Mail Call: Vietnam & UW Madison 1968-69
A manuscript looking for a publisher, 113 pages text plus original war photos from Vietnam and Vietnam Map.
Essence of the book: Primary source Letters/Autobiographical Experiences of the Vietnam War in Southeast Asia and at home combined with poetry in response to the war and campus protests at UW Madison during the same time period and post-war.
The reader is immersed into the Vietnam War with first-hand accounts from a trained reporter turned soldier. The soldier’s sister also communicates her experiences as a freshman on a turbulent UW Madison campus of the same time period. Together they share what was learned and what was lost.
Synopsis of the book: What happens in war? Letters written and sent home from a soldier throws the reader into the beating heart of the Vietnam War with all of its blood, boredom and chaos. Letters written by Sgt. Peter R. Langlois, a solider with a journalism degree from University of Wisconsin - Madison and a low draft number tells an insider’s story that is honest, raw and truthful about what happened in his countdown “back to the world” while in combat near the Cambodian border. Riding “tracks” (armored personnel carriers) into rice paddies; engaging in nighttime sweeps of the jungle, Sgt. Langlois brings you smack into the smells, sights, and sounds of war in the late 1960s.
At home we were a nation protesting the war in Vietnam. Students protesting the war interrupted classes and corporate recruiters on Madison’s campus often leading to clashes with police. A wide–eyed freshman, the sister of Sgt Langlois, walked to classes behind a platoon of marching guardsmen who wore face masks down, carried guns on shoulders, heading into the epicenter of the war on campus. Her correspondence with her brother and poetry of time and place remind the reader how history is made by those who were part of the trauma of social change. Annette’s poetry also follows the return home, life after agent orange, cancer, and how family must adapt.
Letter Excerpt from Sgt. Peter Langlois:
As we moved down a narrow road leading into dense foliage, the whole world suddenly seemed to open fire on the tracks. To be exact, the tracks were caught in an ambush. The enemy had our position on the road zeroed in for mortars. The ambush was sprung by simultaneously firing mortars, RPG’s (rifle propelled grenades), and heavy small arm and machine gun fire. One mortar landed in front of our track and another behind it. Bullets were ricocheting off the armor and cracking over our heads. Within seconds, our radio was crackling with screams of “medic, medic – I need a medic fast. Then,
“Hold your fire – don’t shoot the fifties – you’ll hit our own troops.”
“For Christ sake get a medic, we’ve got a man bleeding to death.”
“The sergeant is hit – his face is covered with blood. God, someone get the medic.”
“We’re receiving heavy fire – we need the fifties.” “Hold your fire, pull back.”
As we pulled back from the ambush kill zone, we opened fire with everything we had. The track ahead of us had taken a direct mortar hit on the fifty-spraying the gunner and driver with shrapnel. Back at the edge of the rubber, we formed a small tight perimeter. Everyone was still firing full volume as the bedlam continued.
The driver of my track jumped out of the driver’s hatch and climbed on to the track that had been hit with the mortar. The fifty gunner was slouched over the remains of his gun. Our driver lifted him off the track and managed to get the wounded man behind the vehicle for cover. The gallantry was futile. The mortar had blown away a bicep, part of his head, and had made his chest crimson mush. As our driver laid the wounded gunner on the ground, his eyes rolled back and cast an icy white stare. He was dead.
The wounded driver managed to get off the track but he had to be lead to cover because blood was running over his eyes. At this point, our element had 1 KIA and 3 WIA’s.
One of the wounded was a sergeant who was shot through the side of his face. His eyes were bleeding and swollen shut. One cheek was a gapping red hole.
Our platoon sergeant started calling for a “dust off” but when the medevac chopper started to approach about 30 minutes later, it suddenly dropped out of the air from enemy fire. Another “dust off” made it in 40 minutes later.
It seemed like an eternity waiting for air support. Finally gunships and several new Huey “Cobras” slammed machine gun and rocket fire into the enemy positions.
The dismounted troops were pinned down. While we waited for the dust-off, our platoon leader kept calling us on the radio, fearful he would get over run. But we couldn’t move until the wounded were taken care of.
Just before dark, the tracks circled back through the rubber; crunched through several hedgerows and approached the pinned down troops in a wood line across a clearing.
Once in the open, we opened fire, and roared into the edge of the woods. The whole area was a maze of red flashes in the dim light. Our superior fire power overwhelmed the enemy about an hour later. By now it was dark and we had to keep firing aerial flares so that everyone could find his way back to the tracks. Sniper fire continued and several enemy caught crawling in the light of the flares were quickly disposed.
At 8:30 p.m. we started driving back through the rubber. Choppers dropped flares for illumination. Back on the main road, casualties were totaled – 5 KIA and 15 wounded.
We finally got back to our battalion logger at 1:30 a.m. One track was left behind – blown apart in the ambush site.
Poetry Excerpts By Annette Langlois Grunseth:
Ongoing War (published Portage Magazine April 2019)
Pears (published Bramble Lit Mag 2017)