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The veterans and their loved ones tell what made them enlist in this most unpopular war, what sort of preparation they had, how they handled combat and the rest of their tours in Southeast Asia, how they dealt with the mixed reception once back home and the grief and disgust that were Vietnam's reward for valor.
These men and women think of themselves not as heroes but as common folk. And they are right: they were ordinary people thrust by politics and fate into the uncommon circumstances of the war. As they bring to life their deadened memories, they try to tell us what it was really like, calling to our minds again names such as Khe Sanh, Highway I, the Tet Offensive, and Hamburger Hill, reminding us of what some of us chose to forget.
Readers who have not served in the armed forces may find some of these first-person accounts harsh or obscene, but combat veterans from all wars will understand immediately why they are the way they are. What all may find incredible is some of the veterans' sensitive appreciation of the beauty that surrounded them as they fought the war that nobody wanted.
Stanley W. Beesley, who was a Ranger team leader in Vietnam and twice was awarded the Bronze Star, teaches school in Shawnee, Oklahoma. Of the other contributors, whose accounts he compiled and edited, he says, "They opened up their souls and trusted me and let me carry their hearts around in my hands."