this of little consequence. Others may also be upset by the use of words such as "gunks" and "gunkies" in reference to the enemy, but I didn't mind. For one, it's what they did/do in war, and what would one have them say about the enemy? "Our dear friends, the venerable North Vietnamese and their honorable comrades the Viet Cong killed one of our buddies today." I see such a thing as less of a "racial slur" and more of a insulting word against a group of people (such as the enemy in this case). On the other hand, one can't contend that Johnson is a racist, as one of his best war buddies is Vietnamese. And in such situations, do you expect niceties?
On a similar note, there is foul language in the book (clearly to be expected), and some may also be turned off by the fact that a few sexual encounters are referred to in the book. Nothing explicit, just a few passing references, such as mentions of the author himself using Vietnamese prostitutes. A very sad fact, but a fact nonetheless. Again, this happens in war, what more do you want, a John Wayne movie?
Another "negative" which I saw more as a historical fact of interest is that you can see a bit of the lack of discipline in the Army at this time. The Vietnam War was the lowpoint as to such things, if my learning has done me well, and perhaps this was a symptom; I've never served, so I can't compare. (When I say "lack of discipline" I mean some of the things Johnson and/or others said or did to superior officers--though much of the time it seemed to be deserved if Johson's account is to be trusted, something I do not see as challenged--and things such as commandeering Army jeeps for impromptu R&R excursions, etc.)
As is usual in my "recommend" reviews, I sound more negative than I mean to be. One very positive aspect were the common references to God. Although Johson admitted not being overly religious, he commonly prayed, referred to God as watching over him and/or his comrades, and gave thanks to the Lord for safe results. Another satisfying theme was the brotherhood between some of the men.
What we have here in Johnson's book is a good first-hand account of a young man fighting a war as a good soldier. It's a rough book, but for guys like me, it don't matter. Recommended to the men, with reservations to the ladies.
P.S. Click on the title link: once you read the book the Amazon.com comments by the author himself and a "character" will be of interest.