Captain Robert Lathrop left behind more than just a manuscript—he left a detailed history of his wartime experiences in Vietnam and a good part of himself on its pages. Struggling to cope with the effects of PTSD, Lathrop wrote about his time in Vietnam and its aftermath as part of his therapy. Lathrop’s musings might have languished unnoticed and unread if not for the efforts of co-author/editor Jeanette Vaughan, who organized and compiled Lathrop’s manuscript in this heart-wrenching memoir.
Lathrop’s detailed description of his combat flying as a Marine A-4 pilot are quite detailed, believable, and are a valuable addition to the historical record. Lathrop’s short tour on the Battleship New Jersey was also quite interesting and informative, as were the details of his flying the C-117 in cargo and flare-dropping missions "on the side."
The first three quarters of the book deal quite effectively with Lathrop’s time in war-torn Vietnam. The end of the book is a much more personal and harrowing look at the devastation caused by combat injuries that can’t be easily identified or treated.
Struggling to cope with his deteriorating mental state, he became caught up in a strange series of conspiracy theories—all the time pushing away family and friends—which contributed to the downward spiral into deep depression and drug dependence. Lathrop is lucid while describing his combat tour in Vietnam. However, as the book progresses toward its devastating conclusion, the writing darkens and at times becomes almost impenetrable—deteriorating just like the mental state of the author.
Eternally at War is not an easy read. It is, however, a necessary one for those interested in one Marine pilot’s experiences during combat in Vietnam and his continuing struggle to deal with the aftermath—of being “eternally at war.”
Review by John Cathcart, MWSA Awards Director
Vietnam. A USMC A-4 Skyhawk pilot. PTSD. He survived Vietnam, but would he survive its aftermath? The experiences of combat produce different memories by those whom have served. Some return as warriors, seemingly unscathed. With others, their life is never the same. The horrors of each mission come back to haunt them for years. Ten years after returning from Vietnam as a two time decorated A-4 Skyhawk pilot, Captain Robert “Gene” Lathrop described war as hell. Flying the scooter as a part of VMA-311, he completed over 275 missions. His squadron completed 54,625 sorties dropping over 9 million tons of bombs. That record will never be broken. But the bomb damage assessment was steep for Captain Lathrop. The nightmares and emotional rage he experienced threatened to tear apart his family. To keep from unraveling, he sought a voice in the written word. This memoir serves as part of his mission to honor the men and women of the military. He believed veterans who return to peacetime should never feel eternally at war.
Book Format(s): Soft cover
Genre(s): History, Memoir
Number of Pages: 332