Casualties of War

Open Road Media
3
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The searing account of a war crime and one soldier’s heroic efforts to bring the perpetrators to justice

First published in the New Yorker in 1969 and later adapted into an acclaimed film starring Michael J. Fox and Sean Penn, Casualties of War is the shocking true story of the abduction, rape, and murder of a young Vietnamese woman by US soldiers.

Before setting out on a five-day reconnaissance mission in the Central Highlands of South Vietnam, Sergeant Tony Meserve told the four men under his command that their first objective would be to kidnap a girl and bring her along “for the morale of the squad.” At the end of the mission, Meserve said, they would kill their victim and dispose of the body to avoid prosecution for abduction and rape—capital crimes in the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Private First Class Sven Eriksson was the only member of the patrol who refused to participate in the atrocity. Haunted by his inability to save the young woman’s life, he vowed to see Meserve and the others convicted of their crimes. Faced with the cynical indifference of his commanding officers and outright hostility from his fellow infantrymen, Eriksson had the tenacity to persevere. He went on to serve as the government’s chief witness in four courts-martial related to the infamous Incident on Hill 192. 

A masterpiece of contemporary journalism, Casualties of War is a clear-eyed, powerfully affecting portrait of the horrors of warfare and the true meaning of courage.
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About the author

Daniel Lang (1913–1981) was an award-winning journalist and author. He was a staff writer for the New Yorker for forty years, covering World War II in North Africa, Italy, and France. After the war he reported extensively on nuclear weapons and the morality of military science, and his articles were collected into several books, beginning with Early Tales of the Atomic AgeCasualties of War, the account of the brutal rape and murder of a South Vietnamese girl by US soldiers and the obstacles Private First Class Sven Eriksson faced in bringing his platoon mates to justice, won a Hillman Prize and was adapted into a Brian De Palma film of the same name. In addition to his journalistic work, Lang wrote poetry, children’s literature, and the libretto for an opera, Minutes to Midnight
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Additional Information

Publisher
Open Road Media
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Published on
Dec 16, 2014
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Pages
113
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ISBN
9781497683235
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Language
English
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Genres
History / Military / Vietnam War
True Crime / Murder / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Ashen Skies of Vietnam begins in 1965, early in the Vietnam War. Capt. Clay Evans is an Air Force pilot with ten years of loyal service. His squadron has transferred from its stateside base to Saigon for a one-year tour of duty, the culmination of many long deployments that destroyed his marriage. His adversary is the war and, in a related way, his superior, Major Frick. Clay and his close-knit crew fly the Lockheed C-130 Hercules, a multi-purpose, turbo-prop transport (that is still in production). The sturdy “Herk” plays a vital role in the story. Clay is a “good soldier,” ably performing his nation’s bidding by flying troops and cargo into airfields throughout the country. But as the war intensifies, as he witnesses the horrors inflicted by both sides, and as he gains respect for the Vietnamese people, his feelings change. This transformation is shown in a series of vignettes, such as the night the sky erupts in blazing colors: a thunderstorm, he thinks, before realizing that a B-52 raid is blasting distant forests into matchsticks and incinerating every living thing in its path. Yet in bustling Saigon, the Pearl of the Orient, life seems unaffected by battles raging in the countryside. Clay enters a tennis tournament and advances to the finals, where, to his surprise, his opponent is a Vietnamese (“half my size and twice my age”) named Huang. The match becomes a battle of American power versus the Vietnamese’s wily tactics. Clay races to an early lead, but—like a portend of the war—in the stifling heat he wilts, and Huang prevails. Later, Clay visits Huang’s home. An engineer, educated in California, Huang designs bridges. He shows Clay photographs of his works, some that have been destroyed by the Viet Cong, and others—including his “masterpiece”—by American bombs. Gordo, Clay’s friend from college days, undertakes a clandestine mission to drop spies inside North Vietnam. When Gordo’s plane crashes, Clay learns from voice tapes that the spies were double-agents and threw grenades into the plane just before parachuting. He bitterly suspects that Frick volunteered the squadron for the doomed mission to enhance his own career. Clay meets a flight nurse, Johnnie, when he and his crew fly a patient to Clark Air Base in the Philippines, her home base. A mutual attraction develops, but when Clay returns to Vietnam he wonders if he’ll ever see her again. Months later, he does. Clay’s aircraft is hit. Two crewmen are severely wounded and the flight engineer is killed. With half a finger shot off, Clay lands at a Marine base. His crewmen are put on a med-evac jet that will hasten them to the States; Clay is flown to Clark to have his fingertip reattached. Johnnie is there; love blooms. Filled with remorse, he tells her, “I’m no hero, Johnnie. My job was to get my men home in one piece, and I failed.” The fingertip doesn’t “take,” but Clay convinces the surgeon to not inform higher ups, lest he be grounded. Returning to the squadron, he wears a glove—some call it a fetish—to conceal the missing digit. He struggles with the loss of friends, his disenchantment with the war, and his participation in it. Despite knowing he will be castigated and accused of cowardice by Frick and others, Clay decides to leave the Air Force—but not until completing his tour of duty. The monsoon begins, bringing rain and low clouds. During a big airlift operation, Frick screws up, landing at the wrong field and careening into a rice paddy. Clay spots Frick’s aircraft; his crewmen have taken cover alongside the short runway. VC are moving closer. Despite protests from his new crew, Clay decides to land in an attempt to rescue the downed airmen, knowing that if he, too, is unable to stop on the runway, or take-off, capture by the VC is inevitable. *
By 1969, following the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu, over 500,000 US troops were `in country? in Vietnam. Before America?s longest war had ended with the fall of Saigon in 1975, 450,000 Vietnamese had died, along with 36,000 Americans. The Vietnam War was the first rock ?n? roll war, the first helicopter war with its doctrine of `airmobility?, and the first television war; it made napalm and the defoliant Agent Orange infamous, and gave us the New Journalism of Michael Herr and others. It also saw the establishment of the Navy SEALs and Delta Force. At home, America fractured, with the peace movement protesting against the war; at Kent State University, Ohio National Guardsmen fired on unarmed students, killing four and injuring nine.

Lewis?s compelling selection of the best writing to come out of a war covered by some truly outstanding writers, both journalists and combatants, includes an eyewitness account of the first major battle between the US Army and the People?s Army of Vietnam at Ia Drang; a selection of letters home; Nicholas Tomalin?s famous `The General Goes Zapping Charlie Cong?; Robert Mason?s `R&R?, Studs Terkel?s account of the police breaking up an anti-war protest; John Kifner on the shootings at Kent State; Ron Kovic?s `Born on the Fourth of July?; John T. Wheeler?s `Khe Sanh: Live in the V Ring?; Pulitzer Prize-winner Seymour Hersh on the massacre at My Lai; Michael Herr?s `It Made You Feel Omni?; Viet Cong Truong Nhu Tang?s memoir; naval nurse Maureen Walsh?s memoir, `Burning Flesh?; John Pilger on the fall of Saigon; and Tim O?Brien?s `If I Die in a Combat Zone?.

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