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

Aeroscouts in Vietnam by Wayne Mutza

Wayne Mutza served as a Huey crew chief, among other helicopter duties, during his tour of duty in Vietnam. His book, Aeroscouts in Vietnam: Combat Chronicles (Squadron Signal Publications, 136 pp., $34.95, hardcover; $24.95, paper), is a large-format, lavishly illustrated compilation of first-person reports by thirty-two men, most of whom flew the OH-6A helicopter—commonly known as the Loach—in Vietnam.

The book contains detailed accounts of the men’s tours of duty, along with lots of war-time photos, mainly of Loaches and their crew members. There also are present-day photos of the former pilots and crew members.

The small, well-armed Loach was used, as the book’s title implies, as an armed reconnaissance vehicle. “At the very least,” the Loaches “yielded intelligence that pinpointed, temporarily at best, the locations of a clever and elusive enemy,” Bill Staffa, who flew a Loach for the 123rd Aviation Battalion in Vietnam, notes.

The Loach crews, Staffa says, “were usually the most heavily armed two or three people you’d ever want to meet. The variety of weapons on board these aircraft and the ingenuity with which they were employed is the stuff of legend.”

Very “little real training prepared these young soldiers,” he says. “Many died or were injured before they ever had the opportunity to reach their potential. The ones that survived did things most people have not dreamed of doing, and probably wouldn’t believe.”

Author Wayne Mutza (fourth from right) in Vietnam in 1971

—Marc Leepson