A new book pieces together the Vietnam experience of a 101st Airborne paratrooper and his reconnaissance unit. The book's author Doug Stanton says even the soldiers of Echo Company didn't understand precisely what they did in combat.
It was a dizzying time to be at war. Soldiers patrolled with the enemy all around, all the time. They rarely slept and were in harm's way for a year or more.
"It's completely chaotic, because the helicopter inserts them two or three times a day in different firefights and then removes them," Stanton says. "It's not at all like World War II. And this is also one of the hallucinatory aspects of this war, which now, as these veterans get older, they're trying to square away — trying to untangle what happened to them."
At one point, the 101st Airborne, based at Fort Campbell, became the largest ground unit fighting in Vietnam.
Stanton's book, the Odyssey of Echo Company, follows a unit of 46 men — almost all wounded in action. He met the main character, Stan Parker, more than a decade ago while working on another military book in Afghanistan. Parker was winding down a long Army career, and told Stanton if he really wanted a story to tell, he should talk to his comrades from Vietnam — many of whom had not even told their wives what happened.
Stanton says Echo Company's story of ambushes and hand-to-hand combat during the Tet Offensive nearly 50 years ago is unique.
"At the same time, there are millions of other men and women who have equally terrifyingly unique stories," he says.
Stanton says Vietnam veterans seem to only now be willing to describe what they remember in detail, just like in the mid-1990s when World War II veterans began opening up for books like The Greatest Generation.
"When the American guy reaches 70, he opens up," Stanton says. "He loosens up. And he's ready to look backwards."
Doug Stanton will read from his book at an author event Sunday at Parnassus.