The meaning that I’d sought for so long lay not in the events but within myself and in my mental journey, through months of combat, from the false light of youthful illusion to a descent into darkness and evil, and finally, an ascent into a new and truer light of self-knowledge.
You probably won’t believe this, but I saw, literally saw, the entire book scroll through my mind in seconds, so that my task then seemed to be to transcribe that vision into a coherent narrative.
He remarked that many of the writers we associate with the war novel were not in action for very long.
Hemingway, for example, served on the Italian front in WWI for a mere 12 days.
Some drill down and discover that they don’t have any. ”is simply a story about war, about the things men do in war and the things war does to them.” To expand on that thought a bit—the things men do in war is often a measure of the things it has done to them I began the book in the spring of 1967 in the bachelor officer’s quarters at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and finished it in a cabin in Pine Creek, Montana, in the fall of 1976. Anger and fear—for a long time, I couldn’t sleep without a loaded gun at my bedside.
Guilt—I was almost court-martialed after my platoon killed two Vietnamese civilians mistaken for Viet Cong.
I got out of Vietnam without a scratch, but while reporting on the Lebanese civil war, I became part of the story when I was wounded in both legs by automatic rifle fire, suffering injuries that put me in a hospital for a month and in a wheelchair or on crutches for six more months. War prohibits all retreat into the familiar confines of whatever illusions people may have had about themselves, laying bare bedrock truths about their characters. Some people, like the protagonist in Stephen Crane’s , learn that they are not as brave or as good as they had imagined themselves to be.
Sometimes, but no less compelling, they discover virtues they did not realize they had.
But more often, they come face to face with both the best and the worst that’s in them, their angels cohabiting, as it were, with their demons.
It’s in that broader sense that my baptism of fire in Vietnam has affected much of my fiction.