Vietnamese girl kisses an ARVN soldier, 1968
Vietnamese girl kisses an ARVN soldier, 1968
One of my favorite primary sources when studying any war is the letters to and from troops in the field. It can reveal so much about life in the field and life on the homefront; about what the troops are missing and what occupies their thoughts; about what sustains those waiting at home and those under fire. Overall they are just one of the most powerful sources available. In the case of the Vietnam War we have the opportunity to see some of the words left at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC, thanks to the conservation efforts of the National Parks Service. This is helpful to seeing how the war is remembered, and how some have coped with the trauma and loss of war.
- Letters From Vietnam by Bill Adler – A collection of letters from troops in Vietnam grouped by subject.
- Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam by Bernard Edelman-
A collection of letters from troops in Vietnam grouped by subject.
- Letters on the Wall by Michael Sofarelli – This book offers a look into the materials collected at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC. All items left there are carefully collected and stored by the National Parks Service.
Shrapnel in the Heart: Letters and Remembrances from the Vietnam Veterans Memorialby Laura Palmer –
This book offers another look into the materials collected at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC.
- War Letters: Extraordinary Correspondence from American Wars by Andrew Caroll – This includes letters from the Civil War through the American military involvement in Somalia and Bosnia in the 1990s.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of memoirs written by the men and women who served in the Vietnam War. They are still being written by veterans today. To read them all would be a near impossible task. While I might present some in the future categorized by branch of service, or service year(s), what follows now is a handful of my favorites.
- Blood Trails: The Combat Diary of a Foot Soldier in Vietnam by Christopher Ronnau
- Dear Mom: A Sniper’s Vietnam by Joseph T. Ward
- Blood on the Risers: An Airborne Soldier’s Thirty-five Months in Vietnam by John Leppelman
- Combat Corpsman: The Vietnam Memoir of a Navy SEALs Medic by Greg McPartlin
- Two Souls Indivisible by James S. Hirsch – More of a biography than a memoir, I decided to include it as it is one of my all time favorites.
Women in Vietnam
Scholars have been sparse in their study of women during the Vietnam War. Their writings on the service of women becomes even more scarce, and downright nonexistent, when other minority aspects, like race, are factored into the equation. This makes it all the more necessary to read those works available to the public (published books rather than dissertations or articles in scholarly journals), applaud what has received deserved attention, and ask questions where gaps exist. The following books examine the role of women who served in different capacities in Vietnam.
- Beyond Combat: Women and Gender in the Vietnam War Era by Heather Marie Stur – (Cambridge University Press, 2011) It is not only the sharing of women’s experiences in Vietnam that must occur, but the study of their roles within the war from varied angles. Stur provides this insight by studying not only the jobs performed by women, but what was expected of them in terms of their gender.
- Officer, Nurse, Woman: The Army Nurse Corps in the Vietnam War by Kara Dixon Vuic – (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010) The main focus of Vuic’s work is to examine the effects of the “cultural climate of the era” on the Army Nursing Corps. The Army, and individual soldiers, sought to exploit the ideas of traditional feminine gender roles, even as nurses meaningfully expanded their medical experiences. Vuic utilizes official records along with interviews conducted with nurses.
- Women at War: The Story of Fifty Military Nurses Who Served in Vietnam by Elizabeth Norman – (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1990) A result of her doctoral dissertation, Norman interviewed 50 military nurses in 1983-84 and from those interviews highlighted the common threads in their experiences. She also highlights common themes between female and male service members, and between experiences in Vietnam with earlier wars.
VMFA-232 damaged aircraft at Chu Lai Air Base
Fictional tales of war are as helpful, and perhaps as necessary, as well researched histories for understanding and coping with that traumatic experience. As usual, the American experience dominates in the fictional works exploring the trauma of the Vietnam War. Yet the experiences of the North Vietnamese and others who identified with the Communist cause must also be heard.
- Paradise of the Blind: A Novel by Duong Thu Huong – Originally published in 1988, this book was banned shortly after its publication. Rather than have her good standing within the Communist Party help in her quest to author stories that would build a better Vietnam, Duong Thu Huong was chastised by Party members. This novel deals significantly with the effects of land reforms, as well as gender roles.
- Novel Without a Name by Duong Thu Huong – Again, Duong Thu Huong challenged the Party in Vietnam and paid the price. She was expelled from the party after sending the manuscript of this book to France. She then served jail time, and the novel was banned in Vietnam. The novel deals largely with the psychological effects of war and the loss of innocence.
- The Sorrow of War: A Novel of North Vietnam by Bao Ninh – A former North Vietnamese soldier himself, Ninh explores his 10 year experience of war through his protagonist Kien. The novel shatters the government’s rhetoric of patriotic soldiers who fought nobly and returned to a hero’s welcome, triumphant and healthy. Like Duong Thu Huong’s novels, it was not well received by officials in Vietnam, though Ninh himself seems to have faced less harsh consequences.
Men of the 129th Assault Helicopter Company