From Chicago to Vietnam by Michael Duffy

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Michael Duffy received his draft notice at the age of nineteen. He served in Vietnam as an officer with Battery C in the 7th Battalion of the 9th Artillery. He started as a Forward Observer and Fire Direction Control Officer. In the fall of 1968 he was promoted to Executive Officer of this unit. Battery C consisted of six 105 millimeter howitzers that provided artillery support for the infantry in South Vietnam’s III Corps.

Those dry facts do not begin to show how brutal parts of Duffy’s tour of duty were or how lucky he was to survive. He arrived in Vietnam on January 31, 1968, the opening day of the Tet Offensive in South Vietnam. His duffelbag was lost. All he had was the suntan dress uniform he left the United States in—and no weapon.

Everyone kept telling Duffy that he looked like a target since he hadn’t even been issued his green fatigues. And he did stand out in the madhouse of small arms fire. Running to a helicopter heading for Binh Hoa, Duffy fell, scraping his hands and bloodying his knees. Bien Hoa was under attack so the helicopter landed elsewhere. So on that first day in country Duffy wound up being a mess, confused and befuddled from what befell him in Vietnam–and from three days with no sleep.

He was told again and again, “You’d better get a weapon,” but nobody had one for him. Duffy ended up having to steal a uniform. He ripped off the name tags and made it his own. Somehow he acquired an M-16.

When he arrived at Bearcat, the area was free of trees and foliage due to Agent Orange spraying.  Early on, Duffy’s brother, Danny, who was also serving in Vietnam in the Army, came to visit him for three days. That’s how the picture on the cover of From Chicago to Vietnam: A Memoir of War (Inkwater Press, 328 pp., $28.95, hardcover; $17.95, paper; $4.99, Kindle) came to be.

The late Danny Duffy is the smiling one on the left.  He survived his Vietnam War tour and the book is dedicated to him. Did Agent Orange kill him later? We are not told.

“Bearcat was never overrun while I was stationed there, and short of a few rocket attacks, it was a great place to spend your year in Vietnam,” Michael Duffy says. But his book is far from boring.  Perhaps it is because Duffy is a born storyteller. From Chicago to Vietnam is filled with great stories, and it seems that something exciting is happening in or near Bearcat for the entire time we are there.

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For this reason, I highly recommend his book to anyone with the slightest interest in the role of artillery in the Vietnam War. Duffy tells it all and every page is of interest.

Duffy also talks about his return to America where he realized his dream of attending college. He did well at Colorado College and after.

—David Willson

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