This Memorial Day I find myself thinking of the United States Military Academy class of 1966 and the handsome young men hurrying to meet their weekend dates. I was one. I had taken a taxi from Vassar to see my high school boyfriend, John MacDonald, who had survived Camp Buckner and was just beginning his sophomore year at the Point. Many of his classmates have passed away in recent years. Thirty-nine died in the three years following graduation. They are not forgotten, nor are the many infantrymen they commanded, soldiers who did not have the benefit of a draft deferment.
War pierces the armor of invulnerability. Warriors come back changed. If Rick Atkinson’s book is the signature nonfiction book of that era, then certainly Tobias Wolff’s memoir, In Pharoah’s Army, and Tim O’Brien’s autobiographical novel, The Things They Carried, belong on all of our reading lists.
A few years back, Tim was the keynote speaker at the Words and Music writing conference in New Orleans. His speech was staged at the National World War II Museum, an ironic backdrop for a speech about why we should not go to war. I recorded Tim’s speech and you can listen to keynote speech here. The sound quality isn’t great, but the content is.
Thank you to these three writers and all who served in Vietnam. A moment of silence for those who did not return and for those who could not put their lives back together when they did.
The Man He Killed
Had he and I but met
By some old ancient inn,
We should have set us down to wet
Right many a nipperkin!
But ranged as infantry,
And staring face to face,
I shot at him as he at me,
And killed him in his place.
I shot him dead because–
Because he was my foe,
Just so: my foe of course he was;
That’s clear enough; although
He thought he’d ‘list, perhaps,
Off-hand like–just as I–
Was out of work–had sold his traps–
No other reason why.
Yes; quaint and curious war is!
You shoot a fellow down
You’d treat, if met where any bar is,
Or help to half a crown.
Who Is On Your Reading List?
Here is a partial list of nonfiction, fiction, and poetry about war.
All Quiet On The Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque (fiction)
War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy (fiction)
Men In Green, David Campell (poetry)
The Naked and the Dead and Armies of the Night, Norman Mailer
Gone With The Wind, Margaret Mitchell
History of the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides
The Iliad, Homer
Henry V, William Shakespeare
Hamburger Hill, Samuel Zaffiri
Hell In A Very Small Place, Bernard B. Fall
Help me add to this list. Are there other writers you think have captured what it means to go to war?