Last Updated on May 12, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 951
As Ronald Glasser notes in his foreword to 365 Days, he arrived at Camp Zama, in Japan, in September of 1968. Educated at The Johns Hopkins University, where he was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate in 1961, and at The Johns Hopkins Medical School, where he completed his M.D. degree in 1965, he undertook three years of specialized training in pediatrics at the University of Minnesota Medical School. With that background, he had expected to be treating the dependent children of those soldiers stationed in Japan. What he encountered, however, was the horror of war, for Camp Zama, with its seven-hundred-bed hospital, served as a United States Army evacuation center for soldiers needing more extensive care than was available in Vietnam. As he remarks, Zama is the only general hospital in Japan; Glasser is proud of having served in this large, modern, and efficient facility, where “literally thousands of boys were saved” during his two-year assignment in the army.
Glasser is also clearly proud of the soldiers he comes to know at Zama. Although these young soldiers are no more than “boys,” they are brave and stoic and honest. They are also confused; as the soldier’s poem which serves as the epigraph for the first story says, “Even those who make it home/ Carry back a scar.” From knowing these soldiers, Glasser feels the obligation “to give something to these kids that was all theirs without doctrine or polemics, something they could use to explain what they might not be able to explain themselves.” Because Glasser believes that “there is no novel in Nam, there is not enough for a plot,” what he offers instead are “sketches, not finished stories.” Yet here, as elsewhere, he understates his point, for the seventeen sketches contained in 365 Days are built on a carefully interconnected series of motifs. Reminiscent in pattern of James Joyce’s Dubliners (1914), the book also reminds one of the work of Stephen Crane, to whose memory the book is dedicated.
Of the seventeen essays, eight of them focus on the soldiers’ lives in Vietnam, and one examines the training of a young officer before he departs the United States. Ranging in length from two to fifteen pages, the essays depict moments of crisis for the soldiers. In “Mayfield,” for example, the central character is a forty-three-year-old first sergeant involved in the war in the delta of southern South Vietnam. The reader sees the war through Mayfield’s eyes:Strange war. Going for something they didn’t believe in or for that matter didn’t care about, just to make it 365 days and be done with it. They’d go, though; even freaked out, they’d go. They’d do whatever he told them. . . . They’d do it, and if led right, they’d do it well.
That quality of dedication, to survival and to their unit, is seen at the end of the sketch, when Mayfield himself is wounded but orchestrates his troops, F-4 tactical air support, and medical evacuation helicopters into an effective fighting team. Similarly, in “Track Unit,” the reader observes Deneen, a young lieutenant assigned unexpectedly to tanks, take command in the heat of his first firefight. Although later wounded, Deneen recognizes his skill and is anxious to return to his position as a commander. The sketch ends with Glasser’s admission that it is his duty to assign him a medical profile to make this possible.
The remaining eight sketches either directly or indirectly focus on the medical corps that cares for the wounded soldier. Like the soldiers’ stories, these range in length also. At one extreme is a three-page sketch of an unnamed soldier who expires after being mutilated during the explosion of a Chinese Communist mine. A thirty-two-page piece titled “Gentlemen, It Works” centers on a transcription of a briefing which explains the psychological effects of combat stress. Several other sketches describe more directly the medical corps personnel: “Joan,” for example, relates the story of a nurse working at a surgical hospital in Vietnam; “Choppers” tells of the rigors of medical evacuation helicopter duty; “Medics,” similarly, consists of short, poignant vignettes of the medical troops assigned to frontline combat units.
The first and final sketches form a matched pair. Set in Camp Zama, these pieces depict graphically the interactions of the evacuation hospital’s medical staff with the wounded soldiers. In the first, Dr. Peterson serves as the central figure, treating Robert Kurt, a member of the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam. Despite a life-threatening leg wound, Kurt recovers; as he does, however, his confidence in his ability to rejoin the elite division declines. Close to the end of his tour, Peterson convinces the soldier to return home rather than rejoin his unit. In the final piece, Dr. Edwards fights valiantly, but in vain, to save the life of a badly burned soldier, David Jensen. The soldier’s final dying words—“I don’t want to go home alone”— remind Edwards of his own trip home with the casket of his dead brother and remind the reader of the irony of the book’s title, 365 Days: The war cannot simply be erased at the end of a finite tour of duty.
Both the foreword and the glossary are significant parts of 365 Days. In the foreword Glasser comments, “If you survive 365 days . . . you simply go home,” but the stories demonstrate that the war lives on indefinitely, both for the soldiers and for the medical corps—and particularly for the author. Indeed, in presenting a combined “Glossary of Military and Medical Terms” at the end of the narrative, Glasser is suggesting a close relationship between those who served in the medical corps and those who served as combat soldiers.
Last Updated on May 12, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 71
FitzGerald, Frances. “A Reporter at Large: A Disagreement in Baileyville,” in The New Yorker. LX (January 16, 1984), pp. 47-90.
Lask, Thomas. “Vietnam: Children’s Crusade,” in The New York Times Book Review. LXXVI (September 11, 1971), p. 25.
Polner, Murray. Review in Saturday Review. LIV (September 11, 1971), pp. 46-47.
Prescott, Peter S. “The ‘Dignity’ of Battle,” in Newsweek. LXXVIII (September 13, 1971), p. 99.
Simpson, Louis. “Nothing to Show But Their Wounds,” in The Listener. LXXXVII (June 1, 1972), pp. 735-736.
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