Marc Levy’s The Best of Medic in the Green Time: Writings from the Vietnam War and Its Aftermath (Winter Street Press, 563 pp. $24, paper) is a kaleidoscopic book of stories written by Levy and others. Kaleidoscopically, these colorful stories burst out in all directions. They’re collected from a website that Levy, who served as a medic with the First Cavalry Division in the Vietnam War, started in 2007.
The stories, poems, essays, recollections, and reflections are divided into three sections: War, Poetry, and Postwar. There are more than seventy stories in all, three-fourths written by Levy.
Here is some of what we encounter in the opening section on the Vietnam War. A casualty of friendly fire, the first man Levy has to patch up. How to make morning GI coffee. Inflated body counts. Souvenirs taken from the dead. Medals awarded to appease grieving families. Coincidences that save lives. Men voluntarily returning to the war because they missed the adrenaline rush.
Several stories describe extreme combat at a personal level. A buddy dying in Levy’s arms. The attacking Viet Cong dressed only in loin cloths. Men giving themselves self-inflicted wounds to try to keep from returning to combat.
The poems are a mixed bag; some of the best are written by Levy. In “He Would Tell You,” for example, he writes:
Let me never tell you
Things you cannot know
Let me never tell you
Things that won’t let go.
“Portrait of a Young Girl at Dawn” ends with:
They haul her in.
Beneath the whirling blades
She is spinning, spinning
She is floating away.
“Dead Letter Day,” begins: “He sent the letter to the guy’s wife/The same day,/Leaving out the following:”
We then learn the truth of the man’s death. Things his widow must never know.
One of the best poems, by Tom Laaser, is “Things I Think About at 11:11 on November the 11th”. In it, a man is attending yet another program for vets in a high-school auditorium and he’s conflicted. He senses that he does not want to be a veteran,
But the second that god damn flag is unfurled
And that crappy high school band strikes up you
Give way to unyielding patriotism of the highest degree.
I bled for this
You want to scream.
I am a veteran. This is MY country. I earned this freedom.
The third part, “Postwar,” includes a small section on combat humor, as well as one on how to talk to college students about the war, and one on the symptoms and treatments of PTSD because, as Levy writes, “Whatever you did in war will always be with you.” An especially interesting section includes comments from dozens of veterans describing what they think when some well-meaning person says, “Thank you for your service.”
It’s a phrase Levy considers to be “petty.”
This is a great book because of the well-written variety of stories and topics Levy covers. It’s also great because of how it’s put together. There is no reason to read the more than seventy chapters in order. Dig in and skip around any way you choose.
A kaleidoscope of stories awaits you.
Marc Levy’s website, Medic in the Green Time, is medicinthegreentime.com