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Loon: A Marine Story

Loon: A Marine Story

3.7 17
by Jack McLean

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“Kids like me didn’t go to Vietnam,” writes Jack McLean in his compulsively readable memoir. Raised in suburban New Jersey, he attended the Phillips Academy in Andover, MA, but decided to put college on hold. After graduation in the spring of 1966, faced with the mandatory military draft, he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps for a two-year


“Kids like me didn’t go to Vietnam,” writes Jack McLean in his compulsively readable memoir. Raised in suburban New Jersey, he attended the Phillips Academy in Andover, MA, but decided to put college on hold. After graduation in the spring of 1966, faced with the mandatory military draft, he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps for a two-year stint. “Vietnam at the time was a country, and not yet a war,” he writes. It didn’t remain that way for long.

A year later, after boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina, and stateside duty in Barstow, California, the Vietnam War was reaching its peak. McLean, like most available Marines, was retrained at Camp Pendleton, California, and sent to Vietnam as a grunt to serve in an infantry company in the northernmost reaches of South Vietnam. McLean’s story climaxes with the horrific three-day Battle for Landing Zone Loon in June, 1968. Fought on a remote hill in the northwestern corner of South Vietnam, McLean bore witness to the horror of war and was forever changed. He returned home six weeks later to a country largely ambivalent to his service.

Written with honesty and insight, Loon is a powerful coming-of-age portrait of a boy who bears witness to some of the most tumultuous events in our history, both in Vietnam and back home.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

McLean's debut is a perceptive memoir of the Vietnam war that is unique for the author's background: McLean joined the Marine Corps after graduating from Phillips Academy, where George W. Bush was a classmate. Making excellent use of more than a hundred letters he wrote home from the war zone from November 1967 to July 1968, McLean reconstructs his time in the Marines with a sharp eye for detail and very readable-at times almost poetic-prose. McLean underwent a hellish tour of duty and in the fall of 1968 became the first Vietnam veteran to enter Harvard. He uses a good deal of reconstructed dialogue to tell his war story, a technique that in lesser hands only cheapens a memoir. But virtually all of McLean's dialogue rings true, as does nearly everything else in the book. That includes this passage in which McLean remembers his baptism under fire a few days after he arrived in Vietnam: "It had been eerie, frightening, invigorating, chaotic, and surreal. Welcome to combat. It was not like the movies." (May 19)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
From the Publisher
"The battle at Loon erupts suddenly and sucks you in. Like Jack McLean, you ask: what am I doing here? The answer is: you joined the Marines and now it's time to fight for your life. A gripping story of violence and dedication to survival."—Bing West, author of The Strongest Tribe

"Loon is a saga of an infantry Marine—the decision to enlist, the intensity of the recruit, mortal combat, and finally transition back to civilian life. This beautifully written story is a must read for all combat warriors, their families, and those interested in the turbulent times surrounding the Vietnam War."—Col H.C. "Barney" Barnum, USMC (Ret), Medal of Honor Recipient

“[This] unique tale . . . is skillfully written and will be among the classic books written about the Vietnam War."—Jan Scruggs, Esq., Founder and President, Vietnam Veterans Memorial

"McLean's debut is a perceptive memoir of the Vietnam war…McLean reconstructs his time in the Marines with a sharp eye for detail and very readable— at times almost poetic—prose."—Publishers Weekly

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Random House Publishing Group
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

June 6, 1968.  

It had already been a long day, and dawn had yet to break.  

On his hands and knees, Bill Matthews scampered up over loose rocks and jumped into Bill Negron’s hole. Out of breath, he gasped, “They’re diggin’ in. They’re right in front of my hole, Skipper. I can hear ’em. ­They’re all over the fuckin’ place.”  

“Now, hang on, marine. Cool it. Catch your breath. Who’s digging in and where?” Negron was calm.

“The gooks, for chrissake. The NVA, just like they did at Con Thien before they came through the wire, and, in case you haven’t noticed, we ain’t got no fuckin’ wire...sir.” Matthews caught his slight sarcasm and tried to temper it.  

Negron grabbed his radio handset and called over to the 3rd Platoon. “Charlie Three, this is Charlie Six Actual, do you read me? Over.”  

