David DeChant served two tours in Vietnam, the first from 1966-67 as a U. S. Marine Combat Intelligence NCO assigned to battalion scouts, and the second from 1968-70 as an Embassy Courier flying throughout Vietnam on Air America flights. DeChant says very little in his new memoir, The Silence of the Fallen (Sanhedralite Editing and Publishing, 298 pp., $2.99, Kindle, ) about his second tour; the emphasis is on that first tour.
The point of view of the book is different from many Marine Corps memoirs. We do get some of the usual stuff, such as “Eat the apple, fuck the corps—The Crotch.” And DeChant playing “John Wayne with a friend throwing a K-bar.”
However, when DeChant details the first casualty in his unit, he points out that it was friendly fire, “one of the expendable millions in the folly of Vietnam.” We do encounter yet another reference to a VC barber, but it turns out that this guy only looks like DeChant’s unit’s barber, in the sense that “all Asians resemble each other.”
DeChant makes it clear that his life was pleasant compared to that of many. For one thing, he never fired his rifle while in Vietnam. “We lived like animals in the bush; however life at Dong Ha was relatively nice: hot chow, cots, mail, clean laundry, calls home, and even movies in an open-air theater. Most of the time, we could even get a nice hot shower.”
He includes the oft-stated complaint of this era about the M-16, calling it “absolute garbage. A piece of shit.” He supports this contention with many details. DeChant notes that the Marines asked for, but did not get, their M-14s back.
The story is told in stark and hypnotic prose. “Move out, slow down, keep your interval, pick up the pace, slow down, take a break. Dry land, rice paddies, rivers, streams, rolling hills, open areas, 12 foot high elephant grass, (find the chopper above), sweat, bugs, leeches, vipers, heat, thirst, and the ever present fear of sniper attack, ambush, booby traps, wounds and death.”
Then there’s this brilliant rant in this very quotable book: “We were trying to stay alive and survive the insanity of this war perpetrated by America’s so-called Best and Brightest (worst and dumbest)—immoral, treasonous, cowards, merchants of death and treacherous war-lovers, most of them!”
As you might guess, DeChant does not hold back his feelings and his facts. I loved this memoir and highly recommend it to those who have the stomach for it.