The Consequences of Combat

Alex Aslock
90.9 WBUR Here & Now

Best-selling author and Vietnam war veteran, Karl Marlantes, can still see the eyes of a young North Vietnamese soldier standing before him with a grenade. Marlantes wanted to tell him, drop the grenade, I won’t shoot, but he couldn’t speak Vietnamese. The North Vietnamese soldier did not drop the grenade, so Marlantes squeezed the trigger. “He was just a kid like me,” Marlantes says today.

Marlantes writes about the war in his fascinating new book, “What It Is Like To Go To War.”

He grew up in the Pacific Northwest. His father served in World War II. Marlanteswent to Yale and joined the Marines in 1964. Three years later, he walked away from a Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford to fight in Vietnam, because he didn’t want to sit on the fence while Marines he knew were dying. In 1969, Marlantes was dropped into the highland jungle of Vietnam as an inexperienced second lieutenant. He saw lots of combat, lost buddies, earned medals and when he came home a woman walked up to him and spat on him.

Marlantes was awarded the Navy Cross when he led a charge on North Vietnamese machine gunners at the top of a hill. He writes that of all the things he did that day, the one he’s most proud of is that he stood up, and started zig-zagging his way up the hill toward the enemy bunker.

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