This book developed out of a contact between the author, then teaching a college course on the Vietnam War, and John Young, a veteran of Charlie Company who had suffered from post traumatic stress disorder (untreated for many years). Young's talk to Wiest's students triggered a deeper interest in the fate of his company and the result was this in-depth history of the company from formation to the end of its initial recruit's service.
Charlie Company and the 9th Division it formed part of were both unusual units for Vietnam. The division was reactivated to take part in the expansion of the American war effort and was largely manned by new conscripts, who were recruited together and trained together in much the same way as their predecessors in the First and Second World Wars. Later on in the war most new soldiers reached Vietnam as replacements, and made their individual ways to their units, but at least to start with Charlie Company more closely resembled the 'band of brothers' style of unit. The change-over can be seen during the course of this book as the company suffered casualties. The replacement soldiers were allocated fairly randomly, and often with no regard taken for their area of expertise.
This is a rather melancholy book. The constant drip of casualties (with the odd disastrous fight) isn't much different from small unit histories from the Second World War, but here the total lack of progress and our knowledge of the eventual American defeat makes the human cost of the fighting seem so much more of a tragedy. I've read similar books about the Second World War (the most famous of which is Band of Brothers), and there the casualties and tragic losses are balanced by a sense of progress, movement towards the eventual victory. Here that is lacking, and instead the reader is taken through a series of costly encounters that take lives, and that could sometimes be seen as local victories, but that never feel like they are a step towards a possible victory. In tone this is more similar to accounts of the British Pals Battalions of the First World War and the heavy losses suffered on the Somme for no apparent purpose.
Despite that melancholy feel this is a book that I can thoroughly recommend. It gives a valuable insight into the life of the ordinary soldier early in the American involvement in Vietnam, and includes a fascinating series of post-war biographies, tracing the often difficult struggles of many of the survivors to adapt to their post-war lives.
1 - Who Was Charlie?
2 - Training
3 - To Vietnam and into the Rung Sat
4 - Into Battle
5 - The Day Everything Changed
6 - The Steady Drumbeat of War
7 - Charlie Transformed, Battlefield Coda, and the Freedom Bird
8 - Home From War
Author: Andrew Wiest