New York Post

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New York Post



Last Updated: 3:10 AM, May 24, 2009

Posted: 3:10 AM, May 24, 2009

It was something of a shock to his family and friends when Jack McLean enlisted in the Marines in 1966. "Kids like me didn't go to Vietnam," he writes in this memoir.

What kind of kid was he?

Raised in New Jersey, McLean was shipped off to the tony Andover prep school, where George W. Bush was a schoolmate. Long before he served in Vietnam, McLean's parents had been there -- his father worked for John D. Rockefeller -- where they sat with then-President Diem of South Vietnam at a banquet.

After barely graduating from Andover, and going "oh-for-five" in college admissions, McLean turned to the military on the cusp of the American troop buildup in Vietnam. He admits he didn't know much about or give too much thought to Vietnam, where he had a pretty good chance of going.

It was a rude awakening for this son of privilege, who in one of the most riveting passages in the book, is beaten and choked by his Parris Island drill sergeant one time because he held his rifle with his left hand instead of his right.

But the harsh treatment turned this kid with no direction into a US Marine. "The lessons of Parris Island were incalculable," he writes, "and I have no doubt that they saved my life time and again while I was under enemy fire in Vietnam."

The "Loon" of the title refers to Landing Zone Loon, the sight of a particularly bloody, deadly three-day battle in June 1968 -- of the 300 Americans involved, nearly half were killed or wounded.

His description of packing and suiting up for battle are vivid: " . . . one claymore mine with detonator and wire, a clean pair of socks . . . four rolls of 35 mm film, a block of C-4 plastic explosive, two blasting caps, bags of loose candy left over from my 21st birthday the week before . . ."

The battle is dutifully recalled and described. But while he mourns for his fellow Marines who died, sometimes we don't get to know them well enough to care as much as we should.

McLean glosses over the '60s with a few "Ozzie and Harriet"-referenced clichés and gives short shrift to the antiwar movement with a cursory mention of Muhammad Ali's "I ain't got no quarrel with them Vietcong."

But McLean, who ended up at Harvard after his discharge (his getting the acceptance letter in the field is a wonderful image), is strongest when discussing the brotherhood of the Marines Corp, which -- despite the pleasures of his upper-class upbringing -- was ultimately where he felt most at home.


A Marine Story

By Jack McLean

Ballantine Books

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