Platoon Leader: A Memoir of Command in Combat
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We'll publish them on our site once we've reviewed them. I sense that, and my disdain grows. Doesn't he know that it's not joy? It's confusion; it's guilt; it's a sense of loss--but not joy. There is no room for joy in Vietnam. What is a psychiatrist doing here?
He makes small talk, but I am only half-listening.
Platoon Leader (memoir) - Wikipedia
Somewhere in his words he asks me my branch infantry , and where I served in Vietnam. I point to what we call the Tiger Mountains, over in the north. He doesn't know the places; he doesn't know what comes with the names. The words mean nothing to him. I suppress my rage at this; many have died in the places that bear those names. I am wary again. Why is he asking these questions?
The answers mean nothing to him. I speak in the past tense of the platoon I led. It has been a while since I led it having been a staff officer in the last few months of my tour , and the men who were in it then are no longer there. The major picks up my mood; perhaps he is a good psychiatrist after all. I am surprised by the question. What does he mean? What is there to dream about? Is he testing a pet theory? Am I a subject of a research effort? I stand in silence waiting for the helicopter.
The major is the final irony in a year filled with irony. Whoever sets in motion the forces that determine the life we lead has a tremendous flair for the ironic. I marvel at the audacity of the question. My platoon was a part of my life, but I will not dream about it. I am determined I will not. Medford, Massachusetts I wake from my sleep with a start.
The sweat is damp and chilly on my chest; the sheets cling to me. I sit up, causing my wife to stir in the cool air. Outside the bedroom window I can see a gray morning forming beyond the barren trees that ring the backyard. My heart is beating fast; my nerves feel frayed. The dream was vivid; I feel it lingering even now in the faint morning light. How many were there? No, there were more, and I knew them all. I knew their names. They are West Point classmates of mine, all six of them graduates of the Military Academy, class of ' Momentarily, their names escape me.
In the dream they moved so slowly, they talked so solemnly. Glass eyes, looking at me with no expression. They were in full battle dress, each of them, bandoliers strapped across their chests, faces and hands camouflaged, their Ms taped tightly to avoid metallic clangs. In single file--ranger file, as we called it--they came to me. We knelt in a muddy, barren hole in the ground, an enlarged foxhole or a fresh bomb crater.
I'm not sure which. We talked, they and I, but I couldn't remember the words. We were discussing a mission; a map was spread on the ground in front of us, a map marred by mud and rain, barely legible in the dark jungle. When our discussion was over, they stood up to leave. How stiff they looked, how blank their stares. Then I remembered some of the dialogue. I wanted to know. I felt as if I had to know. But no one answered. Slowly, again in ranger file, they walked off into the foliage, soundlessly fading into the background of my vision and my dream.
By now I knew each of them. Their names, first and last, had come to me. Each one had come with me to Vietnam. Each one had died there. I remembered the psychiatrist, and I cursed him in the quiet of the New England winter morning. The early s had bigger issues to contend with: In a boy coming of age in Brooklyn could identify more easily with the immediate issues of his own life than he could with Buddhist monks immolating themselves in grisly street scenes in Saigon.
Sports were important then. Girls were important, too, even if they were more incomprehensible than politics. World affairs are not the stuff of adolescence. School was alleged to be important. All the adults said so. But in Brooklyn, school very often ended with graduation from high school, and that event was looming ever closer as passed into A time for decision was fast approaching.
If not college, then what kind of work? And if college, then how to pay for it? And where to go? The roads that lead young men to war are not political roads, or national and international roads, but individual roads. What propels young men and, perhaps in the future, young women to combat is not the draft. Those who are not destined for armed combat usually will not be drafted for armed combat. The pool of human resources is vast, and the number of riflemen is small.
Leadership and Discipline
The person who wants to avoid the draft will avoid it. And in Vietnam, as the war went on, the numbers who successfully avoided the draft increased. The fools, the uneducated, the knaves? I was none of these--or so I maintain.
What led me to it? Certainly not the draft. Things were looking up in the winter of as I moved successfully through my senior year in high school. A New York State Regents Scholarship and a part-time evening job were answering the question of how to afford college.
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Although the thought of enlisting in what appears to be a peacetime army was appealing to an eighteen-year-old yearning to break free of the nest, I was cautioned against running pell-mell into the ranks by my wise father, a veteran of World War II and twenty-two years of enlisted service.
The advice made sense, and doubly so since there was a chance for an appointment to West Point. True, it was a remote chance in the highly politicized congressional districts of New York, but some exposure as a promising amateur boxer representing the American Legion gave me hope for a political appointment. At any rate, the army could wait; life was too exciting.
By the fall of Vietnam had become a bigger news item in the local papers. Still, it was too far away, and the United States too little involved, for it to be more than an item of passing interest to a young man planning his future in a world he already knew, a world alien in every way to Southeast Asia.
Undergraduate study in civil engineering at Brooklyn Polytechnic allowed me to live at home and commute to college. I was expanding my intellectual horizons and feeding my hunger for adventure--right in my own backyard. The summer of brought talk of sending American units to Vietnam. A year earlier the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution had laid the groundwork for the deployments, but the buildup was still not addressed as a war.
It was not of much interest to a college student completing his first undergraduate year and embarking on an interesting summer surveying job in upstate New York. A quirk of fate, however, brought the appointment to West Point. Nobody had qualified from the lower East Side of Manhattan. With a deft push of a pencil I was made an imaginary citizen of Manhattan. The phone call reached me at the surveying camp: Although young people are never properly prepared for these decisions, they must make them anyway: I had taken the tests for it, and I had even been circumcised for it.
Having given that much, it didn't seem right to turn it down. I drove down to Staten Island that night. My family had made the break from Brooklyn. There was a big family party, a dinner out on the town, a proud ex-NCO father pounding his son the cadet-to-be on the back. I remember his face that night--the map of Ireland looking at me with sparkling blue eyes, pleased as punch that his boy was going to become one of "those goddamned officers.
How different my mother's emotions were from my father's. As I left her to continue the last leg of the journey on my own, she became stricken with grief. She was saying good-bye to her boy, her sad dark eyes pouring out tears as she clutched at me with her small hands, her Italian features showing all the hurt a mother feels when she fears for what is about to happen to her son in his quest for his own life. It made me cry, and I was ashamed of it. How could I go to West Point, the school of military leaders, with tears in my eyes?
That was a place for men, not mama's boys. Thank God, I had thirty miles for my eyes to unredden. Would you like to tell us about a lower price? If you are a seller for this product, would you like to suggest updates through seller support? Learn more about Amazon Prime. A remarkable memoir of small-unit leadership and the coming of age of a young soldier in combat in Vietnam. Rather than present a potpourri of combat yarns.
Read more Read less. Prime Book Box for Kids. Add all three to Cart Add all three to List. Buy the selected items together This item: Ships from and sold by Amazon. Customers who bought this item also bought. Page 1 of 1 Start over Page 1 of 1. Steel My Soldiers' Hearts: The Hopeless to Hardcore Transformation of U.
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