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Book Review – Bloods by Wallace Terry

Synopsis:  The national bestseller that tells the truth of about Vietnam from the black soldiers’ perspective. An oral history unlike any other, Bloods features twenty black men who tell the story of how members of their race were sent off in disproportionate numbers and the special test of patriotism they faced. Told in voices no reader will soon forget, Bloods is a must-read for anyone who wants to put the Vietnam experience in historical, cultural, and political perspective.

First Line:  “I’m in the Amtrac with Morley Safer, right?”

Random Quotes:  “I think we were the last generation to believe, you know. in the honor of war.  There is no honor in war.  My mama still thinks that I did my part for my country, ’cause she’s a very patriotic person.  I don’t.”

Review:  I love good oral history.  The absolute immediacy of learning about events from the mouths of people who were actually there makes historical events more real and more powerful.  Bloods is an oral history of the Vietnam War as told by black veterans and it is a powerful read.  The stories are as diverse as their tellers – from volunteers who saw the service as a way to get ahead to draftees who just wanted to get in and get out, absolute heroes to borderline war criminals – this book provides over a dozen unique perspectives on what happened before, during and after.

Vietnam War Veterans MemorialVietnam War Memorial – Image by HooverStreetStudios via Flickr

It’s good to note that blacks suffered 12.5% of the deaths in Vietnam at a time when the percentage of blacks of military age was 13.5% of the total population.  Many people who were against the Vietnam War were against it because the draft tended to put poorer people in combat since they were less likely to be able to afford the kinds of deferments that were given to college students.  This reflection is buried in these interviews with man after man talking about graduating high school, wanting to go to college, but not being able to afford it and ending up in Vietnam.

A couple of these interviews stand out for me.  Edgar Huff.  At the time of his retirement, Huff was the senior enlisted man in the entire US military and the first black sergeant major in the Marine Corps.  He remembers the Marine Corps before and after its segregation.  He fought at Guadalcanal, Korea, and Vietnam.  This is a true hero who served his country with dedication and honor, yet after his retirement white Marines from Camp Lejeune threw phosphorous grenades into the yard where he and his family were having a meal screaming, “Nigger!”  Unreal.

I was also moved by the story of Fred V. Cherry, who was a fighter pilot shot down in 1965 and held in the Hanoi Hilton until 1973.  His story of survival and friendship and his dispassionate recitation of atrocities suffered by himself and other prisoners was particularly moving.

There are many other stories here that will stay with you – men who came back and ended up in prison and used that time to improve things not just for themselves but for other black veterans, men who made lives upon their return despite being haunted by the war, and men who never quite returned.  Their stories are meaningful and important for an understanding of war in Vietnam.

My only criticism of the book is that I wish there had been some written history by the author connecting and contextualizing the interviews.  I think this extra bit of work would have greatly heightened the story this book is telling.

Reading Challenges:  Truth is Stranger than Fiction Reading Challenge 2010, Decades 2010, 2010 100+ Reading Challenge, 2010 A to Z Reading Challenge, 2010 Support Your Local Library Reading Challenge, 2010 War Through the Generations Reading Challenge

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