Saturday, September 11, 2010

Remembering Vietnam

Karl Marlantes has quite a record: he graduated from Yale, was a Rhodes Scholar, and commanded a Marine rifle company in Vietnam. He won the Navy Cross, Bronze Star, and two Purple Hearts. For all that, it took him 35 years to get Matterhorn published. It's a great war yarn, in a tradition that the Vietnam War nearly killed off. Indeed, it reminds me of The Naked and the Dead for its starving infantrymen, their relentless grunge, and their foul language. ("Oh yes," Tallulah Bankhead supposedly said of Norman Mailer: "The young man who can't spell 'fuck'." Mr. Marlantes does not have this problem.)

I particularly liked the easy way he shows a casualty count being inflated, from one North Vietnamese shot in the face by the point man, which becomes three dead and six probables by the time the count is processed through headquarters ... and nobody's being dishonest! As a result, Bravo Company is ordered to stay out in the bush for another week, to its great cost.

On the other hand, I was puzzled by the quantity of leeches Mr. Marlantes's Marines encounter. I rattled around South Vietnam for three months and never saw leech one, thank God, though I heard stories similar to the one he presents here as happening to one of his squad leaders. Blue skies! -- Dan Ford

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