NOT ALL HEROES: An Unapologetic Memoir of the Vietnam War 1971-1972. By Gary E. Skogen. The Dakota Institute Press. 252 pages. $29.95.
The foreword of "Not All Heroes" says that you are not going to like the author of this book. The subtitle, "An Unapologetic Memoir of the Vietnam War 1971-1972," lets you know you're in for something different.
Author Gary Skogen served in Vietnam from February 1971 to January 1972 and he thoroughly enjoyed it. In fact, as he put it, it was the best year of his life.
His war experience, though dangerous enough, didn't involve hunting "Charlie" or North Vietnamese soldiers through the rice paddies and jungle-covered mountains. As a member of the military's Criminal Investigative Division, he basically served as a police detective, investigating major crimes committed by military personnel.
Drug use by military personnel in the waning year of the war was rampant. Marijuana was everywhere and U.S. bases were littered with empty heroin vials.
It was Skogen's job to try to bust drug users and suppliers, as well as investigate suicides and major crimes committed by booze- and drug-fueled young men far from home. This included rape, theft, assault and murder, all against a backdrop of death, destruction and racial strife in an unpopular war fought by reluctant draftees. A tough job.
Skogen and his fellow CID officers dressed in civilian clothes, carried "unauthorized" weapons and lived off base in private quarters where they immersed themselves in their own carnival of off-duty booze and cheap sex. And while his descriptions of the casual violence, corruption and lunacy of war are much like any number of Vietnam War books, what's different is his almost gleeful detachment from the surrounding misery as he carries out his job.
As he says in the book, he could have died at any time: driving his jeep over a mine, getting sprayed with M-16 bullets by a suspect, or shot by an actual enemy combatant. But he didn't dwell on such possibilities. He was having too much fun. So much so, in fact, that he requested to stay beyond his deployment. But that was not to be. He was sent home.
Skogen's experiences did give him an unusual perspective regarding the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., and its long list of names. He says many of the names inscribed there do not belong. They are the ones who died of their own drug- or booze-induced misfortunes and stupidity, but the military was reluctant to tell their families the truth. So, their names went on the wall, he says, cheapening the memorial for those who died honorably, doing their duty.
Reviewer Tony Brown is an editor at The Post and Courier.