Alpha One Sixteen
A Combat Infantryman's Year in Vietnam
In this “great and necessary addition to the canon of Vietnam War memoirs” the author “is a thoroughly human Virgil guiding us through the hell of combat” (New York Journal of Books).
Peter Clark’s year in Vietnam began in July 1966, when he was shipped out with hundreds of other young recruits as a replacement in the 1st Infantry Division. Assigned to the Alpha Company, Clark gives a visceral and vivid account of life in the platoon as he progresses from green recruit to seasoned soldier over the course of a year.
Alpha One Sixteen follows Clark as he discovers how to handle the daily confusion of distinguishing combatants from civilians. The Viet Cong were a largely unseen enemy who fought a guerrilla war, setting traps and landmines everywhere. As he continues his journey, Clark gradually learns the techniques for coping with the daily horrors he encounters, the technical skills needed to fight and survive, and how to deal with the awful reality of civilian casualties.
Fighting aside, it rained almost every day, and insect bites constantly plagued the soldiers as they moved through dense jungle, muddy rice paddies, and sandy roads. From the food they ate to the inventive ways they managed to shower—and the off-duty time they spent in the bars of Tokyo—every aspect of the platoon’s lives is explored in this revealing book.
A Military Book Club main selection.
Clark's detailed account of his day-to-day activities facing the enemy in triple-canopy jungle, rice paddies, and unfriendly villages is the heart of this workmanlike war memoir. He enlisted in the Army in 1965, itching to fight in Vietnam. After washing out of Officer Candidate School, he spent 11 months as a grunt based in Lai Khe, about 35 miles north of Saigon. Clark's account starts slow, bogged down with nuts-and-bolts minutiae, but things pick up as he describes what befell him and his fellow infantrymen as they regularly experienced the worst that war can offer: countless patrols, ambushes, firefights, and sniper attacks. During his months in combat, many of Clark's fellow soldiers were killed and wounded. Clark himself took "20 or so penetrating shrapnel wounds" in his right leg, which prematurely ended his tour of duty. More importantly, an almost-wordless encounter with a few indigenous Montagnard people, during which he perceived that they didn't consider American culture particularly desirable or admirable, caused him to think that even though communism "wouldn't sit well with the tribal people... we weren't doing these folks any favors by being here, either." By the end, Clark had lost his enthusiasm for the war. This tale may at times be overly detailed, but it's a sincere document of the Vietnam War experience.
Worth the time to read