My wife bought me this book. I read it in February and the feelings and images it created still have an impact. Like many writers, Hibbard was careful at setting the scene, but the riveting description of the hero’s personal reality was his true strength. It did not seem like watching a movie or reading poetry about smelling the roses. It was not like standing on the sideline or being an observer. It was real and gritty and made you think. The experiences were so real that you felt the frustration and the humor as if you were there. The characters and friends at college vs. the soldiers in the field seemed a breed apart. Both circumstances may enable people to break away from their past and be themselves; however, the infantry soldiers in Viet Nam,
whether drafted or a volunteer, had not only left home but were committed to a world of persistent and hostile challenges. As a result, some exhibited quirky behaviors that may have been various defense mechanisms just to cope. Dog is an example.
This book was not written from the perspective of Caesar or Patton overseeing the battle from the hill top. It puts you in the weeds, soaking in the mud and the critters, eyes unblinking, and trying to stay alive. This is the last place you would want to be, and you are afraid to move. It is hard to imagine the degree of intensity that most of us have never known whereas these people faced it and still had the courage to function. How do they deal with this? Not with the detachment that we have watching violence on TV. The book’s flashbacks were seamless transitions from the present to a situation over a decade in the past that dominates the hero’s reality. He is dealing with a current situation that is a crisis, but the anxiety recognizes those feelings and events from his past take over. It is a wound without visible scars.
I am a veteran, but was never deployed to a war zone, much less the front line. I do not know how I would react or what would haunt me. I think we all have known events that we relive with a feeling of “déjà vu” when similar situations make our skin crawl. Whether from life or nightmares such episodes can be scary, may create anxiety, or make us stronger. Consider how our little demons pale in comparison to so many soldiers, sailors, and airmen who have volunteered to serve and have faced very extreme situations.
I think this book helped me begin to understand PTSD, and I am thankful for the men and women who sacrifice so much. We are blessed to have in our society those who have the character to risk their lives, face the grim reality, and love our country so much.
Honor them on Veteran’s Day and every day,