The Journal of Patrick Seamus Flaherty: United States Marine Corps Khe Sanh, Vietnam, 1968
Ellen Emerson White
Historical Fiction (Series)
Ages 12 and up
Scholastic, 2002, 0-439-14890-1
For many, what happened in Vietnam is too painful to be talked or read about. It was a strange time in American history and it was the last time that soldiers came back from a foreign war to be treated as if they were contaminated and not fit to be a part of society. Patrick Seamus Flaherty went straight from his high school graduation to sign up to go to Vietnam. He was determined to do his part "for his country". With stars still in his eyes Patrick is sent to a distant hill called hill 881 South near the village (and the base) of Khe Sanh. At first the worst war experiences he is subjected to are those that exist within his own squad. He has a hard time finding his place in the group, but eventually he too discovers that he has a role to play in the squad. He also is given a nickname, "Mighty Mouse" after the cartoon character. Everyone in the squad has a nickname; there is Professor, Hollywood, Bebop, Apollo, Mooch, Fox, Shadow, Smedley and Rotgut. The oldest in the group is twenty years old.
Patrick's first taste of war comes when he is on patrol in the jungle when the North Vietnamese Army soldiers are active. Patrick gets to know the others in his squad quite well, but he also learns that it is dangerous to develop friendships because men are being killed all the time. The person Patrick gets to know the best is Bebop, a young man from Detroit. These two share a trench when hill 881 is shelled and shot at for seventy days during the battle of Khe Sanh. The young men who held Khe Sanh during that time took a terrible beating and casualty numbers were high. Patrick saw his friends being flown out, one by one, either in a body bag or on a stretcher. At long last, after leaving hill 881 S, Patrick learns why Bebop was given his nickname. Bebop is a musician unlike any that Patrick has ever heard before and Bebop's music changes Patrick's life for ever.
The strength of the relationships that Patrick has with his squad members makes this a powerful and moving story. Another way in which the author takes us into Patrick's life is by having him write his diary using the slang of the time. In the beginning Patrick is using schoolboy slang. Over time, more and more often, our young soldier uses military, and particularly Vietnam War, slang instead. We can see him change, growing up rapidly in a very short space of time. He arrived keen and gung ho to be a soldier, but it isn't long before all he wants is a decent meal, clean clothes and the opportunity to go home. The suffering of Patrick and those like him is so real, so pitiable that though it is hard to read his story, it is even harder to put this book down. We have to find out what happens to Patrick and his friends, and we hope that he makes it home in one piece. This book is one of the "My Name is America" books.
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