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Father, Soldier, Son: Memoir of a Platoon Leader in Vietnam Hardcover – December 23, 1996
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A beautifully written book and a stunning achievement. Thanks to Nathaniel Tripp's extraordinary depiction of war in Vietnam, based on his own experiences, I finally understand what it was like to fight there. Here is the savagery, the terrible anxiety, the sheer unreality of the conflict, and above all the appalling innocence and unpreparedness of the young Americans who were sent into that incomprehensible war.
Skillfully interwoven with the war story is how the author comes to terms with his own terror, with his failed father and their failed relationship, and how he makes up for the lost love of a parent by becoming something like a father to the men in his platoon. I can't recommend Father, Soldier, Son highly enough.
From Library Journal
Written by an Army platoon commander, this memoir is, on one level, a compellingly vivid look into the conduct of the ground war against an increasingly sophisticated enemy by a decreasingly effective American military in the months after the 1968 Tet Offensive. Tripp's work addresses questions about America's morale, intent, and leadership. However, it involves a moving and candid personal narrative, drawing parallels to the author's relationship with a father whose military career was ended by mental illness. Tripp's work explores the paternal concerns for his platoon members (and, in lyrical sidebars, of the evolving love for his children) and explores the themes of doubt, courage, and commitment in terms of both the war experience and those other battles that one must face in life. Tripp has created seamlessly riveting prose, full of recollections of combat that are chillingly accurate. This is enduring literature; recommended wholeheartedly for all collections, especially military ones.?Mel D. Lane, Sacramento, Cal.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top customer reviews
I have probably read a score or more of Vietnam war memoirs, some good, some not so good. But Tripp's is unique, both for its eloquence and for the family and emotional baggage he brings to his story. "Baggage" is probably the wrong word, with its negative connotations, but it will have to do. Tripp grew up with a mother and grandmother, an only child. His father, a Naval veteran of WWII, suffered from mental illness much of his life, and so was largely absent from Tripp's childhood. So there was that. And Tripp, during his tour in Vietnam, plagued by doubts and fears of his leadership capability, often wondered if he might be going a bit mad himself, although he denied this when his father asked him outright. He felt guilty at times that he abandoned the mission, worrying instead only of "the continued safety of my men." Early on he questioned the sanity of the war itself, understanding implicitly -
"There was nothing heroic here, we were being pushed by old men, with self-serving ideas, pushed to the brink of death just to glorify old men."
Tripp becomes very close with the men of his platoon, young men he comes to love.
"But we had all become family by now. For me, and I suspect many others, it was the closest, most loving family we had ever known. The loneliness which is so much a part of being a man, which stalks us from the cradle to the grave, was gone now. We only wanted to be with each other."
Tripp reveals truths about our involvement in Vietnam that are still true today with the current ongoing wars in the Middle East. "The war had evolved out of naïve misconceptions and cynical misrepresentation of facts ... this brought bad leadership to the fore, particularly among senior officers whose careers rested upon a successful tour of duty ..."
The half-serious comments the author makes about simply walking north, "all the way up Highway Thirteen to Cambodia and beyond" and "Cambodia sounded wonderful, like the Emerald City, a place of peace" reminded me of Tim O'Brien's fictional soldiers' magical journey in GOING AFTER CACCIATO, a book I savored many years ago.
FATHER SOLDIER SON is a deeply personal account of a pivotal time in Nathaniel Tripp's young life, a time that scarred him permanently. He still feels, as he did then, that in such a war, "there are no winners, that there are only survivors, forever scarred by the agony and humiliation of war."
Tripp waited nearly thirty years to sort it all out and write it down, but I for one am glad that he did. I am sure he is not alone in how he felt about the war, but I'm also pretty sure that his assessment of it all may be cause for controversy, even among the men who fought in Vietnam. But, as I said, this is a deeply personal account, perhaps undertaken as a form of therapy. Nathaniel Tripp is a fine writer and I will recommend his book highly. (four and a half stars)
I was with the 9th Infantry Division approximately the same time. In fact, I know many of the same places Mr. Tripp refers to in his book. Who knows, maybe he and I shared C-rations at some point. I also know that Mr. Tripp's description of the 9th Division and the Division Snipers in particular, although written from his perspective and with literary license, and meant to be compelling, is also unfair and plays into the hands of those who called us 'baby killers' and 'killing machines'.
We were young men, 18 years old and in combat for the first time. For most of us, it was not about proving one's self, or fighting the internal war with families and other bagage. It was about getting through the day without getting killed. Mr. Tripp has provided us with some gutsy descriptions of that emotion, I only wish it was not at the expense of other GI's who shared the same battleground, we were not all automatons nor were we without our own feelings of guilt, regardless of origin.
Soon after starting, you will realize that there are many more dimensions to this work than anticipated. The allusions to "father" and "son" prove to be metaphors not only for the author's personal relationships (within and outside the Army), but also that of War, The Military Establishment in general, and Government:
"Vietnam was, more than anything else, a place of betrayal. Vietnam was where fathers betrayed sons, and sons betrayed fathers."
And rarely in the past have we been treated so incisively and credibly to the real attitudes pervading our fighting forces in Vietnam:
"I hated Saigon, the bile rising inside of me. It was noisy and filthy, overflowing with REMFS and hucksters of all sorts. The population had increased tenfold because of the war, and the very foundations of the city were exploitation of one sort or another, East meeting West at its very worst. The air was heavy with exhaust fumes and the constant hustle of survival, the great open market of Mammon beside heartbreaking slums. Everything was for sale: drugs, weapons, people, principles, the past, the future. We brought Walmart to Saigon, with blow jobs and televisions offered side by side, while beggars with their legs blown off, with puffy napalm scars and white, unseeing eyes, fought for scraps."
The book is replete with poignant enlightening anecdotes such as the following documentation of the Vietnamese poplulation's attitude towards Our War:
"We soon came abreast of the cause of the delay. A young man on a motorcycle had been struck and killed. He lay there in the road in the kind of impossible position that only the dead can assume, and what was causing the delay was not so much his death as the subsequent pillaging. A crowd had gathered and was stripping his corpse of everything, watch, ballpoint pens, shirt, while others stripped his mashed motorcycle. Tu was silent for a long time after we passed, and continued on down the long, straight, open highway into the delta. Then at last he said, 'So now you see what your war has done to my country.' "
The relationship between the Americans and the French in Vietnam may be a revelation to many of us. This is the way history should be taught:
"We had, after all, grown up amid the glorifying mythology of the Second World War, and had naively expected the French to welcome us again, showering us with champagne and kisses from beautiful girls as we marched toward Loc Ninh, driving the evil communists before us. It had been disillusioning to find that the French in Vietnam disliked us more than they seemed to dislike the Viet Cong themselves. We could not understand that the French had been goaded, cajoled, even bribed into going to war in Vietnam by the United States in the first place."
In addition to its historical reporting, perceptions and philosophies, this book is also notable for its exceptional style of presentation. Although the almost-poetic prose sometimes seemed affected, and occasionally a bit incongruous with the context, for the most part the rhetoric was another unanticipated windfall. Nathaniel Tripp has produced an important and memorable record of what it really was like and what it all meant. In the next edition a glossary, especially of the military terms and abbreviations, and at least one map of the locale would be desirable.