NAM SENSE: Surviving Vietnam with the 101st Airborne Division
Author: Arthur Wiknik Jr.
Publisher: Casemate (2009)
Binding: Paperback, 288 pages
Nam Sense is the story of a combat squad leader in the 101st Airborne Division in the thick of combat during the Vietnam War. The author was a 19-year-old kid from New England when he was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1968. After completing various NCO training programs, he was promoted to sergeant "without ever setting foot in a combat zone" and sent overseas in early 1969. Shortly after his arrival on the far side of the world he was assigned to Camp Evans, the 101st Airborne's northern most base camp only thirty miles from Laos and North Vietnam. On his first jungle patrol, his squad killed a female Viet Cong who turned out to have been the local prostitute. It was the first dead person he had ever seen.
Arthur Wiknik's account of life and death in Vietnam includes everything from skirmishes with the Viet Cong and combat with NVA regulars to base camp hijinks, including faking insanity to get some R&R. The 101st Airborne was one of the last U.S. outfits to launch full-blooded offensives in Vietnam, and its assault on the NVA stronghold in the A Shau Valley has since become the stuff of legend. Wiknik was the first man in his unit to reach the top of "Hamburger Hill" during this famous operation, the last one in which Americans attacked rather than defended in order to reduce their casualties. Later, the author discovered an enemy weapons cache, thus preventing an attack on his advance fire support base. Between episodes of combat he mingled with the locals, tricked unwitting stateside food companies into providing his platoon a year's worth of hard to get edibles and after defying a superior officer was punished with a dangerous mission. All this time, he struggled with himself and his fellow soldiers as the anti-war movement back home began to affect their ability to wage victorious war.
Nam Sense unveils the battlefields of Vietnam with a unique blend of candor, irony, and humor--and it spares nothing and no one in its attempt to accurately convey the true experience of the combat soldier during this unpopular war. This work does not fixate on heroism or glory, haunting flashbacks, or soldiers wallowing in self-pity. It instead portrays ordinary young Americans thrown into strange yet brutally violent circumstances, while only seeking to uphold the honor of their comrades and country. The GIs Wiknik lived and fought with during his year-long tour did not rape, murder, or burn villages, were not strung out on drugs, and did not enjoy killing. They were simply there to do their duty as they were trained, and to try to get home alive.
"The soldiers I knew," explains the author, "demonstrated courage, principle, kindness, and friendship--all the elements found in other wars Americans have proudly fought in."
MWSA 2010 Honorable Mention for Non-Fiction, Memoir
Nam Sense is an excellent account of the author's own experience with the 101st Airborne Division in Viet Nam, during the war, April 1969 - March 1970. In setting forth his own story, Arthur Wiknik superbly illustrates the challenges that our Viet Nam veterans faced simply trying to survive their tours of duty during the war. His narrative style in setting forth his experiences makes the book an enjoyable, informative read for anyone wanting to learn more about a soldier's life in the conflict. I was very pleased that the author didn't focus his book solely on his combat experiences, but took time to portray what daily life was like for him. In doing so, he has made this book a far more valuable resource. I was also impressed that the book included numerous photographs and a map highlighting key locations relevant to his story.
This book is very well presented. I recommend it to everyone who is interested in learning more about a soldier's life in the Viet Nam war and to anyone who is a military history buff.
Reviewed by: Bob Doerr (2010)