James T. Lawrence’s Reflections on LZ Albany: The Agony of Vietnam (Deeds Publishing, 192 pp., $19.95, paper; $9.99, Kindle) is collection of rich personal essays, and is a different type of book on war.
The book captures the essence of the hearts of soldiers in combat, as well as the fears and challenges they faced. It is a book packed with true emotions from a man who was there in the early days of the Vietnam War.
Lawrence pulls the reader in with his opening essay, “The Band of Brothers,” introducing the bonds of brotherly love forged in the fires of combat. Lawrence is a former First Cavalry Division infantryman who bore the weight of leadership in combat. He survived a paralyzing head wound in the vicious fighting at Landing Zone Albany during the bloody November 1965 Battle of the Ia Drang Valley. While he was waiting in a medical tent with other wounded men he heard last rites being given amid the moans of men in severe pain.
Lawrence also brings the reader the joy of knowing war-time friendships—and the lasting sorrow of losing closing friends, something he describes in his rich essays “Conversations with a Tombstone,” “Voice from the Wall,” “The Premonition,” “Bringing in the Hueys,” and “Albany.” In “Just Don’t Ask Me,” Lawrence lays bare the pain of combat and suffering, and the realization of lines of civility being crossed during war that can never be uncrossed.
Lawrence brings rich feelings to the surface. The reader can almost see him searching for young love in “She’s Out There” and feeling something very different in “Dear John.” In the “Valley of the Shadow of Death,” he takes you into the triage tent with a chaplain. Lawrence’s prose immerses the reader in the intensity of the suffering in that dark and hot makeshift emergency room.
In “It’s All Over,” he describes what happens after he orders his first real meal in a restaurant after coming home from the war:
“And for the first time, the young ex-officer realized that the people back home, with the exception of family, had no idea what was going on in Southeast Asia and could care even less. He had been in a battle where over 150 of his colleagues had been killed and over 120 wounded, including himself, but nobody knew and nobody gave a damn.
“Now in his first day as an American civilian, he felt alone, isolated, unacknowledged, and unappreciated in a city of millions whose freedoms he thought he had fought to protect. And for the very first time, he asked himself a question. Why?”
Jim Lawrence has captured the soul of soldiers in war in Vietnam. He speaks truth to the emotions of those who fought so hard and paid such a price.
This is a must read for students and scholars And for political and military leaders to help them realize the costs they ask to be paid when they send troops into harm’s way.