Ghosts of Thua Thien, An American Soldier’s Memoir of Vietnam, The
Author: John A. Nesser
Publisher: McFarland (2008)
Binding: Paperback, 207 pages
Drafted in October 1968, John A. Nesser left behind his wife and young son to fight in the controversial Vietnam War. Like many in his generation, he was deeply at odds with himself over the U.S. involvement in Vietnam, instilled with a strong sense of duty to his country but uncertain about its mission and his role in it.
Nesser was deployed to the Ashau Valley, site of some of the war's heaviest fighting, and served eight months as an infantry rifleman before transferring to become a door gunner for a Chinook helicopter. In this stirring memoir, he recalls in detail the exhausting missions in the mountainous jungle, the terror of walking into an ambush, the dull-edged anxiety that filled quiet days, and the steady fear of being shot out of the sky. The accounts are richly illustrated with Nesser's own photographs of the military firebases and aircraft, the landscapes, and the people he encountered.
MWSA 2008 Gold Medal for Non-Fiction, Memoir
I spent four years in Vietnam and hope I know more about the war, the troops, the Vietnamese, than the average person who was there for a one year tour of duty and just wanted out. I’ve read many books on the war and must truthfully say that I was not really looking forward to reviewing another “war book”. Too many of them, to me, have been repetitive, predictable, and full of clichés.
The cover of the book features a photo of a combat assault somewhere near the DMZ (demilitarized zone). I thought to myself, ‘here we go again’.
I was blown away by this book. Finally something noticeably different. John Nesser was no hero in his eyes, but did heroic things. He was absolutely able to capture the truth about this most understood of wars. John had reservations about the war, but conducted himself as a true patriot and soldier of the highest commendation; and he did so humbly, and with compassion. Too many books portray endless day-to-day combat, and that was just not what happened. The author skillfully details the boredom, the day-to-day drudgery, the missteps and the Peter Principle that, if we could reach a certain level of incompetence, Vietnam was no different.
The American soldier is portrayed as he was, the good, bad, and the ugly, but certainly soldiers who redeemed themselves when they needed to be counted on. Certainly far more commendable soldiers who were so much different than portrayed in today’s movies and stereotypes.
There are personal photos and a few maps, but the glory of this read is in the author’s wonderful writing. The highest award possible from the MWSA on this one. Certainly in contention for one of the books of the year
Reviewed by: Bill McDonald (2008)