"Six, this is Three. Go.”  

“Three, this is Six Actual.” Negron was gripping the handset ever more tightly so as not to miss a word. “Is everything cool down there?”  

“That’s a negative, Six. I think the visiting team has arrived and are getting ready for the kickoff. Over.”  

“Charlie One,” “Charlie Two,” and “Charlie Three” were the radio call signs of the platoons that comprised C Company, 1st Battalion, 4th Regiment, 3rd Marine Division. Charlie Six was the company commander, in this case, Captain William A. Negron. The “Actual” meant Negron himself as opposed to a designee, such as his radio operator.  

A brief radio silence was broken by a call from the 1st Platoon. “Charlie Six, this is Charlie One. ­We’ve got company about five—zero meters out. Over.”  

“One, this is Six Actual. Roger that. Give me an azimuth. Over.”  

Negron was looking for the exact coordinates of the reported activity so he could direct 60 mm mortar fire to the area.  

“Six, this is One. Wait out...Six, this is One—one—five mils magnetic. Over.”  

“Incoming!” came the call from the near side of the perim­eter.  

The ensuing explosion was followed by yet another call.  “Grasshopper Charlie Six, this is Grasshopper Six Actual. Things sound kinda rough up there for you. Give me a sit rep. Over.” “Grasshopper Six Actual” was the call sign for our battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel James H. MacLean (no relation to me).  

“Grasshopper Six, this is Charlie Six Actual. We are in the V ring. Surrounded by unhappy gooks. Send water, ammo, air, and arty. Now. Over.”  

“Charlie Six, this is Grasshopper Six. I read you loud and clear. ­What’s your body count? Over.”  

“Grasshopper Six, be advised that I’ve lost an entire offensive football team and one baseball team. I’m too busy killing ’em to count ’em. I’ll be back when ­it’s quieter. Over.”  

“Roger that, Charlie Six. Groceries and goodies are on the way. Over and out.”  

The brief radio silence was followed by an urgent whisper on another radio that was barely audible.   “Charlie Six, this is Charlie Three. Over.”  

It was the voice of 3rd Platoon radio operator Mitchell calling from LZ Loon across the ravine.   “This is Six. Go,” replied Terry Tillery. Tillery was Charlie ­Company’s radio operator, and never far from ­Negron’s side.  

“Six, ­they’re coming at you. We can see it from here. ­They’re all over your fuckin’ perimeter and they are coming at you. Over.”  

Negron grabbed the handset from Tillery.  

“Three, this is Six Actual, do you read me? Over.”  

“Roger that, Skipper.” Mitchell was out of breath and scared.  

“Three, can you give me their grid coordinates. Give me some numbers so I can lay some lumber on them.”  

With that, two 122 mm rockets screamed over the perimeter, followed by a volley of incoming grenades, mortars, and small—arms fire. The ground attack had begun.  

“Here they come!” someone screamed.  

“Gooks in the perimeter!” came the cry from the 2nd Platoon lines.  

“Gooks in the perimeter!” came the cry again, now from the Delta Company lines. Delta marines were engaged in hand—to—hand combat with the enemy.  

Negron, observing the assault, looked calmly to John Camacho, the artillery forward observer, and gave a sullen nod. “Do it. Do it now.” Camacho picked up his handset and called the rear. Negron then turned to Tillery, his radio operator, and said, “Pass the word. Get everybody in a hole. Now.”  

“All stations on this net, this is Charlie Six,” Tillery stated. “Be advised we are calling them in on us. Repeat, calling them in on us. Pass the word. Get down. Now. Over.”  

Negron, Camacho, and Tillery slid into a small command bunker they’d dug out the night before. Had there been time, they’d have dug it a mile deeper.  

Minutes passed. Camacho got final confirmation of the coming artillery bombardment from the rear and, eschewing the radio, yelled “ON THE WAY!” and leapt back into the bunker. Around the perimeter, from hole to hole, came the cries of “ON THE WAY!” and “FIRE IN THE HOLE!” At once, we all got small.  

Camacho, on Negron’s order, had instructed our supporting artillery to fire directly onto our position. We prayed like hell that none of the rounds fell directly into any of our fighting holes. We had little choice. The NVA had broken through our lines in several places and were now inside our perimeter.  

