This short memoir recounts the year the author, who uses the pseudonym “Nam Sam,” spent fighting in Vietnam.
Nam Sam was a 19-year-old college student in 1968 when he enlisted in the Army. His decision was prompted by the Tet Offensive, in which the U.S. and South Vietnamese sustained heavy losses. He wanted to do his part to support his country.
Nam Sam soon discovered that Army life was unlike the rosy picture painted by recruiters. Some of his fellow troops who had agreed to serve four years with the understanding they wouldn’t be sent to fighting arenas were shocked to learn otherwise. Their commanding officer told them, “The only guarantee you have is that you are going to Viet Nam and that you are going to die. Why? Because you are so stupid.”
The author’s writing is terse and vivid. It aptly describes the sweltering heat, ever-present leeches, grueling nighttime marches, and anguish of seeing friends die. He coped with wisecracks and dark humor. For example, when questioned about why he was preparing a meal when surrounded by the enemy, he quipped: “hell, there’s no sense in dying on an empty stomach.”
Nam Sam returned home with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He credits his wife with encouraging him to write about his wartime experiences and to seek professional help. The author includes poems about his experience. While amateur, they convey the rawness and poignancy of his feelings.
The text includes distracting writing errors: the word “Vietnam” also appears as “Viet Nam”; the first sentence of the Introduction’s first paragraph is missing a word, and so on. Additionally, racist terms for enemy combatants serve no real purpose, and a glossary would have been helpful to define terms like “knab round,” “loach” and “the iron triangle.”
Regardless, Nam Sam’s book is candid and compelling, earning a place among the many emerging memoirs describing what it was like to serve in America’s most unpopular war.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.