The simple fact is that Forrest R. Lindsey’s memoir— In Country: My Memories of Vietnam and After (Dorrance, 198 pp. $47, hardover; $36, paper; $34, Kindle)—is a confession. In it, Lindsey chronicles his transformation from a nearsighted, skinny 20-year-old to a dispassionate killer.
Lindsey tells his history with little interference from his ego. He mainly presents facts to the reader, and the most telling is: “I had picked up the habit of shooting whoever I hit after they went down, usually a burst of three rounds, just to make sure he stayed down.”
By the time that habit was ingrained, he had come to believe that death wasn’t that frightening and that “when you’re dead, you’re dead.”
A 1965 enlistee in the U.S. Marine Corps, Lindsey arrived in Phu Bai in January 1966 and progressed from an accident-prone 5-ton truck driver to an OJT artilleryman, a gunner, and then a scout with an Artillery Forward Observer Team as part of Echo Company of the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines. He extended his 13-month tour to move up to the scout level where, along with directing supporting artillery, he became a rifleman.
“Grunts had their own uniquely dangerous war,” he says. They “were always active. Every single day was spent out in the field and patrolling, looking for the enemy.” Lindsey was amazed to learn that all of his fellow grunts had been wounded—many as many as three times, which automatically qualified them to go home—but they self-doctored minor wounds so they could stay with the unit.
Ignoring regulations, Lindsey continued to use an M-14 rifle after American forces converted to the M-16. More than once, Marines looked to him for the riflery magic their weapons could not provide.
Lindsey took part in 19 operations before being wounded in May 1967. He writes about a Marine attack on a suspected Viet Cong battalion headquarters that easily qualified as a walk through hell. “I won’t describe what I saw,” he says, after watching an overhead 155-mm-howitzer-round booby-trap kill a dozen Marines and wound many more.
He is less hesitant to discuss his own wound—a “comminuted fracture” from a bullet that pulverized his thigh bone into a cloud of fragments. Surgeons put him in a full body cast and saved his leg. His two years in a hospital were nearly as horrid as his time in combat except that the new enemy consisted of Navy and Air Force nurses who outranked enlisted men and haughitly ignored their needs.
Discharged from the Marine Corps when his four-year enlistment ended, Lindsey finished rehabilitating his leg, went through post-traumatic stress, enrolled in college, married, divorced, and drank too much. In 1973, the Marine Corps invited him back and commissioned him as a lieutenant. After becoming an artillery battalion commander and serving a total of 27 years, Lindsey retired as a lieutenant colonel in 1996.
He says he has no regrets for his actions in the Vietnam War, and feels strong compassion for wounded and dead Marines. “The Marine Corps exists to kill people or to be killed in the process of killing people,” he says.
Although In Country initially offers the standard war memori litany of arriving in Nam, eating C-rations, and taking cold showers, Lindsey’s recollections about his three jobs and medical treatment presented surprises and facts that were new to me.
Forest Lindsey’s experiences went well beyond what most Vietnam War veterans encountered.