Instantly, even before starting the book, and then reading the introductory matter, the poignancy of this book strikes you, and you know immediately it is going to be an affecting read, compounded not only by the terrible trauma these poor young boys (little more than children, in many cases) experienced in the Vietnam war, but, perhaps in some ways more upsettingly, by the disgraceful injustice of vilification by their own country, upon their return. To draw a positive, though, these experiences surely enhanced their lifelong sense of camaraderie, even in death, and it is that which this book is all about.
“Finding my Platoon Brothers” is more than just a book: it is a quest, for Glyn to pay the tribute he has perhaps never addressed before, not just to the fallen, but to his own experiences in the conflict. As well as helping Glyn come to terms with the PTSD he didn’t even know he carried for most of his life, his modern-day mission has served another extremely important and motivating function: that of realizing the importance of a genuine, professional purpose in retirement. The “Platoon Brothers” project became his full-time job, his vocation and his calling, and he carries out the whole task with the professionalism and aptitude of a skilled journalist, even though it was a therapeutic purge for the author.
Whilst Glyn manages to engage a fair number of his brothers, in the creation of this project, perhaps more telling, in some ways, is the small number of people which refused to talk with him – maybe this speaks louder about the horrors of Vietnam than any of the responses he did manage to achieve. And, “achieve” is definitely the right word for what Glyn has managed.
There are really two halves to “Finding my Platoon Brothers”: the first outlines Glyn’s desire to organize the long overdue reunion, and in this part, I did feel, perhaps, he included a lot of mundane details about booking, administration and the like, and perhaps not just a few too many words. But, it is the second half which gives the whole book balance and identity, and here you really find yourself drawn into life in the combat zone. The way in which Glyn intersperses his visits to each site with a recount of events when he was there in 1969 is quite brilliant, and lays the context of the whole sum perfectly. He has provided some wonderful photographs from his platoon, and from his 2018 trip, making the former all the more poignant; although these photographs are simply of the day-to-day, and don’t provide any drama, they draw you into the locale, with a thousand stories between the lines; seeing these ageing men as young soldiers stops you in your tracks, and makes you search deep within the grainy prints, for the human inside the soldier.
It is interesting and heart-warming that the reunion and closure experience gave Glyn the strength to show a newfound pride in his veteran status, rather than concealing it any longer, and so it should. I’ve never experienced war first-hand and pray I never will, but will always have a deep pride and respect for those that have, especially when risking their life in the service of their country, wherever that may be. The guilt to which Glyn alludes (and his friend, Mike, in the closing words) is stinging, and left me in no doubt that his claim in the book’s blurb is completely true: its substance truly is something only a war veteran can comprehend. As we all know, that particular war is one which invoked a lot of guilt. Additionally, Glyn’s findings about the decades-long aftermath of the use of Agent Orange during the conflict are staggering, and whilst he clearly harbours justifiable resentment for this, I did wonder if perhaps this topic could have presented a clear objective for the book, to achieve a legacy of exposing this terrible scandal – though, I suppose there are many others which set out to do this, and this particular book is about the people, not the horror.
The excerpts Glyn selected to close the book are like a trip back in time, and really put you there with these young men; the tributes and obituaries which make up its final quarter are a beautiful touch, and, unsurprisingly, its saddest part. I love books, but rarely have I paid one such respect - I simply could not put it down, telling myself “just one more chapter”, and there was no way I was going to consider it finished until I had certainly read every obituary; every post-script; every appendix, excerpt and caption. For the work Glyn has put into it, and the sacrifices which begot it, it deserves no less.
Glyn is an excellent writer and an indisputably genuine top-quality author. Clearly a project of passion and obsession, he has done his research about his platoon brothers – alive and fallen – in intensive detail. Needless to say, “Finding my Platoon Brothers” is professionally written and flawlessly proofed.
This is a book rich in tribute, yet even richer in inspiration, and while veterans may relate to it, non-veterans can learn a lot from it - no less than the real meaning of trust, and the importance of people, to each other.
In : Book Reviews
Tags: glyn haynie vietnam war memoir war vietnam platoon