Lincoln (NE) Journal

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Lincoln (NE) Journal

Marine's Vietnam memoir impossible to put down..

("Loon, A Marine Story" by Jack McLean, Ballantine Books, 240 Pages, $25).

More than 50 years have passed since Americans first started becoming familiar with an otherwise obscure Southeast Asian piece of geography called Vietnam. In those days, the national focus was on Korea. Decades later, the United States is still rightly on edge about Korea.

But as for a now-peaceful communist Vietnam, Americans today regularly go there as tourists. It's often only by a melancholy visit to that long, black, granite memorial gash in Washington, D.C., containing more than 58,000 names of the slain, that we're forever reminded of the Vietnam nightmare.

"Loon" makes that agony very clear. Terrible days of combat and human sacrifice are graphically recounted here. This is charged, raw reportage. It is impossible to set aside.

Unable to get into a desired college after he graduates from the elite prep school of Phillips Academy Andover in 1966, and really almost as a lark, young Jack McLean enlists in the Marine Corps for 24 months. Nine of those months he ends up in Vietnam. He participates in some of the war's most desperate fighting. McLean suspects his later-in-life diabetes came from contact with Agent Orange. For years, he also has picked tiny metal pieces from his body caused by an explosion.

Of the 180 Marines deliberately posted at Landing Zone Loon, provocatively in the midst of many more North Vietnam regulars, "only 60 of us came off the hill" after three days of intense fighting, McLean writes. The discipline the Marine Corps had hammered into McLean during his recruit training at Parris Island surely helped him survive. It absolutely changed him permanently. Bonds forged with Marine comrades, those who also lived, those with only names on the memorial's walls, are unshakable.

McLean was the first Vietnam veteran to attend Harvard, an uncomfortable place for warriors. But the war never truly faded, even as he sought to get on with his life. Thirty-five years passed. Then, encouraged by his mother and his second wife, McLean finally looked at the 100-plus letters he'd written from 1966 to 1968. Those shattering experiences became the source of this thoroughly compelling memoir.

One need not be a Marine veteran to recognize a classic, which this is.

Dick Herman is a retired Lincoln Journal Star editorial page editor.

Posted in Arts-and-theatre on Tuesday, August 25, 2009 10:50 pm Updated: 2:56 pm.

More reviews... © Jack Mclean 2013