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Loon: A Marine Story    by Jack McLean

Order:  USA  Can

Ballantine, 2010 (2009)
Hardcover, Paperback, e-Book

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     Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Jack McLean's Loon: A Marine Story intrigued me, both as a mother of young men roughly the same age as he was in Viet Nam, and as someone who lived through the sixties. At the time, as an observer of events, I admired those who served their country as well as the young people who passionately protested against the war - both had the courage to follow their convictions.

McLean was an unusual Marine, having enlisted (for two years) in spring 1966, just out of prep school - Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. His service culminated in June, 1968 in the three day battle over 'Hill 672, part of a rugged series of foothills southwest of Khe Sanh that protected the borders of both North Vietnam and Laos. For those of us who survived the coming three days of horror, it would become forever known as LZ Loon, or simply Loon.'

In his compelling memoir, McLean shares what it was like to attend boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina ('Count me among the scared shitless'). He explains that 'it was necessary - critical - that each recruit be immediately and fiercely torn down as far as he could be taken and then slowly - ever so slowly - brought back up as an operating unit of the larger whole.' At the end 'the whole was considerably stronger than the sum of its parts.' McLean tells us that the Marine motto, Gung Ho, is Chinese for working together.

Next, at age nineteen, he was sent to supply school and on to stateside duty in Barstow, California. There he befriended Sid MacLeod, who desperately wanted to serve in Vietnam (and died there six months after arrival). In November 1967, they shipped out to Vietnam. All too soon, McLean became the salty veteran mentoring new kids and realizing - but not sharing in letters home - that 'the line between life and death was random and arbitrary.' At the same time, it was clear that the 'antiwar drumbeats back home were increasing.'

McLean was exposed to Agent Orange and tells us that 'legions of us would contract diabetes (myself included), have children with birth defects, and suffer all manner of physical maladies that could be traced directly back to the chemical dioxin - the active ingredient in both Agent Orange and napalm.' As Johnson's presidency ended, McLean and his peers began wondering of their presence in Vietnam, 'What the hell were we doing there?' Then came LZ Loon, one of the biggest battle of the war, leaving most of McLean's company dead or wounded.

McLean returned home to become the first Vietnam veteran to study at Harvard. But he found 'there was nothing at all pleasing about being identified as a veteran of the Vietnam War - even among family.Loon: A Marine Story is an inspiring, enlightening, and informative account for those of us who lived through the sixties - and a terrifying one for any parent of a son or daughter serving their country in wartime. It deserves a wide audience.

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