Friday, December 9, 1977 Weekender 15
'Dispatches' takes reader into heart of Vietnam
There have been quite a few books written
about the Vietnam War, some of them
purporting to explore the American
involvement. But for the most part they deal
with the errant decision making process,
official explanations and stories of
surrealistic bureaucracies grinding out
misguided facts and figures.
But Michael Herr cuts through that
process, and unconcerned with falling
dominoes, communist threats and official
explanations, he takes the reader into the
heart of the war. Knee deep into rice
paddies. ..into bunkers with dead bodies
scattered about like so many pieces of
litter. . . into the back of a transport vehicle
full of scared young boys and hardened
crazies. . .into the war with all its horrors
and moments of lunacy.
The American involvement, masked by
years of moralizing and linear analysis,
comes home. And Dispatches (Alfred A.
Knopf, $8.95) sticks, like a grenade fragment
lodged permanently in the brain.
Up on the highest point of the wall, on
what had once been a tower, 1 looked across
the Citadel's moat and saw theNVA moving
quickly across the rubble of the opposing
wall. We were close enough to see their faces.
A rifle went off a few feet to my right, and
one of the running figures jerked back and
dropped. A Marine sniper leaned out from
his cover and grinned at me. . ......
The passage is from the chapter entitled
1 feAJ V I
Leon Redbone wasn't drinking champagne when he came to Memorial Hall Tuesday
night and entertained a standing-room-only crowd with his antics and repertoire of
golden no, crusty-oldies. Along with his sometime tuba accompanist, Jon;
Redbone, told tales of LuLu, a great big mystery, some jellyrolls and a rogue named
Champagne Charlie. His first encore was something "we all would know" "Polly
Waddle Doodle" and he finished with "Mr. Jelly Roll Baker." But he left the
audience hanging, so will somebody tell me what diddy wah diddie means? Staff
photo by Allen Jernigan.
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"Hell Sucks." part of Herr's first reporting
effort from Vietnam. He went to Vietnam in
1967 as a correspondent for Esquire
magazine and sent home a series of
dispatches unlike those published anywhere
In the WWII movie Anzio, Robert
Mitchum plays a war correspondent
By CHUCK ALSTON
by Michael Herr
searching for the answer to the question of
why men fight wars. The only answer he is
finally able to come up with is that they like
to, that war provides them with a chance to
live life more .itensely than ever before.
Every sound, every smell, every move is
intense, more intense than anything else they
will ever experience.
And such is the impression that Herr
gives. Not that men like to fight wars, but
that the experience is intense and
unforgettable. And his descriptions of the
acrid smells, the constant rumblings of
airplanes and tanks and the piercing sound
of gunfire that become mere background
noise, are intense. He explores the why
phenomenon too, digging into the psyches ot
the men, boys, he lived with and watched die.
But somewhere all the mythic tracks
intersected, from the lowest John Wayne
wet-dream to the most aggravated soldier
poet fantasy, and where they did I believe
that everyone knew everything about
everyone else, every one of us there a true
volunteer. Not that you didn't hear some
overripe bullshit about it: Hearts and Minds,
Peoples of the Republic, tumbling
dominoes, maintaining the equilibrium of
the Dingdong by containing the ever
encroaching Doodah; you could also hear
the other, some young soldier in all bloody
innocence, saying, "Alt that's just a load,
man. We're here to kill gooks. Period."
Which isn't true at all of me. I was there to
Herr covered the war in a unique way and
has given it to the reader in a book which
impresses, and lasts. In Dispatches the war
comes home: in rubber bags with dead GIs,
with soldiers laughing tears because they've
been wounded and are getting out, and with
gut wrenching prose that takes most of us
where we have never been, or hope to go.
Talk about impersonating an identity,
about locking into a role, about irony: I went
to cover the war, and the war covered me: an
old story unless of course you've never heard
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