Vietnam Revisited in Fiction, Memoir and Photography

Book cover for The Things They Carried by Tim O'BrienThe things they carried were largely determined by necessity. Among the necessities were P-38 can openers, pocket knives, heat tabs, wristwatches, dog tags, mosquito repellent, chewing gum, candy, cigarettes, salt tablets, packets of Kool-Aid, lighters, matches, sewing kits, Military Payment Certificates, C rations, and two to three canteens of water.”  From “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien.

The legacy of Vietnam — the war, the social unrest at home, the 1960s, the political landscape — is still vivid today, 37 years after the war officially ended. My father was a Vietnam Veteran, having served “in country” from March of 1968-February 1969. He did not talk much about his military service, but he used Vietnam War fiction and memoirs to communicate the experiences that he and two million other American men and women faced while in Southeast Asia. The books he picked were powerful, well written and often very personal.

The list below is a small sampling of the Vietnam War literature available and includes several of my father’s must-reads. If, in the course of your reading, you need background information or want to find additional firsthand accounts, be sure to visit the library’s rich collection of nonfiction material on the Vietnam War (call number range 959.704 – 959.7043). And join us at the Columbia Public Library at 7:00 p.m. on May 15 for Vietnam Revisited, a presentation of photographs and video clips of war veteran David Buhr’s return trip to the country in 2008.

Book cover for If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me up and Ship Me Home by Tim O'BrienTim O’Brien, noted author and veteran, has written of Vietnam in both fiction and nonfiction works. His powerful memoir “If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home” was published in 1973 just a few years after he returned home from Vietnam. He followed this with two books of fiction, “Going After Cacciato,” winner of the 1979 National Book Award, and “The Things They Carried,” a collection of short stories focusing on a platoon of American soldiers.

Book cover for Matterhorn by Karl MarlantesMatterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War” is a debut novel by Karl Marlantes, a decorated Marine who served in Vietnam. The story follows Waino Mellas, a young Marine second lieutenant newly arrived in Vietnam and sent to Matterhorn, a fire support base near Laos and the border with North Vietnam.

Book cover for A Rumor of War by Philip J. CaputoA Rumor of War” by Philip Caputo details the author’s experience undergoing Marine training at Quantico and then his experience as a Marine Lieutenant with one of the first U.S. combat units sent to Vietnam in 1965.

Book cover for Fields of Fire by James WebbFields of Fire”  by James Webb, Vietnam veteran, journalist and currently a U.S. Senator from Virginia, is considered a classic novel of the Vietnam War. The story examines the lives of three men serving with a Marine platoon in Vietnam in 1969.

For more books check out the Vietnam War book list in the library’s catalog.

About Bill S

Bill is a reader, runner, and library school practicum student. Favorites include Vonnegut, Twain, Brooks, Oliver, and, of course, Spiderman.
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