The Boys of ’67: Charlie Company’s War in Vietnam
© 2012, 376 pages
Mourning and grief would have to be left until later. Living took precedence.
As a person born in the Nineties, I didn’t know much about the Vietnam War. The little I did know about it came from documentaries and some Hollywood movies like “Forrest Gump.” It was barely touched on at school. It was one of our not-quite-won wars in history, and people don’t seem to talk about it much. However, most of the veteran hats I see nowadays are from the Vietnam era, and I wanted to know more about what these warriors went through.
The Boys of ’67 is one of the most intimate interactions I’ve had with Vietnam veterans’ stories. More so than film footage or pictures, this book drew me in. In fact, I’ve had to wait a couple weeks after finishing it to write this review so I could process things and let them sink in. I’ve been deeply moved.
Focusing on the soldiers of Charlie Company, the story begins with the men gathering for basic training. As one of the few companies of the Vietnam War that trained and served together (the majority of soldiers were replacements), the book follows their journey from the completion of basic training through their time in Vietnam.
The narrative focuses on each person in the company, flashing back to important moments in their lives like when they received their draft notice or when they decided to marry that girl while on leave. Excerpts of their journals, pictures and letters home are included in each chapter as their movements throughout the Rung Sat and Mekong Delta are described in detail. Military memorandums and descriptions explain the technical aspects, and the author’s re-telling of conflicts and daily life are infused with thoughts and emotions from the men that were there.
I felt like I almost knew the men in the company, that Charlie Company was my company. When a tripwire tightened around someone’s ankle or a shot rang out, I felt my chest tighten as I read on to see if everyone would be okay. As was often the case in Vietnam, stretches of boredom were interrupted with flashes of violence that left me teary and angry all at once just reading about it. As Wiest shifts the narrative stateside to describe the funerals of men who died, we hear the stories of wives, mothers, and children, too.
At the end of the book there’s a kind of epilogue. The author checks in with some of the men from the company and their family members. He describes their reunions and how various members of the group have coped (or not coped) with their experiences in Vietnam.
More than I ever have before, I think I have a point of reference for what the veterans of this era endured in both Vietnam and when they returned home. I have a small taste of what the families on the homefront experienced. No wonder so many Vietnam veterans are struggling. I can’t see how any normal person could experience what they did and not have trouble dealing with it. As I’ve seen men in those Vietnam veteran ball caps around my town the last few weeks, I can’t help but feel overwhelming gratitude.
Quotes from the book:
There was treatment for the men, the veterans, but somehow everyone had forgotten that for every veteran there were wives, children, parents, and siblings – who tried to understand, tried to help, but always fell so woefully short. There was such a hopeless feeling in not being able to soothe the pain of the one you love the most in this world. At the reunions, Aurora discovered that she, too, was not alone… Aurora now had sisters with whom to speak and to share. She had a new family that she never knew existed.
So many of his friends, who such a short time ago had been carefree youths, had been spiritually wounded, morally battered and broken.
For a long time after I’m home, I’ll jump at sharp noises and watch for tripwires when I walk, and I know that the mention of certain names will take me back to this place. I don’t think I’ll be able to watch a war movie again. When I answer the phone, I know I’ll say “Akron One” (my radio call sign) instead of “hello.” Imagine the ugliest sound, the ugliest sight, the ugliest smell you can. This war (all wars) is a continuum of events far more revoltingly ugly than it is possible to describe. It will be so unbelievably good to enjoy beauty again, whether it is just good hot coffee in the morning with the paper, or a Christmas tree or a painting in a museum, or simply the beauty of sleeping safely in my room at home. It will be very nice.
– John Young in a letter home to his parents, September 1967
The pressure cooker of war, along with the growing bonds of camaraderie within Charlie Company, blurred differences of race and class that had once seemed so important. Distinctions remained, ranging from language to music, but those distinctions paled in comparison to war-forged bonds of brotherhood.
That’s one thing the army teaches you – you can do a hell of a lot more than you think you can.
I encourage you to learn more about this generation’s contribution to our country. Beyond that, I also encourage you to take tangible action in expressing your thanks to them through a donation, legislative support, volunteering, or time spent sipping coffee and hearing their stories.
Take action & learn more:
Vietnam Veterans of America
Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund
The Warrior’s Journey
“When War Comes Home: Ministering to the Veteran and the Family” – CHAP. Scott McChrystal
Veterans of Foreign Wars Action Corps