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The Killing Zone: My Life in the Vietnam War
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The Killing Zone: My Life in the Vietnam War

3.96 of 5 stars 3.96  ·  rating details  ·  429 ratings  ·  37 reviews
Among the best books ever written about men in combat, The Killing Zone tells the story of the platoon of Delta One-six, capturing what it meant to face lethal danger, to follow orders, and to search for the conviction and then the hope that this war was worth the sacrifice. The book includes a new chapter on what happened to the platoon members when they came home.
ebook, 272 pages
Published February 17th 2007 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published October 1978)
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M.G. Edwards
First published in 1984 and updated in 2007, Frederick Downs, Jr.'s personal account as an infantryman in Vietnam during the war is one of the best books ever written about those who saw ground combat in Vietnam. It's a jarring story of a soldier's life in the field as told through Downs' chronicle of his time near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) in 1967-68. That his novel is a must-read for West Point cadets is a testament to its accurate portrayal of military combat conditions.

My father served in
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Steve
I read the book because my brother was killed in Vietnam back in March of 1969 with a squad of men. Someone tripped a mine. It could have been my brother, George. He was 20 years old. This book gave me a clear picture of what it was like over in the jungles and what he had to endore everyday. When he was injured by a Bouncing Betty Mine, it gave me an explanation of how my brother's squad was killed. When someone trips a bouncing betty, it flies up out of the ground to about waist high and explo ...more
Steve
The book opens with an account of an encounter on the Denver University campus where a man notices Downs’s artificial arm and asks if he got that in
Vietnam. Upon an affirmative reply the man responds, “Serves you right”. It was almost as if the student knew Downs’s story but there was no way he could have so shame on him. Knowing Downs's story would have reinforced his feeling. I on the other hand think no one deserves that fate.

“The Killing Zone” is a rousing, explicit and somewhat candid sto
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Jo
I found this book enlightening. Even though I wasn't alive during the Vietnam War, I have a feeling I would've been one of those people who the war. And maybe even hated soldiers. I have since made a distinction. I hate war, not the people who fight in a war. People fight in a war; because they are told to, because they have to, because they are proud of their country. In war there must be enemies, but really, every soldier is a person, who probably has friends and a family that cares for them. ...more
John Podlaski
Fred Downs does an excellent job at depicting the day-to-day life of infantry soldiers in the Vietnam War. Told through the eyes of a Platoon Leader/Second Lieutenant, we see the war from a different perspective. Using a journal approach, the author leads his platoon - alternating between their tedious duty of protecting bridges to the difficult humps through the jungle on search and destroy missions. The battles are descriptive and you are saddened when one of the well-developed characters is k ...more
Steve Woods
This little book is based on the diaries of an American platoon commander who served with distinction in the field in Vietnam prior the beginning demise of the American armed forces deployed there, which seemed to gather momentum from 1967 onwards and fall over a precipice post Tet in 1968. His accounts read like an official war diary,they are an accurate account of exactly what it was like and how our experience registered with us immediately post engagement. Any infantryman who served in Vietn ...more
John
"The philosophical arguments in favor of man's ability to resist the slide into barbarism may sound noble and rational in a classroom or at a cocktail party. But when the enemy is bearing down, bent on taking your life away from you, its not his country against your country, not his army against your army, not his philosophy against your philosophy-it's the fact that that son-of-a-bitch is trying to kill you and you'd better kill him first" This is a great quote from the book that I think summar ...more
Drew Leverton
The author's purpose in writing this book was to let the reader see what it was like for a soldier on the ground in the Vietnam War. Frederick Downs was a twenty-three-year-old infantry lieutenant in the Vietnam War. He expected the war to be exciting, but got a rude awakening when he actually got to Vietnam. Frederick Downs' account gives the reader a day to day view of the difficulties that were faced by army infantrymen.

The theme of this book was bravery. Downs showed bravery everyday as he w
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Lisa
Oct 08, 2011 Lisa rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Americans
I always try to glean a philosophical or leadership gem from these military books. For this book, I think the climactic quote was:

"Why did we kill the dinks (Vietnamese)? After all, we had been mostly law-abiding citizens back in the world and we were taught that to take another man's life was wrong. Somehow the perspective got twisted in a war. If the government told us it was right and, in fact, a must to kill the members of another government's people, then we had the law on our side. It turn
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Nova
I read this book as a change to what I might normally read. It is an honest account of what it was like to be an infantryman on the ground in the Vietnam War. It is hard to know what it is like to be in the depths of a war, but Mr. Down's book describes it on an almost daily basis. The things he, as well as the other men who served, went through make me in awe of them. So many of them were young men sent to fight and serve our country in a war so far away from home and anything they ever knew. S ...more
Jeff Lacy


A compelling and unflinching account of an infantry officer's experience in Vietnam during 1967-68. Clear description of the action and emotion facing the soldier facing an illusive enemy and hidden land mines. More than a historical memoir or military history, but a study in human nature. A finely written book, full of intensity and heart break, that leaves one full of admiration and empathy for the infantry man surviving and fighting in combat for his brothers in arms often confused and puzzl
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Christopher
This was a difficult book for me. I've read fiction covering worse than this with far more detail but the simple fact that this happened is amazing. I found I couldn't read it before bed and was constantly surprised to realize these men are really boys of 20-24ish. Amazing.

