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Authors On Deck: Enduring Vietnam by James Wright

May 9, 2017
Join us for a talk by author James Wright about his newest book Enduring Vietnam: An American Generation and Its War. Question and Answer period after the talk. This will also be broadcast on Facebook Live.

Enduring Vietnam

An American Generation and Its War

By James Wright

Praise for James Wright and Enduring Vietnam

“Broad in scope and as human a history as could be written of the ‘enduring’ impact of our nation’s Vietnam experience, this is a beautiful piece of work. Richly informative and uncompromising, Jim Wright captures the tone of those tumultuous years, unflinchingly acknowledging the mistakes, courage and long-lasting effects on America through the lens of a generation that came of age in the sixties. With honesty and compassion for those who carried and still carry burdens from the war years, no book better captures the totality of that era.”
--James N. Mattis, General (ret.) United States Marine Corps, Secretary of Defense

“There’s something utterly revealing about the Vietnam War, something that speaks directly to the divisions we experience today. With Jim Wright’s new book, we take a giant step closer to unlocking the mystery, and gain, at the same time, the intimate consequences of the conflict many of us would rather forget.”

--Ken Burns, internationally acclaimed, award-winning documentary filmmaker

“James Wright’s history of the Vietnam War captures the voices of the combat veterans who bore the brunt of their leaders’ mistakes in the Vietnam War. Enduring Vietnam is an important addition to the literature of the Vietnam War.” 
—Peter S. Prichard, retired editor, USA Today, and Chairman, Newseum, who served with the U.S. Army in Vietnam in 1968-69

 “After all of the conversations about origins and strategies and political consequences, wars are about combat, what in recent times is sometimes glibly called ‘boots on the ground.’  Most of the decision makers and debaters can only imagine that experience.   And typically they describe it with numbers or reduce it to anecdotes, selective numbers and anecdotes that best support their intellectual or political position.”
--James Wright in Enduring Vietnam

 

For eleven days in May 1969, American soldiers battled Vietnamese regulars for the control of Dong Ap Bia, now commonly known by those who fought there as “Hamburger Hill.”  According to a new book, that protracted fight was emblematic of a pivotal period in the Vietnam War. This war would have persisting consequences in terms of how Americans viewed war.  And the young Americans who served in Vietnam would carry the burden of these consequences.

 

 

In ENDURING VIETNAM: An American Generation and Its War (Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press, April 4, 2017, $29.99), James Wright reminds us of the human face of combat. He provides a full and critical overview of the steps that led to the war and how Americans’ relationship to this conflict changed. Through the stories of those Americans who fought in Vietnam, he provides a close look at the combat experience, what drove the young men who served, how Washington-based policy affected them, and the cold welcome so many experienced when they came home.

 

 “This book is about the generation that grew up in post-World War II America and about their war,” Wright explains.  "I tell the story of some of the men—and women—who died there, with a special focus on the spring of 1969. This was a time of intense combat activity that coincided with an explicit shift in the war’s objectives.”

 

The American war in Vietnam was a war largely without front lines, comprised of small-unit actions looking to surprise or ambush the enemy, and battles that were often temporarily concluded and not won.  “These engagements sought to kill the opponents and the objective aimed at dissuading the enemy from continuing the war,” says Wright.  “Absent tangible military goals it was hard to produce tangible military results.”

 

According to Wright, President Nixon’s announcement in mid-May that the U.S. was not seeking a military victory in Vietnam and his proclamation of “Vietnamization” the following month put the troops in an even more difficult and isolated position.  “At some level a sense of national need and noble purpose may be necessary conditions for anyone to volunteer or to accede to go to war.  By 1969 the national narrative seemed to lose all pretense of grandeur.”

 

So how did the U.S. arrive at this point?  In the opening chapters of ENDURING VIETNAM, Wright describes the time of transition in the spring of 1969 in the United States and in Vietnam. Post-World War II Americans inculcated their children with patriotic duty.  Writing about that Memorial Day, Wright describes how Americans grappled with the meaning of Vietnam while they tried to understand the purpose of young soldiers fighting and dying on Hamburger Hill. 

