Stories from two wars dominate Vietnam Beyond (Dorrance Publishing, 226 pp. $40, paper; $35, Kindle), a memoir by Gerald E. Augustine. In it, Augustine emphatically damns his year as an infantryman in the Vietnam War. He then recounts the incalculable price paid by his three sons, his wives, and himself a decades-long war with the physical and psychological effects they suffered because of his exposure to Agent Orange and wartime stresses.
The U.S. Army drafted Augustine in 1965 when he was “enjoying the best of times” during summer break from classes at the University of Connecticut, he says. Shortly after training, he went to Vietnam and served with the 196th Light Infantry Brigade and the 4th Infantry Division as a machine gunner and rifleman operating out of Tay Ninh and Dau Tieng during his 1966-67 tour of duty. After first building a base camp at Tay Ninh, his brigade underwent an almost nonstop cycle of ambush patrols and search-and-destroy missions.
Augustine repeats bits of what others have said about the Vietnam War, but his writing style’s directness and youthfulness freshen the topics. In a chapter titled “The Daily Grind,” he succinctly sums up the pros and cons of infantry life: the M16 rifle (absolutely new to him), jungle rot (on his private parts), humping equipment (he was his platoon’s pack mule), dealing with the locals (be kind to children), fire ants and snakes, and operations Attleboro, Cedar Falls, Gadsden, and Junction City.
He sums up his combat experiences by noting that he and his fellow troopers were “performing the tasks at hand in order to bring each other home alive. Individually we became extremely cautious.”
Augustine does not dwell on close calls. He does not labor over points of controversy; he states his opinions and moves on. He shows surprise and regret when men of authority misuse their power. He resignedly endured that type of exploitation in the Army and later in civilian life.
The second half of the book deals with Augustine’s post-war life. Except for his twenty-two months in the Army, he has lived for 76 years in Middletown. Again in a straightforward manner, he spells out exactly how marriage, parenthood, and financial responsibilities frequently overwhelmed him.
Marriage failures turned him into a workaholic. Eventually a series of hobbies provided touches of normalcy: bodybuilding, street rodding, running races, biathlon events, scoutmaster duties, veterans groups, and kayaking.
Gerald Augustine dedicates Vietnam Beyond, which includes many photographs he took in Vietnam, to all the recipients of the Combat Infantryman Badge.