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Kids like me didn't go to Vietnam,o writes Jack McLean in his compulsively readable memoir. Raised in suburban New Jersey, he attended the Phillips Academy in Andover, MA, but decided to put college on hold. After graduation in the spring of 1966, faced with the mandatory military draft, he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps for a two-year stint. Vietnam at the time was a country, and not yet a war,o he writes. It didn't remain that way for long. A year later, after boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina, and stateside duty in Barstow, California, the Vietnam War was reaching its peak. McLean, like most available Marines, was retrained at Camp Pendleton, California, and sent to Vietnam as a grunt to serve in an infantry company in the northernmost reaches of South Vietnam. McLean's story climaxes with the horrific three-day Battle for Landing Zone Loon in June, 1968. Fought on a remote hill in the northwestern corner of South Vietnam, McLean bore witness to the horror of war and was forever changed. He returned home six weeks later to a country largely ambivalent to his service. Written with honesty and insight, Loon is a powerful coming-of-age portrait of a boy who bears witness to some of the most tumultuous events in our history, both in Vietnam and back home.
The third of four children, Jack McLean was born in Huntington, New York, on May 26, 1947. He was brought up in Summit, New Jersey, where he lived until admittance to Phillips Academy, Andover, at age fourteen. Upon graduation, McLean enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. After boot camp and a year on stateside duty, he served in Vietnam with Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division. McLean returned to enter Harvard University in the fall of 1968 as the college’s first Vietnam veteran. After graduation, he held marketing positions in New York; Boston; Portland, Maine; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Washington, D.C. McLean is the father of three daughters and is currently the Tsien Writer in Residence in Fort Lee, New Jersey.
From the Hardcover edition.
June 6, 1968.
It had already been a long day, and dawn had yet to break.
On his hands and knees, Bill Matthews scampered up over loose rocks and jumped into Bill Negron’s hole. Out of breath, he gasped, “They’re diggin’ in. They’re right in front of my hole, Skipper. I can hear ’em. They’re all over the fuckin’ place.”
“Now, hang on, marine. Cool it. Catch your breath. Who’s digging in and where?” Negron was calm.
“The gooks, for chrissake. The NVA, just like they did at Con Thien before they came through the wire, and, in case you haven’t noticed, we ain’t got no fuckin’ wire...sir.” Matthews caught his slight sarcasm and tried to temper it.
Negron grabbed his radio handset and called over to the 3rd Platoon. “Charlie Three, this is Charlie Six Actual, do you read me? Over.”
"Six, this is Three. Go.”
“Three, this is Six Actual.” Negron was gripping the handset ever more tightly so as not to miss a word. “Is everything cool down there?”
“That’s a negative, Six. I think the visiting team has arrived and are getting ready for the kickoff. Over.”
“Charlie One,” “Charlie Two,” and “Charlie Three” were the radio call signs of the platoons that comprised C Company, 1st Battalion, 4th Regiment, 3rd Marine Division. Charlie Six was the company commander, in this case, Captain William A. Negron. The “Actual” meant Negron himself as opposed to a designee, such as his radio operator.
A brief radio silence was broken by a call from the 1st Platoon. “Charlie Six, this is Charlie One. We’ve got company about five—zero meters out. Over.”
“One, this is Six Actual. Roger that. Give me an azimuth. Over.”
Negron was looking for the exact coordinates of the reported activity so he could direct 60 mm mortar fire to the area.
“Six, this is One. Wait out...Six, this is One—one—five mils magnetic. Over.”
“Incoming!” came the call from the near side of the perimeter.
The ensuing explosion was followed by yet another call. “Grasshopper Charlie Six, this is Grasshopper Six Actual. Things sound kinda rough up there for you. Give me a sit rep. Over.” “Grasshopper Six Actual” was the call sign for our battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel James H. MacLean (no relation to me).
“Grasshopper Six, this is Charlie Six Actual. We are in the V ring. Surrounded by unhappy gooks. Send water, ammo, air, and arty. Now. Over.”
“Charlie Six, this is Grasshopper Six. I read you loud and clear. What’s your body count? Over.”
“Grasshopper Six, be advised that I’ve lost an entire offensive football team and one baseball team. I’m too busy killing ’em to count ’em. I’ll be back when it’s quieter. Over.”
“Roger that, Charlie Six. Groceries and goodies are on the way. Over and out.”
The brief radio silence was followed by an urgent whisper on another radio that was barely audible. “Charlie Six, this is Charlie Three. Over.”
It was the voice of 3rd Platoon radio operator Mitchell calling from LZ Loon across the ravine. “This is Six. Go,” replied Terry Tillery. Tillery was Charlie Company’s radio operator, and never far from Negron’s side.
“Six, they’re coming at you. We can see it from here. They’re
Excerpted from Loon: A Marine Story by Jack McLean All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.