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Saturday, October 2, 2010

Quotes that are sticking with me, from two Vietnam books

I don't often share specific quotes from the books I'm reading/listening to but two particular passages have stuck with me over recent weeks.  They are both from Vietnam War memoirs, and though very different they each speak about the best parts of men in battle.

From We Are Soldiers Still (audio disk 4, track 3):

We are Soldiers Still CD: A Journey Back to the Battlefields of VietnamI yelled at him, 'Gimme some water!" I was really thirsty. The guy looked at me and said, "You're shot in the stomach, I can't give you water." 

So I asked him for some morphine. I told him I'd used mine up on the other wounded and it really hurts. He said, "You're shot in the head, I can't give you morphine." 

So I said, "Well then, give me a cigarette." He gave me that.

This section was read by the narrator with a laugh in his voice, and honestly it made me laugh out loud as well.  It is so completely outrageous and horrible, yet the guy it happened to seemed to take it all in stride.

From Once A Warrior King (page 153):
Once a Warrior King
[During an intense firefight in Vietnam Lt. Donovan recalls a lesson he learned in Officer Candidate School.]

[Major] Herbert said, "If your troops are down and won't move, you simply have to stand up and lead by personal example.  You have to calmly walk over and talk with your squad leaders, urge the men up, and give a personal demonstration that the danger isn't as bad as they thought."

"But sir," I had protested, "we're talking about really heavy stuff coming in. What if the fire is so hot you can't get up? You can't just stand up in a hail of bullets! You'd be cut to pieces!"

Major Herbert looked me dead in the eye and said, "You know that every enlisted man in this army has to salute an officer when he goes by?"

"Yes, sir." 

You know about the O-clubs, the BOQ's, and other privileges officers are given in this army?"

"Yes, sir."

"You know that you'll get better pay and housing than enlisted men who often have twice the knowledge and ten times the experience you do?"

"Yes, sir," I replied again, beginning to feel somewhat chagrined.

"Well, in point of fact you stand the risk of having to earn every little perk you ever get.  When all the chips are down, when the privates won't move and the sargeants won't move and fear has taken over everything, all the responsibility falls on your shoulders.  That's why you have the commission and they don't.  You took the rank, you took the priveleges, now you have to pay your dues.  You've got to stand up and by God lead those men! [...] You just remember this: the day you have to be the first one to stand up and say, 'Follow me,' that's the day you will earn every salute you ever get."

That quote reminds me so much of the movie We Were Soldiers, when Sgt. Maj. Plumley (played by Sam Elliot) walks around straight and tall while the rest of the men are lying on the ground.  That wasn't artistic license - according to the book (which I reviewed here) that's exactly what Plumley did.

My reviews of both of these books are coming in the next week or so, in case I've peaked your interest ...


Robin McCormack said...

Powerful quote from Once a Warrior King. Thanks for sharing.

Sheila (Bookjourney) said...

These sound great Heather. The first one made me think of a scene in Saving Private Ryan.

Heather J. said...

Robin - Yes, that one is really sticking with me.

Sheila - Ooh, yes, I can see that.

Anna (Diary of an Eccentric) said...

Can't wait for your reviews!

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