Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Matterhorn: A Book About Vietnam That You Should Read

I'm halfway through a book called "Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War" by Karl Marlantes. This book was published in March of 2010 and it was on my 'to read' list until I finally picked it up this week.

Vietnam had always been a source of conflict for me not because I knew anyone who lost their life but because I really didn't support the war or the soldiers serving in it and I've felt guilty about it ever since. I fell all to easily into the category of being a war protester without really considering that contemporaries of mine were off in a far, unfamiliar country fighting an unknown enemy while I was comfortably attending college and spending summer days on a beach in the Hamptons.

On December 1, 1969, when the war was at it's peak, the Selective Service Agency held a lottery to determine the order of the draft for those eligible to serve. My husband (boyfriend at the time) was number 55, not a good number. The very next day, he signed up for the National Guard and was able to complete his duty stateside. His cousin, also with a low number, decided to join the army and consequently went to Vietnam where he was shot in the leg while walking point for his unit.

That pretty much summarizes my awareness of the war other than hearing daily news reports of battles in exotic sounding places and being aware of a rising death toll that I didn't connect to actual people until I went to the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington D.C. in the late 1980s. There, after viewing wall segment after wall segment, name after name, did the sheer number of casualties hit me, 58,267 to be exact. The long, solemn, black wall, simple in its design yet so powerful in it's scope is fitting testimony to soldiers who gave their lives in a war in which their fellow countrymen did not have their backs.

The Vietnam War Memorial in Washington D.C.
Matterhorn, the novel, fills in the blanks for the clueless like myself. The author served in Vietnam and no doubt drew from his experiences to weave a story so abhorrent in its detail and shockingly horrific in its account of how much man can endure. In fact, it took him over 30  years to write 'Matterhorn' happily resulting in glowing reviews and gratifying kudos perhaps from reviewers who like me ignored the sacrifices of this generation of men and women for too long. The book isn't pleasant, in fact it is most uncomfortable to read but I find I can't put it down.

I thank Mr. Marlantes for the courage and time it took to write this story and his persistence in getting it published. I thank him and countless other men and woman of my generation for their service to our country in fighting a war destined to be lost but not be be forgotten.

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