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The Boys of '67: Charlie Company's War in Vietnamby Andrew Wiest
Synopses & Reviews
In the spring of 1966, while the war in Vietnam was still popular, the U.S. military decided to reactivate the 9th Infantry Division as part of the military buildup. Across the nation, farm boys from the Midwest, surfers from California, city-slickers from Cleveland, and share croppers from the South opened their mail to find greetings from Uncle Sam. The newly-shorn men in their ill-fitting uniforms got off the busses together at Fort Riley, Kansas, to be trained together under the tutelage of officers and non-commissioned officers (NCOs) who would lead them into battle in Vietnam. Charlie Company was part of the 9th and was representative of the greater whole. Everyone was there in the newly-raised company - the joker who roller skated into the Company First Sergeant's office wearing a dress, the nerdy guy with two left feet who would rather be off somewhere inventing computers, the gung-ho true believers bent on outshining everyone else, the everyman who just wanted to get through un-noticed, the guys who liked Motown, the guys who liked country music.
Most American soldiers of the Vietnam era trickled into the war zone as individual replacements for men who had become casualties or had rotated home, embarking on a wartime experience unparalleled in its individualism. Charlie Company, though, was different, part of the only division raised, drafted and trained for service in the Vietnam War. During their training, the men of Charlie Company, a unit almost entirely composed of draftees, became a family without ever really knowing it. Its members entered Vietnam as brothers, sometimes squabbling, sometimes joking, sometimes missing their wives and children, but always brothers. Charlie Company was a throwback, part of an old breed. Charlie Company's experience of being drafted, thrown together, and trained for war hearkened back to the very heart of the American military tradition, a tradition that came to an end in Vietnam. A tradition that might never return, leaving Charlie Company historically the last of its kind. This is their story. From draft to the battlefields of South Vietnam, this is the unvarnished truth from the fear of death, the chaos of battle, the horrors of injury told through the recollections of the men themselves.
"Wiest (coauthor, Vietnam's Forgotten Army), who teaches Vietnam War history at the University of Southern Mississippi, concentrates on the human side of the Vietnam War with an in-depth chronicle of a group of men drafted into the army in 1966 and trained together with the 9th Infantry Division, the only division of draftees that was 'raised, drafted, and trained for service in the Vietnam War,' Weist notes, and thus developed unusually strong bonds. After training in the States, the men went to Vietnam in January 1967 as a unit on a troop ship. Very few other American fighting units shipped out to Vietnam; the overwhelming majority arrived singly as replacements because of the one-year rotation system. In Vietnam, the men of Charlie Company slogged through the worst the war had to offer. The unit lost half its members to death and injury within two months, and too many of the men suffered anew after returning home, battling posttraumatic stress disorder for decades. Wiest spent three years interviewing 61 officers and men of Charlie Company, 4th Battalion, 47th Infantry. He tells their stories well and empathically, especially those of the dozen or so men whose lives he examines closely before, during, and after their service in the nation's most controversial overseas war. Illus. (Sept. 18)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
When the 160 men of Charlie Company (4th Battalion/47th Infantry/9th ID) were drafted by the US Army in May 1966, they were part of the wave of conscription that would swell the American military to 80,000 combat troops in theater by the height of the war in 1968. In the spring of 1966, the war was still popular and the draftees of Charlie Company saw their service as a rite of passage. But by December 1967, when the company rotated home, only 30 men were not casualties—and they were among the first vets of the war to be spit on and harassed by war protestors as they arrived back the U.S.
In his new book, The Boys of ’67, Andy Wiest, the award-winning author of Vietnam’s Forgotten Army and The Vietnam War 1956-1975, examines the experiences of a company from the only division in the Vietnam era to train and deploy together in similar fashion to WWII’s famous 101st Airborne Division.
Wiest interviewed more than 50 officers and enlisted men who served with Charlie Company, including the surviving platoon leaders and both of the company’s commanders. (One of the platoon leaders, Lt Jack Benedick, lost both of his legs, but went on to become a champion skier.) In addition, he interviewed 15 family members of Charlie Company veterans, including wives, children, parents, and siblings. Wiest also had access to personal papers, collections of letters, a diary, an abundance of newspaper clippings, training notebooks, field manuals, condolence letters, and photographs from before, during, and after the conflict.
As Wiest shows, the fighting that Charlie Company saw in 1967 was nearly as bloody as many of the better publicized battles, including the infamous ‘Ia Drang’ and ‘Hamburger Hill.’ As a result, many of the surviving members of Charlie Company came home with what the military now recognizes as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder—a diagnosis that was not recognized until the late 1970s and was not widely treated until the 1980s. Only recently, after more than 40 years, have many members of Charlie Company achieved any real and sustained relief from their suffering.
About the Author
Andrew Wiest is presently a Visiting Professor in the Department of Warfighting Strategy at the United States Air Force Air War College and is Professor of History at the University of Southern Mississippi, where he co-directs the Vietnam Studies Program and the university's Center for the Study of War and Society. He also has served as a Visiting Senior Lecturer at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst. He is the author of many books including: Haig: The Evolution of a Commander (Potomac, 2005); The Vietnam War, 1956-1975 (Osprey, 2002); War in the Age of Technology (edited with Geoffrey Jensen, NYU Press, 2001); and Passchendaele and the Royal Navy (Greenwood, 1995).
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