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When We Walked Above the Clouds: A Memoir of Vietnam
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When We Walked Above the Clouds: A Memoir of Vietnam

by H. Lee Barnes
 

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The mythology of the Green Berets, of their clandestine, special operations, has been celebrated in story and song. The reality, however, could be quite different. This story of one soldier’s experience, the day-to-day loss and drudgery of Green Beret H. Lee Barnes, reveals the daily grind and quiet desperation behind polished-for-public-consumption accounts

Overview

The mythology of the Green Berets, of their clandestine, special operations, has been celebrated in story and song. The reality, however, could be quite different. This story of one soldier’s experience, the day-to-day loss and drudgery of Green Beret H. Lee Barnes, reveals the daily grind and quiet desperation behind polished-for-public-consumption accounts of military heroics. In When We Walked Above the Clouds, Barnes tells what it was like to be a Green Beret, first in the Dominican Republic during the civil war of 1965, and then at A-107, Tra Bong, Vietnam, where he eventually served as adviser to a Combat Recon Platoon consisting chiefly of Montagnard irregulars. Though “nothing extraordinary,” as Barnes saw it, his months of simply doing what the mission demanded make for sobering reading: the mundane business of killing rats, cleaning guns, and building bunkers renders the intensity of patrols and attacks all the more harrowing.

More than anything, however, Barnes’s story is one of loss—of morale lost to alcoholism, teammates lost to friendly fire, missions aborted, and missions endlessly and futilely repeated. And yet against this dark background, Barnes graciously honors the quiet professionals whose service, overshadowed by the outsized story of Vietnam, nonetheless carried the day.
 

Editorial Reviews

Joint Forces Journal
This rare look into life as a Green Beret makes a compelling read.—Joint Forces Journal
Nevada Review
Perhaps the best aspect of the book . . . is the attention Barnes pays to the words he puts on the page. Each one carries with it a meaning and a weight that makes his story far more than a war memoir or even a coming of age story.—Caleb S. Cage, Nevada Review

— Caleb S. Cage

Nevada Review - Caleb S. Cage

"Perhaps the best aspect of the book . . . is the attention Barnes pays to the words he puts on the page. Each one carries with it a meaning and a weight that makes his story far more than a war memoir or even a coming of age story."—Caleb S. Cage, Nevada Review
Lt. Col. (Ret.) Raymond C. Morris

When We Walked Above the Clouds was written for those who want to know what it was like to dig trenches in 110 degree heat, rip off leeches, zip a buddy inside a body bag, or pull the trigger on a complete stranger. This is what the war in Vietnam was like as told from a grunt’s level. Barnes pulls no punches in his gritty account of the teammates he served with, and of those he lost, at a mountain jungle village called Tra Bong.”—Lt. Col. (Ret.) Raymond C. Morris, U.S. Army Special Forces, author of The Ether Zone: U.S. Army Special Forces Detachment B-52, Project Delta
Mary Clearman Blew

“As beautifully written as it is heartbreaking, Lee Barnes’s memoir probes through the conventional views of the Vietnam War and finds, amid the squalor, the banal, and the absurd in the Tra Bong action of 1966, the truly heroic.”—Mary Clearman Blew, author of All but the Waltz
Bill Branon

“Lee Barnes growls his profane hymn not just to this war but to all wars. In the process, he justly scuttles Hollywood hyperbole, REMF embroidery, and self-serving short-rounds. The writing is stark. Hard. Honest. Do you and yours a favor. Own this book. You will be left with the scent of blood and cinnamon and something more: the need to shake the hand of a returning warrior.”—Bill Branon, Captain (DC) USN (Ret.), author of Let Us Prey, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year

Library Journal
Novelist Barnes (English, Coll. of Southern Nevada) presents a memoir of his Vietnam War experience. This is a vivid testament to the disillusionment, boredom, fear, banality of death, and friendships that are hard for those who were not there to understand without books like this. A young man lacking direction but seeking a place in the world where he could excel, Barnes enlisted in the army and completed Special Forces training and served in the Tra Bong camp, his days filled with cleaning latrines, guard shifts, and obtaining water. His patrols with the much respected Montagnards provided relief from the monotony. Images of dead friends' corpses still haunt him. Despite all, Barnes writes that he would trade all his years since to return to that time to share again the hardship and rare moments of laughter. VERDICT This joins Philip Caputo's A Rumor of War as a haunting and beautifully written book. Readers may find it difficult to read but also difficult to put down. Highly recommended.—Patti McCall, Pratt Inst. Lib., Brooklyn, NY

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780803264809
Publisher:
UNP - Nebraska Paperback
Publication date:
09/01/2012
Pages:
320
Sales rank:
949,209
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.80(d)

Meet the Author

H. Lee Barnes is a professor of English at the College of Southern Nevada and the author of several collections of short stories, including Minimal Damage, and a novel, The Lucky.

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