Monday, November 8, 2010

Dear America: Letters Home From Vietnam edited by Bernard Edelman

Copyright: 1985 (original) 2002 (my copy)
Publisher: W.W. Norton
Genre: non-fiction
Pages: 316
Challenges: War Through the Generations - Vietnam
My rating: 5/5

Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam is a collection of letters written home from soldiers and other personal serving in the Vietnam War (with the exception of a couple letters being to a soldier).  After each letter you also get the writers name, what area they served in, if they were KIA or, if not, what they are currently doing. The book is divided into several chapters or sections.  You start with "Cherries": First Impressions and end with Last Letters.  Some of the letters are uplifting, others aren't.  Some are of the soldiers giving details about a fight they were in or how they were wounded and some didn't focus on that but on how they are helping the orphans and about Vietnam itself.  Some letters express a soldiers wish to come home yet others describe why the soldier wants to be there.

I think a quote on the back cover sums this book up pretty well:  "Not a history book, not a war novel,...Dear America is a book of truth." - Boston Globe

It's hard to describe this book.  You are reading letters from real people as they were serving in a war that causes such turmoil on our country.   It was a hard book to read yet a book I'm glad I read.  I did give the book a 5/5 rating because I think it's pretty powerful.  What better way to learn what the soldiers went through than to read letters where they talk about it openly?  There's no Hollywood glorification that you would see in a movie.  It's not just facts like you would read in a history book.  The emotions are raw, the emotions are real.  This book would be hard to read for some, if not all of us.  This is a book that I had to read in short dosages because I found myself pausing after most letters and just thinking about these men and women (mostly men) and what they went through.  Emotionally I don't think I could have read this book for a long period of time.

To give you an idea of what is in this book, I'm going to end this review with several examples that caught my attention.   This will give you an idea of what is in the book and if it's something you are interested in reading.

"He's going home to his wife in one piece, with his eyes and all his limbs, and will probably not even have a limp, while we'll be going back out until either our time or luck runs out.  He'll never take tot he field again.  he's home safe - we're not.  In that distinction lies the difference between those who have luck, and those who aren't yet sure [if] they have it or not"  pg 65

This next one was after the soldier tells about a recent patrol where several people were wounded and killed. I was surprised by the amount of detail included, suppose I expected the government to monitor letters and not allow soldiers to give such detailed information (as happened in WWII).  Regardless, after writing about several individuals and their wounds the letter writer wrote this:
" It was the most disturbing experience I've yet come across out here. You really wonder what the fuck this is all about.  Needless to say the guys on 112 were reallly down in the dumps after it happened.  They were the ones who pulled all the people out.  Mead went back into the smoke three times to try and get Goldy out of the coxswain flat.  you can imagine what a phsychological shick it was for them to see these people so torn up. They are better now, but all of them need some R&R" pg 91

"Getting back to a completely English-looking and -speaking country made me feel kind of ashamed of the way I've thought and acted over hear.  I realize that I've actually enjoyed some of hte things I've done which would be repulsive to a healthy mind. This place does make you sick in the head. When one starts to enjoy the sickness of war, he is sick..."  pg 95

"After seeing the patients around me, I consider myself very lucky.  There are many who have lost legs, arms, eyes and other parts of their bodies, which leaves them in worse shape than I am. I'm really very anxious to know how you feel abut me losing my arm because naturally I don't know how you will react when you see me.  With my new arm they will give me, I'll be able to act like I normally did, which was always a little crazy. I haven't been depressed or anything like that, so I don't want you to feel bad either. I just paid the price that many soldiers pay defending our country." pg 187

"...Some people wonder why Americans are in Vietnam. The way I see the situation, I would rather fight to stop communism in South Vietnam than in Kincaid, Humbolt, Blue Mound, or Kansas City, and that is just about what it would end up being.  Except for the fact that by that time I would be old and gray and my children would be fighting the war.  The price for victory is high when life cannot be replaced, but I think it is far better to fight and die for freedom than to live under oppression and fear." pg 205

This book is part of my collection and was either bought or given to me.


bermudaonion said...

That sounds like a very moving book. I'm sure it would make me cry.

Unknown said...

Bermudaonion - I was close to tears a couple of times, mostly I was just a bit somber and thoughtful.

Literary Feline said...

I read this one years and years ago. I think back when I was still in high school. I remember being really moved by the stories and that it made my dad cry when he read it.

Unknown said...

Literary Feline - It was moving wasn't it? I found I had to distance myself sometimes and would think of it as a fiction book, and then remind myself that it wasn't and it was ok to be emotional about it.

Anna said...

Wow, this sounds moving and powerful. I hadn't heard of it until your review, and I definitely added it to my to-read list. We'll get this posted on War Through the Generations soon.

Unknown said...

Anna - I think somebody left a comment on my challenge post recommending it, otherwise I wouldn't have heard of it either. I'm really glad I did though. I bet it's one that you will "enjoy" reading.