Library Thing

Library Thing

FXPhotoStudioExportedImage 6

By Jack McLean
Ballantine Books/Presidio Press, $25, 244 pages Thing


The year is 1966, and Jack McLean is deciding what to do with his future. After attending the prestigious Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, five colleges deny him admission. A short break from school seems like a good idea so McLean opts for a two-year stint with the United States Marine Corps much to the bewilderment of his parents.

The reader is led from boot camp through war and back home again. Thinking back on the Viet Nam era, I was completely absorbed in what McLean had to say. I suppose that people who have engaged in active combat cannot easily share the horrible reality of it with others so they may often choose not to. It is with great humility that I read a book such as this. McLean was a young man who, whether he intended or not, put his life on the line for his country. At first, I thought that McLean’s story was just skimming the surface of what needed to be said. By the time McLean arrived in Viet Nam, however, the story became so gripping that I could not put the book down until I finished it. The story was neither too technical nor too gory. It was mostly thoughtful – a look back at a young man’s decision and how it affected his life immediately afterward.

I know the Viet Nam era is past history, but for me it was a time of turmoil and the right to express my antagonism to the war. How little did I appreciate the opposite side of the equation! By the end of this book, McLean was out of the war. He was already home, but the agony of his homecoming and the oddity of his being a Viet Nam vet among college students of the 60's caught me in a stranglehold. My reaction to McLean’s recalling this was my wanting to shout out “Thank you” to the author for sharing his story and to tell him how proud I was of his service even though, many years ago, I might not have told him so.

My favorite quote from the book is this: 'My lesson for that day was that the line between life and death was random and arbitrary. I elected not to share that revelation with my mother.' At the time of the Viet Nam war, I was a student and then a young working professional. Now I am a mother. Looking back on the Viet Nam war experience after 40 years is a strange experience but one which I'm glad the author forced me to do.   

More reviews... © Jack Mclean 2013