 

“That battle encapsulated within an eleven-day window many of the elements of the American War,” explains Wright: “Elusive tactical goals, surprising sustained resistance from enemy forces who seldom followed the American expectations, American troops who nonetheless fought with heroism, courage, and suffering (as did the North Vietnamese Army defenders), a growing uncertainty in the United States about the need for the battle.”  

 

                He then steps back to discuss the political, cultural, and diplomatic assumptions that marked American life following WW II, assumptions that underlay the Vietnam War. Americans born in the 1940s and early 1950s were part of a generation that grew up in a nation where they had to be prepared to defend their country.  Wright argues that some of the same assumptions that resulted in Neil Armstrong stepping onto the surface of the moon in July 1969 had led young Americans to the top of Hamburger Hill two months earlier.  In this book, Wright describes what it was like to serve in Vietnam in the early years of the American War, and how it did not meet the expectations of those who grew up in the shadow of WWII—which came to be remembered as the “good” war.

 

 

In the concluding chapters, Wright looks at the Nixon years in which politics, international and domestic, continued to shape tactical operations in Vietnam.   It is a story that has clear relevance to American military engagements today. “In a complex global game, the military role was more to threaten or punish and less to gain and to secure,” Wright observes. In the last years of the Vietnam War, "despite a real deterioration in traditional military discipline, the troops on the ground continued to serve well and to die in a war whose purpose on the ground was reduced to survival.”

 

Finally, he summarizes the enduring experience of Vietnam for the generation who served there—and their country’s enduring negative image and embarrassed memory of it.  In this phase, “Enduring” shifts from a verb to an adjective.

 

But the memoirs and accounts that he consulted and the 160 interviews Wright conducted for this book are at the heart of what differentiates ENDURING VIETNAM from other books about the war.  For some of these interviewees, it was the first time they had talked about their role. 

 

Among the many personal stories in this book are those of

 

  • The Army medic who remembered the “absolute confusion and mayhem” when carrying a fallen comrade down Hamburger Hill. And the dying soldier they carried singing "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot."

 

  • The mother who wrote to her son who had been fighting at Dong Ap Bia, "The news this week is all bad. They are constantly talking about the 3/187th taking horrible casualties attacking a hill. I certainly hope you had more sense than to go up there."

 

  • The marine platoon leader who had been warned at his Vietnam orientation to never cry, dealing with the death of a friend on a patrol.

 

  • The wife who had urged her husband to avoid the draft and move to Canada.  He was killed in an ambush north of his base camp in Dak To.  He and a fallen comrade were found in a foxhole dug too shallow due to the rocky terrain.  His wife broke custom and demanded an open casket so friends could see him and know it was real.

 

  • The young Irish-American marine, who with five friends dropped out of high school to enlist after the combat death of a friend in Vietnam.  Months later, he and three other marines in his unit were killed in a rocket attack. In 2014, his hometown of Quincy, Massachusetts dedicated a square in his honor.

 

 “This book is not a compendium of memories,” Wright concludes.  “It is a work of history.  It is a work of history that seeks to understand why America in the 1960s sent its young to war, to remember who the Vietnam generation was, how they had grown up, to reflect on why this generation served and sacrificed in a war that drifted in purpose and declined in public support.  Finally, in this book I seek to remind of the human face, the human cost, of war.  It is a cost that by no means is paid in full when the shooting stops.  ENDURING VIETNAM is a study of a generation and of those who served and sacrificed.”

 

 

 

*                   *                    *

 

About the author

James Wright is President Emeritus and Eleazar Wheelock Professor of History Emeritus at Dartmouth College. The son of a WW II veteran, he joined the Marine Corps in 1957, at age 17.  He served for three years before entering Wisconsin State University-Platteville for his bachelor's degree, and a masters and doctoral degree in history from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. He joined the Dartmouth College History Department in 1969 and from 1998 to 2009, served as the college's 16th president.

President Wright has worked with veterans since 2005 when he began visiting wounded Marines and soldiers in Washington, D.C. hospitals. In over thirty visits since then, he has encouraged the injured servicemen and women to continue their education. Wright was involved in the planning for the Yellow Ribbon Program that provided for private institutions to be included in the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, and he worked with the American Council on Education (ACE) to create a new educational counseling program for wounded U.S. veterans.  This program still continues at Walter Reed Hospital.

