Going to See the Elephant by H.R. McCoy

H.R. McCoy served in Vietnam with the 3rd of the 39th Infantry in the Army’s 9th Infantry Division. “I needed to tell our story, the story of the combat soldier in Viet Nam, the man that did his best in a war not of his making, nor of his liking,”  McCoy writes in Going to See the Elephant (CreateSpace, 388 pp., $16, paper).

In the novel’s “forward” we are told that “the veterans of the Viet Nam War have not forgotten that they were forced to fight a war that could not be won the way it was fought.” McCoy goes on to describe American soldiers in Vietnam as “a stalwart band of young men, determined to do our best to root out Communism.”

The story in this adventure novel begins in Key West, Florida, in May 2015, so the entire novel is futuristic. There are sizable and frequent scenes in which Bill, the main character, drifts off and gives the reader a couple of pages of recon war experiences. Those are well-written, believable, and engrossing.

McCoy rants about the poor leadership during the war—rants I tend to sympathize with. Such as the fact that the war was “run by a bunch of old men using outdated tactics and no understanding of the enemy.”

He also complains that the news media told lies to the American people about the Tet Offensive, making the public believe that Tet was a defeat for Americans, when it was an overwhelming victory. The comments about how the U. S. government sprayed us with defoliants and then denied any connection between the spraying and the cancers Vietnam veterans developed later hit home with me.

U.S. troops during the 1968 Tet Offensive

“Repeat after me, young man,” McCoy writes, “‘The Army does not give a flying shit about you.’  You represent mere cannon fodder to them.” Hard to argue with that.

Bill becomes involved in a plan to go back to Vietnam and win the war, using what he learned forty years ago to do things right this time. He says American troops were forced to fight a worthless war, but they will form a group of old infantrymen who “shared the dream of making Viet Nam free.”

They put together a fighting force of 9,600 men in thirty-two camps in Vietnam. The way it is done causes me to label this book the most preposterous of all the Vietnam War-related novels I’ve ever read. The war veterans drift into Vietnam as members of tour groups, or as individual tourists. They arm themselves by buying weapons on the economy to start, and later by taking them from the Vietnamese military.

Today’s Vietnamese communist army is no match for these men in their sixties. This small army captures five choppers, fourteen deuce-and-a-half trucks loaded with weapons, and six jeeps with machine guns. They begin to wreak havoc on the Vietnamese army, aided by some of the local population who are sick of communism.

At one point, Bill asks the reader, “Would we be judged misfits, crackpots, and just another group of crazy Viet Nam vets?”  I won’t give away the answer to that question.

If you’ve hungered to go back to Vietnam to fight again, unencumbered by the leadership of William Westmoreland, perhaps this wish-fulfillment book is for you.

—David Willson

 

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