Walk a Mile in Their Shoes

Originally Published in Flourishing July/August 2010

Born and raised in Oregon, Karl Marlantes was a National Merit Scholar, a graduate of Yale University, and a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University. After finishing his education at Oxford, Karl served his country as a Marine combat officer. For his heroic action and leadership in Vietnam, Lt. Marlantes was awarded the Navy Cross, the Bronze Star, two Navy Commendation Medals for valor, two Purple Hearts, and ten air medals. Later, he built a successful career as a global energy analyst.

But, Karl Marlantes’ magnificent obsession, since 1975, has been to tell the truth about what happened in Vietnam. Now, after more than thirty years of writing, editing, rethinking and rewriting, and scores of rejection slips, Karl Marlantes has achieved his dream. His first book is a novel, but the story and its characters are based on Marlantes’ own experiences. He tells us the truth about Vietnam as it was seen and felt  on the ground by those who sweat, bled, and died. This book is not political; it’s as real and direct an experience of guerilla warfare as the written word can provide. It may offend your sensibilities, and it’s supposed to. Your heart may break. You may get angry. You may gain a new appreciation for those who served.

When I saw Karl Marlantes on CSPAN’s Book TV a few weeks ago, I knew that I would have to read his book. I owe it to those who served in Vietnam; in particular, Marine PFC Jerry Long, my good friend from Beloit, who was  killed by an NVA sniper on December 4, 1968. Jerry had planned to become a Catholic priest; instead—four months and five days into his tour of duty in Vietnam—he became a casualty of war.

Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2010) is a must read for everyone who turned eighteen between 1961 and 1974, and for every child of a Vietnam War veteran. Our friends and fathers were so young and mostly scared, and yet they gave so much of themselves for each other and their country. At the very least, we owe them our understanding, and this book shows the way. mh