An American historian, Wright is the author or editor of six published books, the most recent of which is Those Who Have Borne the Battle: A History of America’s Wars and Those Who Fought ThemEnduring Vietnam: An American Generation and Its War, will be published on April 4, 2017.

He serves on the Board of the Semper Fi Fund/America's Fund, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), the Advisory Board of the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation, and the Campaign Leadership Committee for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund Education Center.

For his work with veterans, Wright was featured as “Person of the Week” on ABC World News and was recognized as New Englander of the Year by the New England Council. In 2009 he received a special Daniel Webster Award from the Dartmouth Club of Washington and the Veterans of Foreign Wars honored him with the Commander-in-Chief’s Gold Medal of Merit Award. The New England Board of Higher Education recognized him in 2010 for his leadership on behalf of higher education and the advancement of educational opportunity.

Wright and his wife Susan live in Hanover, NH.

ENDURING VIETNAM

An American Generation and Its War

By James Wright

Thomas Dunne Books

On Sale: April 4, 2017

464 pages

ISBN: 978-1-250-09248-9/$29.99 US/$41.99 CAN

E Book ISBN: 978-1-250-09249-6

 

 

For additional materials and to arrange an interview with James Wright, please contact:

Joe Rinaldi, Associate Director of Publicity, St. Martin’s Press, 646.307.5565, joseph.rinaldi@stmartins.com

Scott Manning, Scott Manning & Associates, 646-517-2825, scott@scottmanningpr.com

Abigail Welhouse, Scott Manning & Associates, 646-517-2826, abigail@scottmanningpr.com

 

 

 

 

Praise for ENDURING VIETNAM

 

 

“Broad in scope and as human a history as could be written of the “enduring” impact of our nation’s Vietnam experience, this is a beautiful piece of work. Richly informative and uncompromising, Jim Wright captures the tone of those tumultuous years, unflinchingly acknowledging the mistakes, courage and long-lasting effects on America through the lens of a generation that came of age in the sixties. With honesty and compassion for those who carried and still carry burdens from the war years, no book better captures the totality of that era.”

--James N. Mattis, General (ret.) United States Marine Corps, Secretary of Defense

 

“There’s something utterly revealing about the Vietnam War, something that speaks directly to the divisions we experience today. With Jim Wright’s new book, we take a giant step closer to unlocking the mystery, and gain, at the same time, the intimate consequences of the conflict many of us would rather forget.”

--Ken Burns, internationally acclaimed, award-winning documentary filmmaker

 

“James Wright’s history of the Vietnam War captures the voices of the combat veterans who bore the brunt of their leaders’ mistakes in the Vietnam War. His pitch perfect account of what those men experienced reminds us again of so many lives lost too soon, of wounds both physical and psychological, of the losses that last for lifetimes, all for a cause that was never clear or compelling. Enduring Vietnam is an important addition to the literature of the Vietnam War.”

--Peter S. Prichard, retired editor, USA Today, and Chairman, Newseum, who served with the U.S. Army in Vietnam, 1968-69

 

“This clear, concise, and highly readable book is a must read for anybody who wants to understand the Vietnam War. Its politics, critical decisions, effects on individuals who lives through it, and its reverberations in current American culture and foreign policy. Enduring Vietnam provides the reader with a greater understanding of the nature of war and personal experienced of those who served, and a feeling for the times usually only found in a novel. It is destined to become a standard reference for the history of the Vietnam War.”

--Karl Mariantes, author of Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War and What It Is Like to Go to War, and Vietnam Veteran

 

“James Wright’s Enduring Vietnam offers an intimate, moving, sometimes heartbreaking account of American soldiers who fought in Vietnam, focusing on 1969, a time when combat was still at a peak of intensity but when a majority of citizens – including many GIs – had turned against the war. Wright takes us from the harrowing bloodbath of Hamburger Hill to the troubled homecomings of veterans and never reduces the human complexity of his subject with sentimentality or broad brush polemics.”

--Christian Appy, author of Patriots: The Vietnam War Remembered from All Sides

 

“The best books about conflict and combat weave into their narrative personal stories, vignettes that plumb the human landscapes of war. James Wright has written one of those best books. Anyone who wants a glimpse into the psyche of the Vietnam combat veteran should – must – read Enduring Vietnam.”

--Bernie Edelman, Vietnam veteran and editor of Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam

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