Landing Zone by Carlos Arce

Carlos Arce, the author of the multi-volume Landing Zone (983 pp. HEDSA Publishing, Kindle), describes the work as an “illustrated serial-novel about the Vietnam War written by a disabled combat infantry veteran who served in the war during 1969-1970.” The novel is divided into seven volumes with 41 chapters and tells Arce’s substantially autobiographical story. While they are tied together, Arce says that each chapter is also intended to stand as its own story.

What sets this novel apart is the inclusion of 642 photographs, drawings, and graphs pulled from the Internet. The illustrations give the novel an encyclopedic nature. When Arce mentions a weapon in his story you can be sure you’ll see a picture of it on the next page. Same with Agent Orange, snakes, and other Vietnam War things he encountered in Vietnam.

In Volume 1: The Beginning (which we reviewed in these pages in 2016), main character George Vida knows what’s in store when he receives orders to report to Oakland, California, in July 1969. He says he felt “afraid to be afraid.” He had enjoyed his Army training, though, and thought it was “fun” to shoot an M-16 in fully automatic mode and to jump out of airplanes. After his arrival in South Vietnam at Tan Son Nhut, the air base the base comes under rocket attack. Vida is knocked to the ground and a guy he had made friends with on the plane is killed.

He’s assigned to the First Air Cavalry Division and is sent to another reception center where he says he received “a crash course on how to go to war.” He’s told to not trust any Vietnamese and quickly realizes that just about everything around him is an extreme threat. He doesn’t feel better when he’s told he’ll be spending most of his time in the jungle.

In Volume 2: The Shock, Vida’s sent out into the field and it’s not long before he sees engages in hand-to-hand fighting with an enemy soldier that involves the two of them biting each other. He casually notes that in hand-to-hand fighting Americans have an edge because of their larger stature.

In Volume 3: Survival, Vida finds himself aboard a helicopter with two uncooperative Vietnamese prisoners. He watches in horror as one of them is thrown out. That’s an awful lot of action for one guy to have experienced in such a relatively short period of time. Arce addresses that by saying the story is based on things he saw and experienced, as well as things other soldiers told him.

One thing that’s similar to many other Vietnam War stories is that the moment Vida meets an Army nurse she is immediately attracted to him.

Volume 4: Resignation finds Vida enjoying his R&R in Bangkok. The three remaining volumes get us back into action, along with ruminations about what the war was really all about. Arce provides a brief history of the war, talks about why the U.S. did not succeed, and goes over our overall military strategy.  

The concluding volume has Vida returning home in mid-1970. We then read, decades after his service, about his feelings about the antiwar movement, the use of Agent Orange, and present-day veteran suicides.

With its illustrations, stories, and historic information, this book is a one-stop shop, especially for those with little knowledge about the Vietnam War.

Carlos Arce concludes this book, which was a labor of love for him, by saying: “I will struggle with my memories and the pain that will always be there, but I was proud then and I am proud now. I was an American soldier and I did what I had to do.”

–Bill McCloud

Landing Zone by Carlos L. Arce

 

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Landing Zone is the title of an illustrated serial novel about the Vietnam War by Carlos Arce, a disabled veteran who served in the war from 1969-70 with an Airborne Ranger Special Operations Unit of the First Cavalry Division. Landing Zone: The Beginning (HEDSA Publishing, $2.99, Kindle) is Arce’s first book on the war in Vietnam. He tells his story with words, photos, maps, and diagrams.

Arce’s choice to use an augmented text results in the clearest introduction to the life of a soldier in Vietnam that has yet been published. This volume is a tiny piece of the total story. We follow Pvt. Vida from the time he receives his orders to report to the Oakland Army Base on July 20, 1969. His alarm clock wakes him up at 5:00 a.m.

On page 95, we leave Pvt. Vida behind until we get the next volume in this novel.  Chapter 8, “The American Killing Machine,” involves the private getting in-country training in how to kill people. He is yelled at by Master Sgt. Scalia. To wit: “You are here to kill gooks. You are not here to feel sorry for anyone. Never mind what anyone tells you; you are not here to pacify people. You must understand you are here to kill, to kill—you are here to kill.”

So the novel goes. I enjoyed much of it. The illustrations eliminate all confusion about what a flak jacket looks like. We also are shown illustrations of American soldiers receiving “paid manual sexual favors.” We are told that girls were kept in closed, prison-like conditions. “The operations belonged to warlord Vietnamese generals and were run by iron-fisted Mama Sangs; they operated inside American military bases, as American slave brothels.”

My tour of duty took place too early to witness that, I guess. Certainly the scene that Arce describes is not what I saw when I was in Vietnam.

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The author

Acre also describes a war zone in which dope is easily available everywhere and most guys are using it. American fire power gets a lot of respect. Daisy cutters and Rome Plows seem to make it more than likely we will win the war against a corrupt people who lack our resources. Baby Killers are mentioned.

For those who wish to read a detailed, illustrated novel of the war, I suspect that no author will top this series in those respects, once all seven books are available.

Readers who are obsessed with commas and semicolons being used correctly will be bothered. But are there many folks like that even left in this modern world?

—David Willson