Not All heroes by Gary E. Skogen

Gary Skogen, who is retired from the L.A. Police Department, served with the U.S. Army’s Criminal Investigation Division in Vietnam from 1971-72. He considers his twelve months in Vietnam one of the best years of his life. Skogen’s Not All Heroes: An Unapologetic Memoir of the Vietnam War, 1971-1972 (Dakota Institute, 258 pp., $29.95) is what the publisher calls an “unconventional, un-heroic, and unapologetic memoir of his time in Vietnam.”

Skogen’s tour was devoted to dealing with the rampant drug use among the troops, primarily marijuana and heroin. His book focuses on the dark underbelly of the war in Vietnam. He makes the point that the stereotype seen in movies and television shows of all soldiers in Vietnam being out in the boonies covered with mud and in serious jeopardy day and night is far from the war that most of us experienced.

Eighty percent of those who served in Vietnam saw little or no combat. That includes many of those who died from mortar and rocket attacks, friendly fire, drug overdoses, Jeep accidents, or hundreds of other ways.

As the cover blurb tells us, Not All Heroes describes a U. S. Army in free-fall, corroded by two-dollar heroin, 33-cent prostitutes, tense race relations, and an epidemic of fraggings. We are told this book shows us the “real war” in South Vietnam.

Keep in mind, though, that this was the war that was real to Skogen, not the war hundreds of thousands of other Vietnam veterans experienced.  There were many experiences in the Vietnam War and this is just one of them. All of them, in fact, were “real.”

Not All Heroes is organized into eleven chapters and an afterword. All of the chapters contain material that left me scratching my head in wonderment. But chapter four— “Settling In: A .38, a Blowjob, A Hooch, and A Jeep”—took my breath away.

I highly recommend this memoir to those who spent a boring tour of duty typing and filing memos, and to those who never saw any excessive behavior of the sort that is displayed in chapter after chapter of this well-written and totally believable book. It’s very likely that Skogen kept detailed records of his time in Vietnam, as the facts of the cases he writes about are obviously not invented.

I am tempted to buy this book for my mother and sister, as this is how they thought I spent my tour of duty: chasing whores and surrounded by drug use. In fact, I never saw even one heroin vial—or received a single blowjob. Today, more than forty years after the fact, I sometimes wonder if I was even in Vietnam.

—David Willson