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Alone in Vietnam Website
Alone in Vietnam by Robert B. Boyd Jr.
ALONE IN VIETNAM is a collection of stories of a young draftee and infantry soldier's experiences in the war zone of South Vietnam in 1968 -1969. Robert B. Boyd Jr. tells his stories as he experienced them, raw and powerful, from the grunt's point-of-view, with his own voice, that of a 20-year old American kid suddenly in a foreign jungle, surviving boredom, fear and death.
Rob served in the Army's 196th Light Infantry Brigade from June 3, 1968 - June 3, 1969 (365 days). He was a machine gunner in Company D called “Black Death”. His combat experiences led to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a condition better understood today, than when he returned in 1969.
TELLING STORIES: A WAY TO HEALING
___ years after his return from Vietnam, Rob sought treatment for his combat related PTSD symptoms (nightmares, flashbacks, hypersensitivity etc.). This treatment required Rob to remember and own traumatic events that he had suppressed. Rob began telling his stories, owning the narratives, and eventually putting them into book form – the first many copies of which he printed and hand-bound himself. He received this support and therapy at the Vet Center in Rocky Hill, Ct.
Robert B. Boyd died in April 2009. He completed these stories in spring of 2007 after receiving a diagnosis of stage 4 cancer. He wrote them knowing that he would not be here to tell them.
The hope is that in reading Rob’s stories, other vets will be encouraged to “own” their equally powerful stories and that their families may have a glimpse into what combat soldiers experience and what horrific memories they carry.
RESPONSE FROM READERS
The stories are sometimes humorous, often powerful and riveting - some readers have reported reading it cover to cover without a break.
“The front cover is a picture of myself, in1968, at age 20.
When I was home on leave before I went to Vietnam, I got kicked out of a local bar in my hometown, because I was too young to drink beer.
When I got to Vietnam, two weeks later, they gave me an M-60 machine gun and 500 rounds of ammunition, a colt 45 pistol, a razor-sharp bayonet, two hand grenades, all the blocks of C4 plastic explosives that I wanted to carry with the appropriate blasting caps, 25 feet of dec-cord used to blow down trees to create a landing zone and two smoke grenades used to direct air to ground fire.
- from the inside cover of ALONE IN VIETNAM by Robert B. Boyd Jr. Copyright 2007
One Vietnam Veteran's stories about his war experience
Alone in Vietnam is about the experience of an American 20-year-old American who is drafted and arrives in the jungles South Vietnam six months later on June 3, 1968. He is in the Army’s 196th Light Infantry Brigade in Company D called “Black Death” in the northern-most military region of South Vietnam, I CORP, near the DMZ. He eventually becomes his squad’s machine gunner. He carries an M60 on his shoulder. Counting down the days of his 365-day tour of duty gives him little relief from the horrible reminder, from those dying around him, that his chances of surviving until June 3, 1969 are grim. In fact, his fear only seems to increase the closer he gets to that date.
Boyd tells us about his war experience in a very simple style, in his own voice, the way it happened, without trying to be literary or philosophical about the subject. His stories are primary without interruption-with very little reflection and asides. The book begins when he is drafted and abruptly inducted and ends when he returns from war. The stories all happen within those two points in time. Not only is it a glimpse into a formative year and half of one man’s life, but also the into the world of a combat soldier in Vietnam when that war was at it’s height – in 1968 when there were over half a million troops inside the country and they were dying at a rate of over 1300 a month.
Immediatly following Boyd’s book I read Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried, and during the first pages I wanted O’Brien to shut up and tell the stories! Of course that feeling went away as I continued reading - The Things They Carried is so well written and thoughtful that you can’t finish it without being moved. O’Brien is probably the preeminent writer on the subject of serviceman’s war experience in Vietnam, and and in this particular book he drew not only from his own experiences but also from those of other veterans. Boyd draws only from his own experience in Vietnam. I like both books and neither way of story-telling is better than the other. Surely O’Brien is the more thoughtful and talented writer and has contribution of ideas and questions are invaluable, and some will complain of even making a comparison. But I make it because I read their books back to back and in the first pages of O’Brien I missed Boyd’s simple narrative. Boyd wrote without the pretense of being a writer, and I was drawn in by his raw, plain-spoken voice and his well told stories. While reading - yes it is a cliche, but true -I found it hard to put the book down.
