A Hellish Place of Angels by Daryl J. Eigen

The subtitle of Daryl J. Egen’s A Hellish Place of Angels (iUniverse, 222 pp., $18.95, paper) is “Con Thien: One Man’s Journey,” which gives a better sense of what the book is about than the poetic title. Eigen served as a U. S. Marine in the 3/26 and 2/9 Infantry Battalions in the Third Marine Division in Vietnam. He was awarded three Purple Hearts. He has a PhD from Northwestern.

His memoir deals with the Battle of Con Thien in September 1967. The letters Eigen wrote home during that period, combined with quotes from published records, form the basis of this powerful and engrossing book.

Eigen has composed a brutal book and an honest one. He was eighteen when he joined the Marines with the goal of becoming a man. Forty-five years later he is retired in Oregon and deals with Parkinson’s disease, which a VA doctor attributes to Eigen’s exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam. Eigen also has been diagnosed with PTSD.

Daryl Eigen went through training and became a radio operator in 81 mortars. As a radio operator, he became part of the forward team attached to line company Kilo. He and the forward observer reported to the CO. Eigen took part in a good number of combat ops, including Operations Chinook, Chinook II, Prairie, Big Horn, Hickory, Shawnee, Cimarron, and Golden Fleece. There’s a Western movie flavor to most of those names.

The former Marine effectively tells the reader of his time in Vietnam, using excerpts from eloquent letters he wrote home at the time, reflections written now, and facts gleaned from such publications as Sea Tiger, Pacific Stars and Stripes, Newsweek, The New Yorker, The New York Times and U. S. News & World Report. This powerful pastiche did the job for this reader.

Hellish Place is a well-designed book, with a cover photo by David Douglas Duncan taken in the fall of 1967 showing a group of anonymous Marines at Con Thien. It very much captures the mood and sense of Con Thien.

Daryl Eigen

This memoir is organized in short, punchy sections. This reader found the book a joy to read, even though I have read dozens of Marine Corps memoirs.

A few of the chapter headings give a good feel for this readable and accessible book: “Xmas Cease Fire,” “Free Killing Zone,” “Mortar Fights,” “Ham and Mother Fuckers,” “Incoming,” “Booby Traps.”

The section on Ham and Mother Fuckers gives the best and most complete explanation of that subject that I have read anywhere, including in scholarly reference books. Eigen explains that this nickname is for ham and lima beans, a C-ration meal, but he goes much further than that. He explains how to cook C-rations, and tells a little story about how C-rats can be fatal. This fine book is worth buying for this section alone.

If a reader is looking for a Marine memoir about how it was in the mud and smoke and carnage of Con Thien in Vietnam in 1967, this is the book to buy and read.

The book’s website is www.ahellishplaceofangels.com

—David Willson