The Box: A Memoir (Lockwood and Ludwick, 182 pp., $10, paper) by Lynne Lorine Ludwick is a tribute to the author’s uncle who was killed in action in Vietnam in 1968. Ludwick looked up to her “Uncle Eddy” Schultz, who was three years younger, as a friend, playmate, and schoolmate. He was “more like a brother,” she writes. She idolized him as “the good cowboy. The one who saves the day.”
Along with recalling happy memories of growing up with Eddy in California, Ludwick also describes the life of an unidentified Vietnamese man born at the same time as her uncle. The difference in the two men’s lives from birth until their confrontation on a battlefield were as opposite as peace and war. Eddy Schultz grew up in idyllic farming surroundings. His counterpart endured the turmoil leading to Vietnam freeing itself from French colonial control. At the age of fourteen, he joined the Viet Cong.
Ludwick’s writing about the Vietnam War, particularly antiwar protests, is different than anything I have read on the topic. Her prose reflects undercurrents of innocence, wonderment, anger, compassion, subdued outrage, sorrow, puzzlement, and revelation. At times, her mood takes command of the story, which makes the book both refreshing and enjoyable.
In describing combat action, she relies heavily on recollections of men who served with Eddy and saw him die. She met them at his unit’s reunions. She quotes from letters Eddy wrote to his parents, which do not speak of combat.
Eddy Schultz’s story is sadly familiar. Drafted into the Army in August, he completed basic and infantry AIT arrived in Vietnam in January 1968. Assigned to Dau Tieng, he served as an RTO on search and destroy operations. In response to the 1968 Tet Offensive, his battalion operated at an accelerated pace. The unit engaged in a six-day battle at Tan Hoa in mid-February, and soon after was ambushed at Hoc Mon where Eddy was killed.
The “box” of the title contained a gift indirectly sent to Ludwick from a Viet Cong soldier who had fought in the battle for Hoc Mon—more than forty years earlier. The gift prompted Ludwick to write the book.