PACIFIC BOOK REVIEW
What mental and personal strengths enable soldiers to endure the horrors of war? Author Dennis Hoy, Vietnam Veteran, and part Potawatomi, notes that the Potawatomi instruct their children in the Seven Grandfather Teachings: wisdom, respect, love, honesty, humility, bravery, and truth. In Letters from Vietnam, these virtues helped him survive and were strengthened during the war, informing the young soldier that he was and the man he would become.
Letters from Vietnam is a fascinating insight into this soldier’s life from a would-be baseball prospect to a draftee. Using letters sent to-and-from his parents and his wife during his time in Vietnam, Hoy provides the thoughtful context of his reactions at the time the letters and his reflections half a century later. The one constant is his wife, Beth. The strength of their marriage emerges as a prime comfort to the young soldier then and in his life afterwards, making this a soldier’s story and a love story.
As part of the 1st Cavalry Division, Hoy estimates that he was involved in at least 100 air assaults, numerous ambushes, and the dangerous battle in which his company was outnumbered by a few hundred for which he received the Silver Star. Eighty pounds of gear and insufferable humidity added to the occasional bobcats, iguanas, panthers, and
cobras, making Hoy feel like everything in Vietnam was out to kill him. That being said, Hoy notes moments of humor and respite: drinking beer with fellow soldiers, scaring off a family of panthers with bug spray, R&R and the rare luxury of swimming in the South China Sea. Not minimizing the horrors of war, Hoy does note positives and credits his combat experience with helping his maturation; as a man and a husband, but also spiritually.
In the end, Hoy also shares his thoughts on the clunky bureaucracy of the war and what he feels were the failed strategies (mostly failures of the “higher ups”). This is a constant refrain that the officers and grunts on the ground truly understood how to win the war and yet remote politicians and paper pushers were the ones calling the shots.
Successful as a soldier, namely as a point man, Hoy was also successful in life as a coach, artist, fisherman, and archery champion. “I get involved in something and I go after it wholeheartedly.” And still married after 54 years. Letters from Vietnam is full of great perspective, thoughtfulness, and honesty. It is a soldier’s story, a success story, and a love story all wrapped up into one genuine recollection of a life well lived. Very interesting, well written and insightful, this work will captivate readers of all kinds and perhaps give comfort or feelings of camaraderie to other veterans of this or other wars.
Reviewed by: Jason Lulos
THE US REVIEW OF BOOKS
"Battle was the height of competition in my life, something I haven’t experienced since then and never will again."
This memoir of a tour of duty during the Vietnam War offers a detailed account of an infantryman drafted into the war in 1966. Using letters he sent home to his new wife and his parents, Hoy recounts the battles, patrols, R&R, and overall conditions during his year fighting and staying alive in Vietnam. His powerful first-person perspective provides an in-depth view of the reality of war as a drafted soldier and offers insight about the Vietnam War that can only come from someone who has lived through it on the ground, in the jungle, and on patrol. Descriptions of the heat, the fear, the impossible choices, the animal encounters, and humorous incidents all combine to create an encompassing story of war that is authentic and moving in its honesty.
Hoy focuses primarily on a straightforward recollection of his tour but occasionally veers into analysis and opinion about his experiences. These insights gleaned from a firsthand account are valuable for thinking about war in general but are exceedingly important when thinking about the unique situation of the Vietnam War. When Hoy considers his personality and tendencies, he suggests that his intensity served him well in Vietnam and probably helped him survive. But he also speaks plainly about the possibility each day that you could do everything right and still get killed. Each page of Hoy's riveting story is centered on the intense will to fight in order to come home alive and resume living the life he was just beginning with his wife before he was drafted.
Book review by Michelle Jacobs