We have heard so much related to the swift boat war in Vietnam from political groups which only served to alienate at least half of America. But for me, it turned out to be a much different experience when I picked up a copy of "Cat Lo: A Memoir of Invincible Youth". It was an honest pleasure to read from those who really were in that phase of the war. While I was busy flying overhead in my Huey, these brave young warriors navigated some of the most dangerous brown waters of the world! Author and shift boat veteran, Virg Erwin, captures the spirit and the flavor of those experiences as it has never before been done.
It is an exciting and emotional ride along the rivers and delta in search of the enemy who quite possibly lurked behind every bush or tree unseen. Having taken a small boat in 2002 up those same rivers when I went back to Vietnam, I could only image what went through their minds. Those narrow water passages were ever so close to shore - where an enemy could toss a grenade, or open fire with his automatic weapon seconds before you could react to it. Very scary stuff indeed! I got a real sense of what they went through there. What is interesting is how the author captures those feelings and emotions in his story telling. You really get to know the men and how they felt. It is a very well written accounting and feels as close to the real experience you can get without going off in those boats to some war.
The book is gripping and entertaining and has some insightful passages and thoughts throughout the story telling. Written by an old sailor looking back and capturing his youthful experiences in war. Erwin is a talented writer and story teller. He is a man who has been there and done that and has lived to tell about it! I totally recommend his book.
Reviewed by: Bill McDonald (2009)
Cat Lo is a story of young men who volunteer for Swift Boats in Vietnam and about war's indelible lesson for those who survive: life is too precious to waste.
Thirty-six years after Vietnam, Virg Erwin sits with a disfigured marine convalescing from Iraq and asks, "Do you want to talk about it?" It is a question no one has ever asked Erwin. "It was hard to know who were civilians--who were bad guys," the marine says as he describes being caught in a violent ambush.
For Erwin, the marine's story resurrects memories of sailors patrolling narrow rivers and canals, their naive sense of invincibility shattered by Viet Cong patiently waiting in bunkers with rockets. Cat Lo is about conflict of compassion for the South Vietnamese who are caught in the middle of war without option of neutrality, and confusion by the question: Who is the enemy and who is not?