Robert Flanagan is the best-selling author of Maggot, the critically-acclaimed book of Parris Island, location of Marine Corps. boot camp, in the era of the Vietnam War. Robert Flanagan is also an award-winning poet and short story writer.
Ed Gaydos would like to thank Robert for providing the following review of his new book, Seven in a Jeep (Columbus Press).
In his Vietnam War memoir Seven in a Jeep, (2013, Columbus Press, Columbus, Ohio) Ed Gaydos presents a candid self portrait of a confused, frightened, but dutiful young American soldier in Vietnam 1970. In doing so he captures the essence of his eleven month tour of duty in a world of “concertina wire, machine guns, work details, latrines, prostitutes and the aftermath of enemy attacks.”
Gaydos, who had studied to become a Catholic priest, ended up at an artillery base in central Vietnam firing mortar rounds at a generally unseen enemy. There, he discovered the brutal truth that a reluctant combatant can be transformed by combat to a willing killer. In Gaydos’s case he stepped out of his hooch one morning and heard the “sharp, popping sound…of an AK47, the automatic rifle used by the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong, “felt a wave of nausea,” and realized that “someone was out to take my life. In that defining instant my whole world changed; I changed. I forgot the values of my upbringing about the sanctity of life. I overthrew years of priestly formation aimed at helping other people. In a blink I was ready to kill. Before he killed me. It was oh-so easy; no more bother than putting on a different hat.”
Even so. his narrative does not lack the soldier’s typical black humor. The book’s title, Seven in a Jeep, for instance, has nothing to do with a life or death moment of attacking or fleeing the enemy, but rather to troopers rushing from a whorehouse to escape a surprise visit to the forbidden site by their punitive commanding officer.
That the core story in Seven in a Jeep has been told and retold in fiction, history and memoir from Homer’s Iliad and the Old Testament’s Book of Joshua through the American War of Independence, Civil War, WWI, WWII, Korea, Viet Nam, Afghanistan and Iraq does not lessen its impact: rather it corroborates the truth of its message. War can do great damage, physical, moral and psychological to the individual combatant. Each dog face, jarhead, flyboy, or swabby has to witness on his or her own the boredom of duty, idiocy of command, terror of combat, and murderous rage brought on by fear. Just as each age needs to discover for itself the cruelty of combat, the frequent idiocy of command, and the blood brother relationship of squad and platoon members.
Most every soldier’s war could be summarized as succinctly as Gaydos does regarding his experience. “We fought, and some of us died, out of devotion to fellow soldiers. Not for some larger sustaining cause.”