John M(ichael) Del Vecchio Anatole Broyard - Essay

Anatole Broyard

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Because we may never know what Vietnam meant in the perspective of American history, we may have to content ourselves with simply learning how it felt to be there, and this is where "The 13th Valley" is at its best. How a soldier sees a beautiful landscape in terms of the protection it affords or the threat it conceals, or how to read it as a field of forces; what various weapons can do and how tactics resemble an aggressive dance; the feel of your equipment, the bite of your pack against your shoulders and back; the sounds of fear and of hope; the elation and fatigue of the body and its vulnerability to an unfamiliar climate; the "oceanic" lift that teamwork gives you; the immense gratitude you feel toward a reliable man and the rage toward an unreliable one….

The nagging, ever-recurring "What am I doing here?"; the shame of shooting at someone and the insane pride of hitting him; the knowledge that you're deliberately brutalizing yourself day by day in self-defense; the soft, suspended emotions of the civilians who have nowhere to go except into drinking, whoring, drugs and letters to or from home. The mysterious love-hate relationships of men without women; the arbitrary rituals that substitute in the Army for ordinary social life.

Mr. Del Vecchio knows all these things and more…. He is a passionate enthusiast of the concrete detail. If he had confined himself in "The 13th Valley" to straight reporting, the...

(The entire section is 487 words.)