"…I thought about what really mattered in life, and it wasn’t things. I had lived for a year without all the trappings of civilization."

After several flights—and two delays circling different runways to allow downed fighter planes to be cleared—Griess arrived at An Khe, Vietnam. This was her new home for the next year while she worked in Second Surgical Hospital, designated as 2D SURG, a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH). Anyone who has no combat experience will have trouble understanding exactly what Griess and the rest of the medical staff dealt with, but the author does an admirable job of succinctly explaining the who, why, what, and where of operating a MASH unit in a combat zone.

From her orientation (learning not to salute where enemy snipers could be watching) to her last few months (which involved moving the “hospital in a box” to Chu Lai), Griess learns to adapt again and again to various hardships. In an ER in the States, she might have had to work with a car crash victim’s lacerations or an athlete’s fractures. In Vietnam, some of the worst wounds Griess treated included punji stake wounds. Although these are simple puncture wounds made by sharpened stakes, the Viet Cong had the nasty habit of coating the stakes with human feces. This allowed disease-causing pathogens to be embedded deep within the flesh, and the result could be the loss of limb or life if not treated promptly.

The author writes with razor-sharp precision, and with a frank tone that perfectly complements the bleak hardships of war. Whether writing about being shelled in the middle of the night by the Viet Cong or describing the discovery of a rat-like thing that had had her babies in the author’s dresser drawer, her wartime experiences need no superlatives—the author’s charming, dry wit is more than enough. This first-hand account of what Vietnam was really like behind the scenes ought to be required reading for students, as it is far more memorable and informative than most textbooks.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

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