"The unique story line in this book is my comprehensive chronicling of life in its many forms in Saigon: black and white relations among American soldiers; American and Vietnamese relations (often tense); black marketing; street life, bar and night life; music and, in general, the social and political norms of that time." - Charles Malone
THIS IS A MEMOIR about my travails as a reluctant draftee straight off a college campus having to enter the Army and go to Vietnam. I opposed the war, as well, but decided to serve as best I could, and did not take the option of going to Canada or to jail – other popular forms of draft evasion at the time. In flashbacks from my time in Vietnam, I also tell about my shaping experiences growing up in the American South during the last stages of racial segregation. As a white kid, I was not the victim of bigotry myself, but I saw it all around me and didn’t like it from the start.
The first chapter describes my plane ride out of Oakland, California, to Alaska and then on to Vietnam. It is a scary ride full of apprehensive soldiers, and in 1971, the year of our departure, we had few illusions we were on a mission that had any real meaning anymore.
I describe the ins and outs of Saigon, the mysterious, chaotic place where I was assigned after completing two schools back in America: military police and river boat patrol. The unique story line in this book is my comprehensive chronicling of life in its many forms in Saigon: black and white relations among American soldiers; American and Vietnamese relations (often tense); black marketing; street life, bar and night life; music and, in general, the social and political norms of that time.
Since I go into service in a petulant mood, I have tough adjustments to make to survive military life, not to mention the specter of going to a war I strongly oppose. I describe many experiences that make me see my high ideals are not always sufficient to mask my personal shortcomings. I have to learn to make distinctions, and in so doing, begin to grow as a person and learn to see new truths about the military, myself and how I handle myself as I progress along. In my flashbacks, I begin with my first days in the Army and progress along through my training until I am in Vietnam, along with my recollections of my days growing up in rural North Carolina, where I face early scenes of discrimination to African Americans and a divided society. I describe my feelings and what I do when I get a chance to strike a note for social justice. I cite the influence of my progressive-minded parents in how my views were molded.
I also draw parallels between my father’s struggles to hang on as a naval officer in the Pacific in World War II, and my own. I relate to my own loneliness when I quote from my father’s love letters to my mother in wartime. His compassion and decency and never-quit attitude, even if seemingly for naught in his starstruck life, act as an invisible hand on my shoulder, giving me pause when I am ready to strike out in ways contrary to my survival.
This story, in total, is a ride through a turbulent time in social and political history in America, where I am doing what I do against the backdrop of those times, and where I confront Jim Crow, the Vietnam War, and my own challenge to do the right thing – not only for the big picture, but for myself. It is not all dire stuff, for I write about the funny stuff along the way, the music and the sometimes goofy behavior we all have as we try to simply grow up. In the end, I survive Vietnam and become a decent soldier. Never a fan of the war, but a guy who is there for his buddies and who learns to “blossom where I am planted.”
— Charles Malone