This is the first book I have read that was written from the point of view of a Navy Corpsman attached to the Marines during the Vietnam War. I have read some about them, but never written by them. They are like Florence Nightingale in fatigues- no, more than that. To this day, more than 30 years after the end of the Vietnam War, I still see big, strapping, grown up men get all emotional and tear-up when they speak of "Doc". And these are Marines mind you, who can chew you up and spit you out and then go to Subway for lunch. The Corpsman was and is revered, loved, and respected, and imbued with a few God-like qualities. Why? I am guessing it is because the Corpsman was a rare breed, willing without question to risk his own life for another- any other. They would crawl through murderous enemy fire at one moment to render aid to a fallen soldier and the next moment lecture you about wearing clean dry socks. Corpsmen saved more lives than the military could ever begin to count. They were paramedics without an ambulance. In fact, they were the ambulance! What they learned on the battlefield cannot be taught in a classroom. Some carried weapons, but more didn't. They had too much else to carry physically and figuratively.
Paul Baviello served our country in the Vietnam War. He was a Navy Corpsman serving with the Marines. He says this book is fiction, based on real experience. Maybe the names are different, but this is real. I know because I can feel it. I was a firefighter/EMT for 7 years. I have not been to battle as he has, but I have held a person's life in my hands. I have had blood all over my hands and not known whose blood it was. So I know that much.
The soldier in his story is real. He is the true American boy. Not the ones you see on TV shouting and burning flags, not the ones who have never sacrificed a single thing, a single moment, for another human being. Those aren't real American boys, in my definition. Paul was a real American boy and so is the main character Mike in the story. He wanted to do the right thing. He wanted to believe that this war he would be fighting mattered and he would do his best. His family had served our country with honor clear back to the First World War when his grandfather served with the heroic Rainbow Division.
In this book you get to read letters home from Mike to his Grandpa. He talks of struggles with being a man and what he should do. He sees terrible suffering of the children. He talks of how primitive the Vietnamese lives are. He dreams about home. The book follows him through the jungle, with leeches, hunger, fear, death, loneliness and his love for his fellow soldiers. More than once he expresses his need to do more than he was able. He learns what all corpsmen and firefighters alike learn- that some things are not in your hands to control. He learns he was not the one to decide who would live and who would die. Only God could do that. He wondered, as many have, where God was when you needed him? It was something that could break the spirit of some. Not his. Thank God for that. And you find yourself praying for the ones who could no longer cope. Maybe even wondering if you were in those boots, would you have done what needed doing? Paul did and so did Mike, the character in the book.
This is a powerful book, worth the read, worth the piece of your heart it takes. It was one I could identify with on some level and one I found to be a touching and a great tribute to all the Corpsmen who have served both our country and their brothers. They have won my deepest respect. So has Paul.
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