Lastly, my version had an 'afterward' which I found most difficult. Reading about the men's post-war lives (or lack there of) was upsetting and sad. I'm glad to see we no longer voice our anger and hate at our soldiers when w
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Mike Smith
An excellent account of the life of a soldier on the ground in the Vietnam War. Downs was a young U.S. Army lieutenant with no combat experience in 1967 when he was shipped to S.E. Asia. He had to learn quickly what jungle warfare was all about, and by the time he left Nam he had learned a lot. This is a good companion book to Matterhorn, a fictional account of U.S. Marines in 'Nam that also paints a true picture of what the war over there was really like for the grunt.
Jonathan
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. First off, the book is a true story following a new infantry lieutenant who is sent to Vietnam to lead troops there. There are many parts of the book that get you very anxious as you try anticipating Fredrick's orders to give his men. This is a breath taking book that you should check out! (If you are into military stories, since this is not for the faint at heart)
Robert A.
To say that this is an excellent book about combat in VN is an understatement. There are several books that truly depict infantry combat operations in VN. This is the personal experience of a highly decorated platoon leader; a gripping narrative that paints a visual picture of the VN war from the perspective of the infantry soldier.

(by the author of The Children's Story, A Novel Not for Children)
Sara
I was looking for a more cynical, critical discussion of The War. I didn't agree with him, but I respected him and sympathized.

He was only in Nam for 4 months. Got 4 Purple Hearts, Bronze Star, Silver Star, and his arm blown off by a Bouncing Betty.

The men kill because their gov't tells them to. The separation between the power who orders killing and the actual experience is too great.
Phil Hamman
Lt. Frederick Downs, is fresh out of OCS, Officer Candidate School when he is informed he will begoing to the 4th Division, based in Pleiku, in the Central Highlands of South Vietnam.Fighting abounds in this area. 'The Killing Zone' is an excellent book about those who saw ground combat in Vietnam. I commend Downs for his efforts to promote reconciliation with the Vietnamese people.
Gabriel Cooper
This book outlines one G.I's experience in Vietnam. It is very insightful and harrowing, describing day to day activities and the brutal jungle and village fighting that went on in the Northern Highlands.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in what real war is like, and the effects it has on young veterans when they come home.
Anton Viera
The killing zone: my life in pain in the vietnam war by fredrick downs, is a great novel teaching what really happened during vietnam war. It is told in the perspective of the soldier and it shows you what it was like to participate in the war. The book would be a good book for people interested in war books and also a little mystery.
Ginta Harrigan
This is a great book. Mr. Downs describes his experiences in Vietnam in vivid detail. It is so descriptive that you feel like you are right there with him. I love Downs journal style of writing. He is so honest in his feelings about killing and the prospect of losing his life.

I highly recommend this book.
Mia
Excellent and sobering biography about what it was like for the American infantry men in the Vietnam War. I couldn't put it down. It also really made think about the current wars in the world today and how senseless so much of it is.
Martha
This reminded me of friends and relatives returning to a NOT grateful nation from that war, Support or troops always- but question the policy. Too few of us fight the wars for all of us.
Josh Stephens
Not bad. Pretty detailed account of one man's tour in Vietnam. Lots of gruesome stories. Short book, only 237 pages, but any longer than that just would have been too much.
Rick
a fine first-person memoir of life as a combat soldier in Vietnam. I prefer others in this genre to this book, but it was one of the first.
Brian
An interesting book about the pure struggle of the infantryman in Vietnam. Very detailed in locations, firefights, people, etc.. A good read!
Michelle
It was a good book but nearly descriptive enough for me, I wanted more detailed descriptions. It also felt like the ending was rushed.
Quent
Novel. "The best damned book from the point of view of the infantrymen who fought there" said the Army Times.
Russell
Without question the best book I have ever read about war from a soldier's point of view - I consider this a must-read
Rich
Another insight to the Viet Nam War. For those who served, its definitely worth reading! HOOAH!
Nancy
I always like to see a person's viewpoint on this war - I lost too mant friends!
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“The philosophical arguments in favor of man’s ability to resist the slide into barbarism sound noble and rational in a classroom or at a cocktail party. But when the enemy is bearing down, bent on taking your life away from you, it’s not his country against your country, not his army against your army, not his philosophy against your philosophy-it’s the fact that that son-of-a-bitch is trying to kill you and you’d better kill him first.” 1 likes
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