As can be expected with war stories, some of Boyd’s are tough to read, but they are told with honesty, not bravado. He is open about the fear and confusion he felt during much of his 365 day tour. There is humor in some stories and the author has no problem pointing out the ironies and absurdities of situations he finds himself in. For example he compares being a 20-year-old in the US, with being a 20-year-old soldier in Vietnam. When he was home on leave before shipping to Vietnam he was kicked out a local bar in his hometown because he wasn’t old enough to drink. Two weeks later he is in Vietnam and they give him as many weapons and explosives as he can carry. His comment: “Go figure.”
Boyd take’s no overt political stance on the war and there is nothing in his narrative about historic events of 1968 -1969. The My Lau Massacre, Tet Offensive, Walter Cronkite’s famous editorial report from Vietnam, LBJ’s decision not to seek re-election, the assassinations of MLK and RFK, the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Nixon’s election, all happened in those two years. Did Robert B. Boyd Jr. know that Andy Warhol was shot on the same day Boyd arrived in Vietnam? Was he aware of the Apollo missions that were leading up to the Moon Landing - an event to take place a month after his return? However aware Boyd or any other Army infantry grunt in Vietnam were about these historic events, it is likely that they were diminished, if not completed obliterated, by the larger, immediate reality of death and survival in combat. In his book, Boyd’s only mention of anti-war protests is on the day he arrives home from Vietnam. Half delirious with malaria and the surreality of change - he is confronted protesters as abruptly as he was his induction into the Army a year and half before.
Boyd includes stories about his basic training, and receiving orders to report for advance infantry training at Tigerland, Fort Polk, Louisiana. After he received the orders the drill instructors and officers in basic training suddenly treated him more kindly, but also gave him “the look”, as Boyd put it. Boyd learned what the look meant–he was heading for combat in Vietnam, but he’d never heard of Tigerland (the movie didn’t come out until 2000!). Tigerland, was a training camp that simulated the jungle combat conditions of Vietnam including villages, enemy Viet Cong guerillas, and intense training exercises in which capture meant torture. The trainers, other young men with first hand combat experience, did their best to prepare and instill in the trainees the realities of jungle combat, and of being a grunt in Vietnam. The trainees were told in the frankest terms that they would probably not come back alive, and those that did would be damaged.
As with many Vietnam combat veterans, the author suffered post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for years and was only diagnosed late in his life. Part of his treatment was narrative therapy, in which he remembered, owned and re-told his experiences. This process of getting-out his experiences eventually lead to the collection of stories and the book Alone in Vietnam.
Boyd never mentions PTSD in his book and as a reader I never felt like I was listening to a man in therapy. But reading these stories did help me understand just a little better the amazing stress of combat, combat fear, and the specific loneliness that many Vietnam veterans experienced. Alone in Vietnam does not deal with Boyd’s life after June 1969, but I imagine he continued to live alone with his war memories. On occasion, in the context of a specific incident ,Boyd does say how his experiences had a profound effect on the way he continued to see the world around him, ever day, in both positive and negative ways. It was always there.
Writing can be therapeutic and many Vietnam Vets have published war stories. Some like Boyd’s are a result of narrative therapy for PTSD. Other infantry men, marines, Huey pilots etc. have written down their stories at least in part for similar reasons. Some like Boyd’s were self-published. Boyd printed and hand-bound his first copies of Alone in Vietnam-and I image that the physical process of binding his pages between covers, and then sharing his books with others was a courageous (and perhaps frightening) step toward healing.
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