David Mulldune arrived in Vietnam May 1968, a Marine who had just missed the Tet Offensive. Mulldune, a high school dropout in trouble with the law, has written The Mailman Went UA: A Vietnam Memoir (lulu.com, 208 pp., $36.95, hardcover; $14.95, paper), a powerful personal story of what many scholars call the worst year of the Vietnam War.
President Nixon’s strategy of Vietnamization was mostly viewed with contempt by those who thought that after the 1968 Tet Offensive the United States was winning the war. Mulldune turned nineteen in Vietnam during his May 1968 to June 1969 tour of duty, dealing with “a steady round of patrols, ambushes, sniper attacks,” as Professor Michael H. Hunt succinctly notes in the book’s Forward.
This down and dirty memoir rates up there at the top with Ernest Spencer’s Welcome to Vietnam, Macho Man, and Karl Marlantes’ novel, Matterhorn, for bald honesty and hard-hitting language and description of the unspeakable things that happen in war. Mulldune served first as a mortarman with the 27th Marines, working with 60 MM mortars and later with the 7th Marines, first as a grunt and then with mortars again. He also spent time riding shotgun for supply convoys through Haiphong Pass and took part in Operation Allenbrook.
This memoir has it all: friendly fire, resentment toward pogues (rear echelon troops,) Black Power, drug use, atrocities on both sides, baby-san killings, Russian techs working for the VC, snakes of all sizes and kinds, leeches, centipedes, and mosquitoes, the clap, the Black Syph, decapitation by helicopter blade, dogs and dog handlers, tunnel rats, ice cream, movies (The Planet of the Apes) renegade Marines fighting with the VC, fraggings, Dear John letters, Louisiana Hot Sauce, C-rats, the Geneva Convention, booby-trapped kids, R&R, showers, Agent Orange, Bobby Kennedy, Chris Noel, Barry Sadler, Charles Robb, and John Wayne, who gets several mentions.
The Mailman Went UA has all of the above and more, and is chockablock with action, fighting of all kinds and lots of firepower. If you have the time to read only one Marine Corps grunt memoir dealing with the teenagers who fought in Vietnam, I’d recommend this one. It held my attention throughout even though I’ve read dozens of Vietnam War memoirs.
This one has a vigor and immediacy that often astonished me. How Mulldune came up with the wealth of physical detail on every page after so many decades is beyond me, but he never overreaches or tests believability. David Mulldune has done great things in this book by finding his 19-year-old Marine Corps voice and maintaining it throughout with no lapses.