This Is What Hell Looks Like by Stuart Allan Steinberg

Untitled

Stuart Allan Steinberg served in the U. S. Army from 1967 until 1971 as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal operator. Wherever he went he was greeted with respect. “E-O-Fucking-D,” someone would intone.

He helped clean up the worst nerve gas disaster in U. S. history in March of 1968 at Dugway Proving Grounds in Utah. To leave that behind, Steinberg volunteered for Vietnam. He served in Vietnam from September 1968 to March 1970, dealing with every possible kind of explosive situation short of atomic. 

Steinberg calls his job in Vietnam exhilarating and exciting. That is also true of his memoir This Is What Hell looks Like: Explosive Ordnance Disposal: Dugway Proving Grounds 1968, Vietnam  1968 -1970 ($4.99, e book). He communicates those pleasures with his strong and creative language. He is a master of understatement, as when he says: “In this country there have been times when it was not an advantage to be a Vietnam veteran.”

Steinberg’s comment about volunteering for Vietnam made me laugh aloud. “I’m Jewish,” he writes, “and Jews were not exactly lining up to volunteer for Vietnam.” Norwegian Lutherans were not doing that either. Many of us had to be drafted.

Steinberg served in several places in Vietnam, including the 184th Ordnance Battalion at Qu Nhon, the 25th Ordnance Detachment (EOD) at An Khe, and the 287th Ordnance Detachment in Phu Bai in Northern I Corps. He mentions the death of a friend from exposure to “herbicide” in Vietnam. He also says that he suffers from diabetes due to his exposure to Agent Orange. And has had bladder cancer, which the VA does not presume to be related to AO. Stuart Steinberg and I know better.

He includes a long, eloquent rant on the use of Agent Orange in Vietnam, which is more than worth the price of the book. As for the effectiveness of the toxic herbicide against the enemy, he says: “Fat fucking lot of good it did.”  The Viet Cong still came and went just as they pleased with nothing slowing them down enough to matter.  “Vietnam,” he writes, “is the war that just keeps on fucking killing.”

This is an edge-of-the-seat book in which the reader is right there with Steinberg as he disarms satchel charges, clears dead bodies for bobby traps, strips ordnance from bodies, and has to deal with the foul stench of rotting flesh while disposing dud RPG rounds and stick grenades of Chinese origin.

He uses vivid and honest language to describe what he saw. Steinberg thought it “a sick fucking war and the people who were in charge were twisted motherfuckers.” The war, he says, “will always be a mystery to me… Win what? What did we win?” That is what he asks those who say that we won that war.

Steinberg’s prose communicates “the long, hard, brutal, sweaty hours” of his job in Vietnam. His emotional honesty moved this reader when he discussed how he is trying to have a good third marriage and mend his relationship with his son.

He describes himself as a “uninformed dumbass” who should have been “by any measurement…dead and then some,” but who went on from Vietnam to get a law degree and become a capital crimes defense investigator in Oregon.

One thing I enjoyed about this memoir is his comment about Ham and Lima bean c rations—his favorite. “I was the only soldier in Vietnam who liked them,” he says.  I also loved his reference to Francis Scott Key’s “rocket’s red glare” at Fort McHenry. As an EOD operator, Steinberg saw plenty of that.

Steinberg went on to work as a veterans’ service officer, accredited by the VA to handle claims. One of his clients had bone cancer from AO exposure, perhaps the same Multiple Myeloma I have. I am sure Steinberg was an excellent advocate.

This is one of the most powerful memoirs of Vietnam it has been my good luck to read. Buy this book and read it.  It is the most honest Vietnam memoir since Ernest Spencer’s classic, Welcome to Vietnam Macho Man. It kicks ass and takes names.  

For ordering info, email vietnameod@thisiswhathelllookslike.com or go to http://thisiswhathelllookslike.com

—David Willson

Advertisements