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Payback: Five Marines After Vietnam

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From the author of Primary Colors, “a remarkably sensitive story of a generation” (The New York Times Book Review): The critically acclaimed true story of five Marines who fought together in a bloody battle during the Vietnam War, barely escaping with their lives, and of what happened when they came home. In 1981, while the country was celebrating the end of the Iran hostag From the author of Primary Colors, “a remarkably sensitive story of a generation” (The New York Times Book Review): The critically acclaimed true story of five Marines who fought together in a bloody battle during the Vietnam War, barely escaping with their lives, and of what happened when they came home. In 1981, while the country was celebrating the end of the Iran hostage crisis, an unemployed Vietnam veteran named Gary Cooper went berserk with a gun, angry over the jubilant welcome the hostages received in contrast to his own homecoming from Vietnam, and was killed in a fight with police. In what has been called “the most eloquent work of nonfiction to emerge from Vietnam since Michael Herr’s Dispatches” (The New York Times), Joe Klein tells Cooper’s story, as well as the stories of four of the other vets in Cooper’s platoon. The story begins with an ambush and a grisly battle in the Que Son Valley in 1967, but Payback is less about remembering the war and more about examining its long-term effects on the grunts who fought it. Klein fills in the next fifteen years of these Marines’ lives after they return home, with “the sort of fine and private detail one ordinarily finds only in fiction” (People). The experiences of these five men capture the struggles of a whole generation of Vietnam veterans and their families. Klein’s “near-hypnotic” account (Daily News, New York) is, to this day, both a remarkable piece of reporting and “some of the most vivid, harrowing, and emotionally honest writing to come out of Vietnam” (The Washington Post Book World).


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From the author of Primary Colors, “a remarkably sensitive story of a generation” (The New York Times Book Review): The critically acclaimed true story of five Marines who fought together in a bloody battle during the Vietnam War, barely escaping with their lives, and of what happened when they came home. In 1981, while the country was celebrating the end of the Iran hostag From the author of Primary Colors, “a remarkably sensitive story of a generation” (The New York Times Book Review): The critically acclaimed true story of five Marines who fought together in a bloody battle during the Vietnam War, barely escaping with their lives, and of what happened when they came home. In 1981, while the country was celebrating the end of the Iran hostage crisis, an unemployed Vietnam veteran named Gary Cooper went berserk with a gun, angry over the jubilant welcome the hostages received in contrast to his own homecoming from Vietnam, and was killed in a fight with police. In what has been called “the most eloquent work of nonfiction to emerge from Vietnam since Michael Herr’s Dispatches” (The New York Times), Joe Klein tells Cooper’s story, as well as the stories of four of the other vets in Cooper’s platoon. The story begins with an ambush and a grisly battle in the Que Son Valley in 1967, but Payback is less about remembering the war and more about examining its long-term effects on the grunts who fought it. Klein fills in the next fifteen years of these Marines’ lives after they return home, with “the sort of fine and private detail one ordinarily finds only in fiction” (People). The experiences of these five men capture the struggles of a whole generation of Vietnam veterans and their families. Klein’s “near-hypnotic” account (Daily News, New York) is, to this day, both a remarkable piece of reporting and “some of the most vivid, harrowing, and emotionally honest writing to come out of Vietnam” (The Washington Post Book World).

30 review for Payback: Five Marines After Vietnam

  1. 4 out of 5

    Chin Joo

    The Vietnam War is a big part of the USA's history and has been extensively written about. This book's focus is on the life of five men after the war and how they each tried to cope with the war and its aftermath. The tragic undertone was set from the outset, this is a book written after one of the five was killed in a shoot-out with the police after he snapped seeing how the American hostages were celebrated when they returned home from Iran. The lives of the five men took different turns but w The Vietnam War is a big part of the USA's history and has been extensively written about. This book's focus is on the life of five men after the war and how they each tried to cope with the war and its aftermath. The tragic undertone was set from the outset, this is a book written after one of the five was killed in a shoot-out with the police after he snapped seeing how the American hostages were celebrated when they returned home from Iran. The lives of the five men took different turns but were always under the shadow of the war that they experienced. Everyone struggled to become 'normal', each one succeeding to different degrees, but almost none wanted to talk about the war until they agreed to participate in this project. The structure of the book is simple, the prologue followed by a chapter on Operation Chochise, which is supposedly the most dramatic event that affected all five men. Then a chapter each on the five of them, followed by the last one on the aftermath of their participation in the project. While each man had a different childhood and family circumstance, there almost seem to be a common motivation when they joined the Marines, either to get away from home or to impress their parents who had otherwise not thought much of their sons. And then their stories coming back from the War appear similar to some extent too, especially their career and marital difficulties, the two biggest parts of men at that stage of their life. And so while not poorly written, a huge part of the book became repetitive and laborious. The author said that he had interviewed more people than these five and in the end decided to only include the stories of these five people. If they are but five unrepresentative samples who yet appear so similar, it's really tragic to imagine whether this is actually the common affliction of the veterans. If it is, the country has sent a large portion of the generation to waste. And then to not acknowledge their plight for a long time is truly irresponsible.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Rick

