Memoirs of a Grunt by Gary Henderson

Gary Henderson’s Memoirs of a Grunt: On The Ground In Vietnam 68/69, (117 pp. $19.95, Paper; $3.99, Kindle) is not a story-telling book but a cut-and-dried memoir that reads much like a journal or diary. Reading it, I learned a lot about what Henderson did during his tour of duty in Vietnam, but struggled to visualize much of it. Henderson arrived in-country on August, 13, 1968. Three days later we was assigned to C Company in the 1st Brigade, 1/327th Infantry, of the 101st Airborne Division at Fire Support Base Bastogne west of Hue. He was immediately given the nickname “Tennessee,” and thrown into the mix of daytime patrols and nighttime ambushes. Throughout this memoir Henderson shows us much of what many U.S. Army grunts experienced in the Vietnam War.

Memoirs of a Grunt has a useful glossary and a list of items (including their weight) regularly carried by most infantrymen. It also has an annotated map identifying some of the places where Henderson saw action—and pics, lots of pics. You can find more of Henderson’s pictures on his website.

It’s a truism that war is often made up of long periods of boredom punctuated by moments of terror. In his book Henderson writes mostly about that boredom. But don’t let that scare you away from reading it. He is so open and honest that some of what he reveals is downright embarrassing, including things that many of us have done, but elect not to discuss.

He writes about career soldiers’ penchant for volunteering for combat duty for the sole purpose of building their resumes—and receiving rank and decorations. What happened in Vietnam was that many of those who had rank didn’t have the experience or competence needed to lead men in combat or to make good life-and-death decisions.

On March 23, 1969, Henderson was badly wounded and medically evacuated. He spent nearly a year and a half recovering in hospitals in Japan and at Ft. Campbell undergoing five surgeries and then was medically discharged.

I enjoyed reading Memoirs of a Grunt. I now feel that I know Gary Henderson. I believe others will enjoy reading it as well.

–Bob Wartman

War Without End, Amen By Tim Coder

Tim Coder served with the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam in 1969-70 as an infantry squad leader and later with the 1st Battalion/3rd Brigade Information Office. War Without End, Amen: A Vietnam Story (CreateSpace, 518 pp., $18.99, paper; $$4.99, Kindle) is his first novel. It is not based on a true story. As the author says, “The people and the events in this book are products of the author’s imagination.”  

War Without End is a complex, well-written novel which goes back and forth between present-day America and war-time South Vietnam.

The character who links the past and the present is a ghost named Private Myron Senger. He died in Vietnam and since then has wandered there in the boonies “fighting gooks” stuck in a sort of purgatory.  “Wanna,” Senger whines constantly, both when he is alive and when he is a ghost.

“I’m too short for this,” he says at least a thousand times.  The “wanna” refers to his most-often whining plea to be assigned a job in the rear.

We are told that “it all started with Senger forgetting to pack a new radio battery.” He was the RTO, after insisting on being replaced as the point man because he was too short for that. He was also obsessed with not dying a virgin. That obsession is what led to forgetting the radio battery when his squad went out into the boonies at the behest of the colonel.

Tim Coder

This main point of the book is well distilled by the old saying that my Marine Corps father repeated over and over when I was a kid: “For want of the nail, the shoe was lost. For want of the shoe, the horse was lost,” and so on.  If there is a single point in this he novel, that could be it.

Senger’s lapse with the spare battery leads to the squad wandering in the wilderness of I Corps near the A Shau Valley for what seems like forever with “puny rations and no reliable source of water.” The events of that episode in their lives mark the two survivors for the rest of their miserable lives.

A Vietnam War literature rarity in this section is the introduction of an important Vietnamese character, Private Phong, an enemy deserter who we spend a lot of time with and who speaks increasingly good English. This section goes on a bit long, but is my favorite part of the book.

This novel is so huge and encompasses so much that I can’t begin to tell all that it contains, but I will attempt to give some of the flavor. ARVN troops are referred to as “worthless lousy ARVNs” and as “coward bastards.” A body count-obsessed colonel personifies the “lifers [who] order something dumb and everyone just goes along and follows the dumb-ass orders. Then people die.”

There are burning shit barrels sizzling in the rain, many references to peace demonstrators back home chanting “baby killers,”  C-rats (but no ham and limas), leeches, dinks, slopeheads, gooks, fragging, cutting off VC ears for trophies, cherry LT’s, the Domino Theory, Zippos, and “We Gotta Get Out of This Place.”  Not to mention,“It’s the only war we got.”   Also there are a slew of oddly named grunts: Christmas, Snake Eyes, Rosy, Ruby, Wanna, The Assassin, and The Jackal.

This is a novel with a strong moral conscience, expressed often by Murphy, the main character, who says, “Most every grunt scorned hardcore remfs. But most at one time or another would have sold their OD souls to be one.”

There it is.

—David Willson