"We're all dead over here. We're just trying to get home and back to life."
Richie Perry is a young African-American from Harlem who, for lack of better opportunities, gets swept up into the whirlwind that is the Vietnam War. A typical bureaucratic mix-up misplaces his paperwork about his bum knee and he is assigned to a combat unit. Perry navigates this new world and what he believes will be an adventure as, in his estimation, the war is soon to end. Unfortunately that turns out not to be the case. The Tet offensive just so happens to fall right in the middle of Richie's tour. He makes friends with his squad mates who consist of other black soldiers, a Jew, an Italian, and a couple of white soldiers. As they bond through their trials and tribulations they come to realize that race is the last thing one notices with brothers in arms and that love for the man in the foxhole next to you sees no color. Richie must deal with fear, death, combat, uncertainty and the loss of innocence as he navigates this hell that is the Vietnam War. One of the most difficult problems he encounters is how to befriend the local people, who have been struggling and fighting in one form or another for as long as anyone can remember who are just as terrorized by the Viet Cong as they are by the American soldiers. How can anyone rectify or justify the things that war makes men do? Richie must struggle with and kill the enemy at night and then, during the day, try to win the minds and hearts of these people while looking into the very faces of those who might actually be pulling the trigger against him and his comrades. How exactly does one survive and retain one's sanity?
Walther Dean Myers is a master at making likable, believable, realistic characters and thrusting them into situations that would test anyone's soul. He certainly pulls no punches here as his characters face both the best and worst that mankind can do to itself. This book is not only about war and combat but on a deeper level, trust and love for one's friends and the bonds that can be formed between veterans facing monumental struggles and situations that are almost incomprehensible to those who haven't experienced war. This book is most definitely not for the too young and contains scenes of incredible violence but to know the truth of war one must be willing to not look away from the truth of what it is, on all levels. I highly recommend this book to both adults and young adults alike who are willing to take that look.