    In his prologue, Klein clearly states that "this is not a book about the plight of Vietnam veterans." He is also clear that the 5 vets whose stories he recounts are in no way a representative sample of the people who fought in Vietnam. Instead, he says "My intention was simply to write about five men who had fought together in Vietnam, and what happened to them when they came home." He achieves that goal, but I'm not sure that that alone is enough to sustain this book. Payback was first published In his prologue, Klein clearly states that "this is not a book about the plight of Vietnam veterans." He is also clear that the 5 vets whose stories he recounts are in no way a representative sample of the people who fought in Vietnam. Instead, he says "My intention was simply to write about five men who had fought together in Vietnam, and what happened to them when they came home." He achieves that goal, but I'm not sure that that alone is enough to sustain this book. Payback was first published in 1984 and the interviews on which it was based started shortly after the Iran hostages were released to great fanfare and public acclaim, a source of irritation to many Vietnam vets who felt overlooked and underappreciated. This means that Klein was coming into their lives about 15 years after they had been in Vietnam. The edition I read was the first Simon and Schuster trade paperback edition from October 2015. To me, it represents a huge lost opportunity. The story, as it is told in 1984, shows five vets who had many issues before going into the service and even more once they came home from Vietnam. Broken marriages, drug and alcohol abuse, an inability to reintegrate and to come down from the high of ever-present danger abound. This is not surprising. As the author notes, at that time we were just becoming aware of and were still highly skeptical about post traumatic stress disorder; however Klein does not try to parse which of the issues engulfing each vet came from the war and which from their upbringing. Many did not realize how marginalized and forgotten our vets felt. What would have been fascinating and would have given the book a currency that it presently lacks would have been for the author to have reconnected with each of the 4 (one was dead) and updated the book with a recounting of where are they now. Have they come to be able to talk about their trauma and their feelings. Have they found more peace in their lives than in 1984? Have they gotten counseling? Did their marriages survive? Did their careers survive? How are their children doing? Etc. But none of this is provided, leaving us in 1984 with 4 stories (one vet was dead) that seem incomplete and almost irrelevant now that we know there is more we can look to to fill in the picture. One other aspect of the book that did not work for me was Klein's description of the firefight that so profoundly affected each of these men. It is confusing and hard to follow. Moreover, from other things he writes, this firefight was no more and no less violent than many others in which the vets participated. Why is this one so significant to them? Klein's writing is generally easy to read and engaging. I can see why in 1984 this book got excellent reviews. However, what was new and unknown in 1984 is today common knowledge and passé. Without some new information about how his interviewees are doing years later, this book now feels empty and unmotivated.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Nathaniel Winters

    Joe Klein's book sat on my book shelf for years waiting for me to read it. It was hard to go back to Vietnam with these band of brothers. The stories of the men were sadly captivating.It was a hard trip back but I'm glad I faced it. Thanks Joe.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Eric

    This is an interesting account of 5 marines and their post-war issues. I honestly picked up the book thinking it would be more about their war-time experiences. Nevertheless, it was an interesting book. Having two uncles that are Vietnam vets, it made me appreciate their situation more.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Katie Ramos

    My grandfather is going through a tough time lately. The early stages of Alzheimer's also (finally) prompted the doctor to diagnose him with PTSD from the Vietnam War. He very rarely talks about what happened, and when he does share he is cryptic, hiding the truth behind jokes. Reading this book really helped me to understand what he is going through, even decades after the war is over. Overall, it was a very well written piece of non-fiction. I never felt like the truth was stretched. There was My grandfather is going through a tough time lately. The early stages of Alzheimer's also (finally) prompted the doctor to diagnose him with PTSD from the Vietnam War. He very rarely talks about what happened, and when he does share he is cryptic, hiding the truth behind jokes. Reading this book really helped me to understand what he is going through, even decades after the war is over. Overall, it was a very well written piece of non-fiction. I never felt like the truth was stretched. There was little to no author bias. Klein kept it to the facts while maintaining a comprehensive story-line.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Shawn

  7. 4 out of 5

    Tracy

  8. 4 out of 5

    Sally

  9. 5 out of 5

    Wm

  10. 5 out of 5

    Adam Matkowsky

  11. 4 out of 5

    Duncan

  12. 4 out of 5

    Peter

  13. 5 out of 5

    Camilla

  14. 4 out of 5

    Katelyn Stolt

  15. 4 out of 5

    Shelby S

  16. 5 out of 5

    Roy Montenegro

  17. 4 out of 5

    Angela Gore

  18. 5 out of 5

    Michael DeJarnette

  19. 5 out of 5

    Ben Downing

  20. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca Reisberg

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jeremy Hunter

  22. 5 out of 5

    Johann Wessels

  23. 5 out of 5

    John Niedzwiecki

  24. 4 out of 5

    John

  25. 5 out of 5

    Thomas A. Van Horn

  26. 5 out of 5

    john mclaughlin

  27. 4 out of 5

    Phil Young

  28. 4 out of 5

    George Metcalf

  29. 5 out of 5

    Matt

  30. 5 out of 5

    Vlbayman

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