The following seconds passed in near silence but for the sporadic crack of an enemy AK-47 rifle. Then it came. The air at once was filled with exploding artillery, flying shrapnel, and screaming boys. Their boys. The artillery air bursts, ordered by Camacho, had caught the enemy in the open. Instead of exploding on impact, the artillery had been fused to ignite in the air above the battlefield. It was slaughter.  

With the last explosion, we leapt from the safety of our holes to reinforce the lines and ensure that every NVA soldier who had penetrated the perimeter was dead.  

They were scattered everywhere, and they were all very dead    

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

The third of four children, Jack McLean was born in Huntington, New York, on May 26, 1947. He was brought up in Summit, New Jersey, where he lived until admittance to Phillips Academy, Andover, at age fourteen. Upon graduation, McLean enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. After boot camp and a year on stateside duty, he served in Vietnam with Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division. McLean returned to enter Harvard University in the fall of 1968 as the college’s first Vietnam veteran. After graduation, he held marketing positions in New York; Boston; Portland, Maine; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Washington, D.C. McLean is the father of three daughters and is currently the Tsien Writer in Residence in Fort Lee, New Jersey.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Loon: A Marine Story 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 17 reviews.
Doug_McMillan More than 1 year ago
I was reluctant to pick up Loon because of the horrors I imagined it might contain, but once I started I didn't put it down.  Step by step Jack leads the reader gently from Summit, to Phillips Andover, to Parris Island and finally to the horrific disaster of LZ Loon.  He tells his story simply, clearly and honestly.  Surviving LZ Loon took luck, training, the support of his platoon, guts and determination.  Facing those memories and recounting the story took more of the same.  I don't know how we can send young soldiers off to war and expect them to return quietly to civilian life.  I don't know how Jack and others have done it.  Thank you Jack, for telling your story so well.
adamluke More than 1 year ago
Jack McLean's story is my story and the story of every Marine "Grunt" I served with in Vietnam. Jack captures the feelings of the times, the personal reasons for doing such an outlandish thing as enlisting in time of war, the fright of Marine boot camp and the boredom/terror of combat up on the "Z". His reflections of the aftermath of his experience is similar to all my Marine brothers I meet at reunions now as an old man. Thanks Jack, you did us well. Semper Fi Dan D-1/26
harstan More than 1 year ago
After graduating from the Phillips Academy, Jack McLean joined the Marines. After basic training, he went to Viet Nam where he served a tour from November 1967 to July 1968. Following his stint in hell, He came home, left the military and enrolled at Harvard. His story of his time as a marine in Nam is harrowing and dangerous. Using letters he sent home and dialogue from what he recalls, Mr. McLean provides a profound experience of serving on the firing lines; just a few days after arriving in country. Though the re-enactment of verbal communication may disturb some as to authenticity since four decades have passed and collaboration is not easy, readers will believe the author has an audio-graphic memory as the chaos and fog of combat comes frighteningly across. This is a great memoir by someone who attended school with President Bush 43, but chose a different path of serving during the Viet Nam War. Harriet Klausner
Habusix More than 1 year ago
What a fine memoir! This authentic book captures what it was like to be a combat Marine infantryman in northern I Corps during the Vietnam War. The author has done an excellent job, and as a former Marine officer and combat veteran of Vietnam, including a big operation in the mountains of western I Corps, I found Loon to be a page-turner, a well-written memoir for the reader's permanent library. Habusix, former Captain US Marine Corps
northeastnurse More than 1 year ago
I have read historical and personal accounts of Vietnam before and this is the most personally and intimately detailed day to day account. I felt as though I was right under the authors skin viewing his decision to go, his training, and the war experience. I felt gripped by the events and drained by the experience, but still had a sense of humanity and hope. This is a book I have recommended to friends who were also there, to those of us left behind, to those of us who protested this war, and those of us who lost friends and loved ones in Vietnam. For anyone up to the challenge of going back to that time, it is well worth the read. I could not put it down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My brother was a usmc grunt in viet nam but never talked about it. Now i have an understanding of his experience. So glad i bought this.
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