Saturday, October 10, 2009

Book Review: Your Hero And Mine, Scott

101st Airborne Division
Duc Pho, Vietnam 1967

Specialist 4th Class, Scott Christofferson, Vietnam, 1967

After writing the previous post A Life Remembered, I was privileged to receive a heartfelt note from Scott's family and a copy of Your Hero And Mine, Scott a collection of letters written by Scott Christofferson to family and friends that recorded his journey from high school, into adulthood and finally, to his heroic death on the battlefield in Vietnam.

I am returning to this story because what I read in the pages of this little book not only held a treasure of similar memories, but puts to words the thoughts of many who came of age in the middle sixties and found themselves by chance or choice, living in the same chaotic world described by Scott in the final months of his life.

I earlier noted the degrees of separation that intertwined my own life with Scott's experience. We both graduated from high school the same year 1965. We both endured one frustrating semester of college only to chuck it, and join the Army the same week in late January 1966. His impression of Army life mirrored mine as he trained and then deployed to Germany via a leisurly cruise on the ,USS Admiral Hugh Rodman (AP-126), 1945-1997. Later USAT General Maurice Rose and USNS General Maurice Rose (T-AP-126). a sister ship to the USS General John Pope (AP-110) that I traveled to Vietnam aboard in late 1966. His letters about the crossing and trying to avoid duty by hiding in the nooks and crannies of the ship, mirrored my own efforts.

Scott kept volunteering for Vietnam and in May of 1967 got his wish. He was sent to join the 1st Brigade of the famed 101st Airborne Division at Phang Rang as a signal specialist running the switch board. He soon landed a chance to become a combat reporter in the brigade PIO section, and happily told his brother Jim in a letter, that he would no longer be called a "titless WAC" for running the switchboard.

Scott's observations and insight about the war struck me as insightful beyond his nineteen years. For instance, he wrote in letter to his family shortly after arriving in country, that the best way to keep China out of the war was, "We should admit China to the UN, urge the British to leave Hong Kong...I urge this because most friction is political and racial." He goes on the lay out almost the same philosophy adapted by Nixon and Kissinger five years later, when they opened the door to China and moved the Soviets to sign the SALT Treaty by changing the balance of perceived power in the world. This theme returns again in other letters to his brother and friends.

Another, observation came after only one month in country. Scott had written his first story about a GI who spent his off hours making sick calls in local villages, treating people with borrowed supplies. Scott wrote. "The Vietnamese situation will be improved by people like him, not by infantry." An apt description of a one man System Administrators (SysAdmin), that blog friend Thomas Barnett has written about for years.

After two months in country, Scott penned a description of both the average American soldier and his Vietnamese enemy, he presents an unvarnished view of friend and foe that stands the test of time. Reading his description, peeled away the layers of feelings that it took me decades to cover. His final pronouncement on the state of everyone in Vietnam at that time was that; "Everybody involved is getting fucked."

I wrote earlier how close the degrees of separation were revealed as I turned each page. When Scott contracted Malaria, and was sent to the hospital in Cam Rahn Bay in August, he wrote his family from the base library. Reading this gave me a major flashback. During the summer of 67 I was assigned to carry the logistics requests to Cam Rahn to prime the supply chain for combat operations in the coming week. I used to plan to miss the flight back north, and to spend Sundays in the library, reading and catching up on my letters home. When I saw the date on his letter August 6, I checked and it was a Sunday, happen chance was, that we shared the same small space for a brief time that summer.

By mid-September Scott had returned to the field and began to see and report on a lot of action. His description of forgetting to chamber a round in a firefight, brought a shiver, as I recalled my own brush with "Buck Fever" as I found myself staring at my weapon, wondering what was wrong, only to see the safety staring back at me, as I tried to bend the trigger out straight. The passage describing the emotion of the firing the first shot in combat is priceless for it's simplicity. "Intense sensual awareness, tenseness, shakiness that is caused by adrenalin, a desire for quick and climatic action."

The essay, September 1967 is both dark and revealing as Scott describes how men react to action and death, and how they hide their excitement and fear with jokes and laughter.

The poem introducing the final chapter, October 8, 1967 stopped me short. I know that the poems contained in this work were Scott's so when I read it a recognition of how close this was to an almost unknown passage I had read, caused me to be amazed at this fellow soldier's insight. The similarity to a passage written by Major General Theodore Roosevelt Jr. to his wife, Eleanor, upon his being relieved of command by General Patton in 1943, is amazing, considering that Roosevelt's letter was never revealed until quoted by Rick Atkinson, in The Day of Battle; The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944.

The jaded man stumbles again;
for the last time,
He tries with all his strength
to regain his feet,
But his muscles are all played
out with past efforts,
He dies struggling to stand
once more,
He dies grimacing with trial
But struggling also with a faint,
sweet smile,
For he knows he has lived.
Scott A. Christofferson

The longer I live the more I think
of the quality of fortitude-
men who fall,
pick themselves up and stumble on,
fall again,
and are trying to get up when they die.

Major General Theodore Roosevelt Jr.

I end this post by saying that Roosevelt's note has been a touchstone of courage for me. Scott's words create a link between brother's in arms that will forever reside amid my favorite poems.

My final thoughts are to make the highest recommendation to get your hands on this little book. It isn't about money for the family, it is about personal satisfaction and as Kit, Scott's sister wrote, "To share a remarkable story." I agree, and would urge it to be included in any reading list about the Vietnam War. It is not focused on total war as the classic World War II memoir With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa by E.B. Sledge, but gives the reader a feeling of knowing and understanding what a young man felt coming of age, and giving his life in a war he came to understand and hate in the brief time he was in combat.

My highest recommendation:

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