by Allen B. Clark
Library shelves groan under the weight of books on the Vietnam War.  They run the usual gamut of battle and campaign history, personal memoir, apologia, strategy, and so on.

This one is different.  It is, literally, unique.

It verges on being allegorical—portraying and explaining the abstract by means of concrete forms.  In this case, the forms are drawn from among those who served in Vietnam.

That war was surely abstract in the understanding of many.  In its own time—and since—it was quite difficult to grasp, a conflict seeming perversely to elude full comprehension, even for those who fought in it.  Reasons abound:  the exotic setting; its very length in years; its changing nature over those years; its location half way around the world; the eerie sense of “business as usual” at home; the shameful obfuscations by politicians and activists of all stripes.  No wonder Americans still don’t know quite what to make of it.  For all too many it remains a frustratingly abstract episode in our nation’s history.

Allen Clark grapples with that abstraction through real stories of actual participants, stories portraying the honor, courage, and, especially, sacrifice of those who went when their country said go and did what their country said do.

Clark selects twenty-one exemplars and describes in splendid prose the exploits of each.  Those accounts, tied neatly together by brief inserts provided by Lewis Sorley, the most authoritative voice on the scene today, merge to paint a grand panorama of the legions of young men and women who answered the call to arms.  Those selected are representative of the host whose service in a woeful war was magnificent and who certainly deserved better than the national cold shoulder they received upon returning home.  They are representative, as well, of the caliber of those who did not return, the fallen whose names appear in somber row upon row on the Vietnam Memorial on our National Mall.

As the Vietnam War slips inexorably further and further into the past (it is now nearly four decades since Americans watched the final horrific scenes of helicopters lifting frantic survivors from Saigon roof-tops), increasing numbers of researchers are striving to draw clearer water from a well seriously poisoned by the politics of the time.  Their aim is to provide a fuller and more objective rendering of the war than has existed for far too long.  This book about authentic heroes fits squarely into that genre.

Actually, the book features twenty-two individuals, not twenty-one.  The presence of the author is evident throughout.  Allen Clark was physically in Vietnam only once—an experience that cost him both his legs.  But emotionally and spiritually the war has never left him.  His own story is an inspiring backdrop for the others he modestly pushes to the front.

Veterans of that long ago and far away war—and, of course, their descendents—will want to have this volume in their libraries.  It is their story.

May 2012

Dave R. Palmer
Lt. General (ret), U. S. Army
Author, Summons of the Trumpet: U.S. - Vietnam in Perspective
Copyright © 2012 Allen B. Clark.