When Anthony Andrews arrived in Vietnam, in June, 1969, he was expecting to accomplish exactly what he had been sent to do by his editor at the Washington Post. As a black reporter embedded with American troops, he was to send home positive stories about the experiences of young black soldiers. But Southeast Asia was about to change his life forever with two unusual events.
When a Chinook helicopter delivered seven soldiers to his base, Anthony was only a casual observer, but what he saw suggested a story that needed to be told. The new arrivals were filthy, their uniforms tattered, their eyes haunted, their bodies showing signs of severe malnutrition. Two were wounded, and—strangest of all-- all of them were black. Anthony watched as they were hustled away with no chance for questions or greetings or interviews. His attempts to learn more about the men and their mission failed to get any information—not even their names.
Shortly thereafter, the commander of the unit to which he had been assigned sent him out to accompany a reconnaissance mission. Without warning, their foray turned into a gun battle. The leader of the squadron failed to appear, enemy troops ambushed the Americans, and Anthony’s escort was killed. Facing North Vietnamese soldiers sneaking up from the rear, Anthony grabbed his unfamiliar gun and killed several of them, thus alerting his squad in time to avoid danger.
Those two events defined the rest of Anthony’ stay in Vietnam. His abrupt introduction to the horrors of jungle warfare left him suffering from what we recognize today as PTSD. He compared the disorder to carrying a snake in one’s pocket. As he tried to deal with his own trauma, his efforts to learn the story behind the seven black soldiers became more and more frustrating. No one would talk about the incident, and the seven men simply disappeared.
Anthony returned home at the end of his tour, still suffering the effects of PTSD and still unable to forget about what he had seen. He watched helplessly as his career, his marriage, and his health collapsed.
In Part II, readers learn the horrific details behind the event Anthony had witnessed. The story of the seven black soldiers is told in gut-wrenching detail, both from the black soldiers’ own point of view and from that of the female Viet Cong guerrilla who pursued them. The descriptions are not for the faint-of heart nor for those unprepared to deal with the effects of unchecked racism and human cruelty.
In Part III, the stories come together, as Anthony manages to work through his personal traumatic experience by finding his seven black soldiers, each of whom shows up carrying his own private “snake.” This is not a pretty story, and despite a somewhat happy conclusion, not everyone will enjoy reading about this particularly dark period in America’s history.
Review by Carolyn Schriber, MWSA Reviewer
When a reporter for the Washington Post sees a group of wounded, half-starved, black troops disembark from a helicopter in Cu Chi during the height of the Vietnam War, he senses a story but receives no cooperation from the army or the soldiers.
The men, mostly noncombat soldiers, are the remnant of a squad sent on an illegal mission to Cambodia as punishment for their participation in a race riot at Cu Chi base camp. Led by a battle-fatigued sergeant, they fall under enemy fire. Their leader inexplicably disappears, leaving the ill-prepared soldiers to fight the jungle and enemy on their own.
Although forced to confront the shock of combat and a deteriorating family life, the reporter pursues the story, hoping to uncover the truth about what happened to those soldiers in the jungle.
An intriguing glimpse into the Vietnam War, A Long Way Back is a tense journey merging the lives of the soldiers and the reporter as they struggle to overcome their fear and face the battles they must fight to survive.
Book Format(s): Hard cover, Soft cover, ePub, Kindle
Genre(s): Historical Fiction, Mystery/Thriller
Number of Pages: 380