Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Protected Will Never Know

The Protected Will Never Know
by Don Meyer

(iUniverse / 0-595-30406-0 / November 2003 / 174 pages / $15.95)

Reviewed by Dr. Al Past for PODBRAM

At first I thought the title of this book was strange, but the more pages I read the more I realized it was perfect. The author was a “grunt” during the late unpleasantness in Vietnam. No disrespect is intended by that term: the kids who did the fighting (and they were kids) had few illusions about what they were doing and precious little knowledge of why. Yet they did what they were told to do for the most part, risked their lives, all too often lost their lives or were wounded, and received little or no thanks for it from a “grateful” nation, irony intended, to this day. The protected indeed did not know much about their valor, still do not know, and, we now know, were probably not even protected, nor needed protecting. It's time for that nation to look back on the event and ponder it, high time.
The author, prompted by a post-service GI Bill English class, compiled the material from a journal he had kept at the time and letters to folks back home and created a narrative of his experiences in Vietnam. Uncertain what to do with it, he set it aside for more than 20 years. He credits his daughter for motivating him to do something with it. He published it, and we should all be thankful.

The book is a fresh and riveting account of what it was like to actually be on the front lines of that sad episode in our history, told by one who was there and in the style of one who was there at the time. This is not polished prose but it is highly readable prose. I actually hated to put it down when I had to. There is no plot. Instead, the events flow in the random, chaotic order of someone caught up in a perplexing war: periods of seemingly endless boredom interrupted abruptly by terror, mortal danger, agony and slaughter, to be followed in turn by more tedium and all that over again. That grunt, or front line soldier, had little knowledge of the historical context, the strategic situation, or the winds of politics and diplomacy. His world was right around him. His job was to do what he was told and survive, if he possibly could. That's the picture this book conveys.

We follow him from his arrival in the country, a green, just-out-of-bootcamp “cherry,” the rawest of raw recruits, to a battle-hardened bemedaled veteran soldier in less than a year. His progress is conveyed in wonderful detail, with the earthy, profane, frank cynicism characteristic of those who must inure themselves to the incomprehensible and unspeakable or go insane. We follow him on patrols with his platoon. We learn their tactics and procedures, we learn their weapons, we see their courage and that of the helicopter pilots who brought them supplies and provided fire support and evacuation when necessary. We share their endless problems, their clever adaptations, and their forms of relaxation and restoration. Nothing seems omitted. I found myself chuckling in sympathy as the all-too-common observation popped up time after time: “Will the real enemy please stand up?”

In many ways the book reminds me of other unforgettable memoirs of young men on their own for the first time, of people caught up in events over which they have no control. For that reason alone it is worth buying. But stir in the fact that the action happens in our own time and it resonates today and you not only have a fine, entertaining reading experience in your hands: you have something that could change the way you think about current events.

See Also: Don Meyer's Website
Other Books by Don Meyer - And More
Dr. Past's B&N Review - Note the special low price!
Review of Don Meyer's Winter Ghost
Review of Don Meyer's McKenzie Affair

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