By Rama Gaind
PS News Books
Well Done, Those Men: Memoirs of a Vietnam Veteran
By Barry Heard (Scribe, $27.95, softcover, 303 pages)
Gaining insight into what life was like for Vietnam veterans makes for impressionable reading with this first-hand account from Barry Heard.
His experiences provide a real picture of the fighting in Vietnam, but it is also distressing. However, this is an honest description of an historic account of a soiled era that few people ‘truly understood’.
His illness came after being a jungle soldier, suffering painful, sad memories that he found ‘repulsive, sickening, disgusting’ and they made him angry. Above all he kept his ill-health a secret.
His introduction is moving: “For years after returning from Vietnam, I kept my illness hidden with long hours of work, study, sporting pursuits, and anything that produced total exhaustion and allowed me to fall into bed and sleep ... But I was wearing out; my resilience to the flashbacks and nightmares was weakening ... I became hyper-vigilant, wary of crowded places and doorways, and my general physical health deteriorated. Other veterans I knew well were in mental health care or struggling to work at a job ... I was no longer able to hide Vietnam from myself ... One night I collapsed. I knew I was dying, and I now believe I welcomed the event...”
After his “vague will to live” was re-kindled, he decided to “purge many demons” by taking pen to paper.
Whether or not you’re repulsed by war, it is usually “only a small part of the battle that determines the rest of a soldier’s life”. This veteran surfaces to the top – victorious.
When Barry finally acquired the courage to write about the dark times without nightmares, it proved to be a cathartic experience, helping him to deal with his fears.
Well Done, Those Men – a testimony to human fortitude – is a Victorian winner in the National Year of Reading 2012 collection.
Edition 406, 22 April 2014
To find out more about Rama Gaind click here.