4 out of 4 stars
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Deadly Waters: The Vietnam Naval War and Its Aftermath by Randy Miller is a story of one seaman’s experience in Vietnam. Like many young men of the time, young Zack Martin enlists in the United States Navy to serve his country. He prepares to leave his simple farming town and says goodbye to his girlfriend, Tally. She promises to wait for his return. Zack is assigned to a naval destroyer that is charged with escorting a carrier near the Mekong Delta in southern Vietnam. His unit sees plenty of combat, and he quickly learns from other sailors how to effectively provide fire support and other protective maneuvers for ground troops fighting in the jungle. The war progresses, as all wars do, with units rotating in and out of combat missions. As Zach returns home, he looks forward to starting a family and living a quiet life in rural Vermont. Little does he know that the atrocities he witnessed at the hands of the Viet Cong and his memories of combat are only the beginning of his struggle to recover from his experiences in Vietnam.
I chose this book because I am both Vietnamese and a veteran of the U.S. Army. I knew I would find some aspect of familiarity in any historical fiction about the Vietnam War. I was not disappointed, and every expectation I had was exceeded in this story. In the opening chapters, the writing style is very technical, and the intricate daily life on naval ships is explained in such detail that readers unfamiliar with the military can easily follow the story. I found Miller’s depictions of military rivalries and rank structures to be very accurate. One of the first things I noticed was the imagery and contrasts the author used. The beautiful, pristine coastlines of Vietnam give way to the raiding and maiming of civilians. Miles of tunnels transport enemy supplies beneath beautiful mountains and plentiful farmland. Young children work for the Viet Cong. Nothing, it seems, is as it appears.
What I liked most about this book was the way the characters were brought to life. I found the protagonist and supporting characters to be very believable and through them, readers can see and feel the comprehensive effects of war. Most readers are familiar with the unconventional warfare encountered in Vietnam, the widespread protests, and the PTSD that plagued many returning servicemen. The author effectively highlights these issues through the characters’ interactions. Hearing about these experiences in other books did not evoke the raw emotion I felt while reading about Zack’s encounter with the Viet Cong or his feelings of betrayal by the country he gave so much to defend. Likewise, the brotherly bond he shared with his shipmates and fulfillment he found with his true love is also accentuated here.
Perhaps what is not as widely understood is the devastating impact of Agent Orange. Most people have heard of it. Some people can describe it. Very few have a thorough understanding of the profound impact it has had - both on the millions of Vietnamese civilians and on our own troops This is portrayed very vividly for readers as the plot shifts from surviving combat to overcoming the effects of Agent Orange years later. On several occasions, I had to put the book down because I felt the weight of Zack’s burden and the anguish many servicemen must have felt during this time. In no other situation is loyalty more valued than military combat. Our troops deserve nothing less from their leaders. I applaud this author for showing readers that it is more than PTSD. More than war atrocities or injuries they sustained. I more clearly understand why many Vietnam veterans refuse to talk in detail about their experiences.
Although there are a few minor mistakes in grammar, the book seems professionally edited, and these errors did not distract from the overall flow of the story. The only negative thing I can say about this book is that I would have appreciated some maps of Vietnam for reference. I was curious about where the stations were located in Vietnam and the Philippines. Other than this, this story was both an informative read and an emotional experience. I gladly give this book 4 out of 4 stars for the author’s ability to illustrate history through fictional characters who represent many, many Americans. This is one read that will make readers think long after the story has ended. I recommend this book for all readers, especially those who like historical fiction. It should be noted that the story includes graphic depictions of war and may not be appropriate for younger readers.
Deadly Waters: The Vietnam Naval War And Its Aftermath
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