The Things They Cannot Say by Kevin Sites

Kevin Sites’s The Things They Cannot Say: Stories Soldiers Won’t Tell You About What They’ve Seen, Done or Failed to Do In War (Harper Perennial, 336 pp., $15.99, paper) uses the voices of eleven veterans, including two from the Vietnam War, to hone in on the thorniest questions facing troops in combat—or, as Sites puts it:

“What is it like to kill? What is it like to be wounded or to die? And ultimately, how does one successfully cross the bridge from conflict back to peacetime society?

Sites, an award-winning journalist who has covered wars across the globe in the last decade, includes two Vietnam veterans in the book: Joe Caley, who was drafted into the Army and did a 1968-70 Vietnam War tour with the 25th Infantry Division in a scout dog platoon, and Thomas Saal, who quit college to join the Marines, went OCS, and served as a platoon leader with the 3rd Battalion, Fifth Marines in Vietnam in 1967-68.

Caley came home from the war physically unscathed; Saal was severely wounded during Tet ’68. But both have had severe emotional problems since coming home. And both have worked hard to try to overcome their PTSD.

Two things, Sites writes, have helped Caley cope: “the first was volunteering at a local veterans’ center, and the other was learning to write poetry as a way to share what is sometimes too difficult to say. But he knows that for those who have never been to war, it’s still hard to grasp.

“‘I let my wife read it [the poetry] and she said it was kind of dark.”

—Marc Leepson