Vietnam to Iran 1969 by James Ellenberger

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James Ellenberger’s Vietnam to Iran, 1969 (Bowker, 197 pp., $30, paper; $3.99, Kindle) is unlike any other book I have read dealing with the Vietnam War. Fifty-one years ago James Ellenberger’s tour of duty in the Vietnam War ended. Instead of flying home to the U.S. on a military-provided plane and processing out of the army in California, he chose to take his Army discharge in Vietnam and travel from Saigon to Tehran via the vagabond route.

After being inducted into the Army in April 1967, Jim Ellenberger went to Officer Candidate School and was commissioned an infantry officer. When he arrived in Vietnam he was posted to the old Imperial Capital of Hue not quite a month after the big Tet 1968 battle. He headed a Civil Affairs platoon that worked with the refugees.

Ellenberger kept a journal during this time, which he sent home and his mother lovingly packed away. When he dug up the journal nearly fifty years later, he discovered that reading it brought back memories of that long-ago time. So Ellenberger decided to use the memories as the basis for this little book. He includes journal entries as he wrote them five decades ago with only minor edits. He writes that he enjoyed reliving those days—and I enjoyed reading the entries about them

I wrote a book, a novel called REMF Diary, based on my journals and diaries of this time. So I thought it would be fun to read this  book and make comparisons. It was fun, but this book is very different than mine. The biggest difference is that Vietnam to Iran contains a lot of small maps and many color photos.

The color photos of Thailand and the many temples and statues make his book seem like an issue of National Geographic. The photos are high quality and go well with the journal entries. The maps chronicle the areas he traveled. The adventurous Ellenberger wound up traveling to many places that are no longer possible to go to—or advisable to—including the Bamyan Valley in Afghanistan.

Vietnam to Iran is an artifact of a bygone age and deserves a place on the shelf of Vietnam War literature. I highly recommend it to folks who wish for a taste of the vagabond life.

–David Willson