By page six of Dominick Yezzo’s A G.I.’s Vietnam Diary: A Journey Through Myself (iUniverse, 94 pp., $11.95 paper) I was totally hooked
The story: A week after he arrived in Vietnam in August of 1968, draftee Yezzo hiked several klicks outside of Camp Evans on an orientation patrol and did a hilltop night observation exercise. In the morning on the way home, the guy next to him screwed up a grenade-throwing drill, killed himself, and wounded Yezzo. Doctors in Quang Tri failed to remove shrapnel from his shoulder, and for the remainder of his tour Yezzo suffered recurring pain.
While recuperating on the hospital ship U.S.S. Repose, he met a childhood friend—a man completely paralyzed by shrapnel in his spine. Yezzo was like a G.I. Joe Btfsplk: If it weren’t for bad luck, he wouldn’t have had any luck at all.
As property of 1st Cav’s PSYOPS, Spec4 Yezzo ended up in Phouc Vinh where he found himself adrift in routine, dropping surrender leaflets from helicopters, chauffeuring a major who directed him into an enemy fusillade, guarding prisoners, pulling CQ and KP, and surviving rocket and mortar attacks that killed people around him.
As he put it: “I often wonder if Washington knows about rockets, mortars, bullets, life, death, and this tremendous suffering.” His topmost desire became surviving.
As a short-timer, Yezzo received little consideration from his career-minded superiors who “imposed their ills” upon him. Two months after Yezzo got a puppy from a friend, for example, an MP captain shot the dog to death. Yezzo confronted the captain and called him a “goddamn bum,” but avoided an insubordination charge.
Off duty, Yezzo spent more time with Vietnamese—fluctuating between loving and hating them—than he spent with Americans. A Vietnamese sergeant named So became his confidant. Yezzo’s insignificance was confirmed when he milked a short medical leave for extra days and “Nobody seem[ed] to care.”
After seven months in-country, Yezzo’s fear for his life led him to smoking dope. “Marijuana,” he writes, “is readily and very easily obtainable to every G.I. in Vietnam.” He also drank to escape from reality. Recognizing his weaknesses, he thought a lot about God and family. Years later, Yezzo’s “journey through himself” culminated in becoming a college literature professor and lawyer.
Yezzo, a VVA member, originally published this ultra-thin memoir of diary entries in 1974, and reprinted it this year. However, his experiences have a timeless quality.
A few of his accounts flashed me back to forgotten events. For example, Yezzo anguished over escorting the body of a Vietnamese boy killed by a booby trap to the boy’s mother. He wrote, “She hated the sight of me and the other Americans with me.” That made me recall airlifting a dead Vietnamese lieutenant to Dalat. His mother and father met our C-130 but refused to look at or speak to anyone on our crew. So it goes.
The book’s most revealing parts are Yezzo’s preoccupation with women: pen pals from home, platonic Vietnamese girlfriends, prostitutes, and bed partners from leave and R&R–particularly an Aussie woman to whom he devotes two full pages. He delighted me by asking, “How can I ever possibly marry one girl? I love so many of them, each for different reasons too.”
Dominick Yezzo’s long-ago immaturity reminded me that once upon a time all of us were equally as young. Yes, so it goes….