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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

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  1,018 Ratings  ·  56 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.
Paperback, 272 pages
Published February 17th 2007 by W. W. Norton Company (first published September 30th 1978)
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Dec 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
M.G. Edwards
Jan 16, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
John Podlaski
Aug 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biographies, military
What does it take to fracture the human mind or break the human spirit? Our natural tendency is to constantly seek to make sense out of our environment. So where there is no meaning or purpose our minds will naturally create them. There are however, experiences that seem beyond the capacity of the mind to grasp or ever explain, that of being thrust into the harrowing and chaotic forge of senseless combat that can overwhelm even the strongest. LT Frederick Downs captures this well in his writing ...more
Feb 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book is about men in combat, American infantrymen, in the Central Highlands of Vietnam in 1967~1968. 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 style of memoir follows that of a journal with daily entries retelling what happened to the platoon. Sometimes nothing but waiting around (most of the time) and others c ...more
George Seaton
Sep 17, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
War, any war, is inevitably viewed by the infantry soldier or Marine as encompassing a single truth: kill or be killed. That soldier's or Marine's humanity--if he possessed any to begin with--is necessarily compromised by that truth. Such is what I came away with from "The Killing Zone..." Not a particularly well-written narrative, but a revealing one if only to point out the depth of callousness assumed by Downs and his men. Some examples:

"One of the men took one of the dink’s hands that had be
Cindy Deyo
Jan 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I found this book in the history section of Baldwin's Book Barn in Lancaster, was published in 1978 and again in 2006 and I'm so glad to have the opportunity to learn more about what was going on in a time when I was living my life as a young, independent adult oblivious to what "real life" meant to so many others of my generation, and more reflectively, to many of my high school classmates who entered the service on their own terms or who were drafted. I recommend this first-hand accoun ...more
Alyssa Price
Feb 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
What an insightful and shocking set of details this book portrays. I cannot possibly fathom what this must've been like to experience. I am grateful to Downs for sharing his thoughts and experiences with the world. It's books like this one that help me to better understand what the Vietnam War was truly like for those who fought. Thank you to each and every one who fought and sacrificed so much.
Jun 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: vietnam
This is an excellent book about what it meant to be on the ground with the infantry in Vietnam. It is well crafted and written with both seriousness and candor. The author meant to share the experiences of the soldiers in that brutal jungle war and he succeeds. Written only 10 years after the events of the worst year of the war 1968, it has been updated with an afterwards by the author.
John Martin
Nov 07, 2016 rated it really liked it
I discovered that his journal was only for six months, and I found
myself in base camp waiting for the next mission. I am
kind of confused why he stopped in the middle of his tour. I am
hesitant to pick up his second book, but curious enough to find out
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
Feb 23, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library-borrow
Yeesh. This book was an extremely raw and visceral account of the Vietnam war through the eyes of an infantry Lieutenant. Nothing is held back, nothing is sugar coated. Ambushes, hand to hand combat and everything in between—this books brings the insanity and horror of fighting in the jungles of Vietnam to life.
Jun 18, 2010 rated it liked it
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
Steve Woods
Mar 31, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
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
steven schoephoerster
Great Book

This narrative was excellently written and rife with both candor and humility --I really appreciated and enjoyed the messages contained in the Afterword --thanks for your service, Lt. Downs!
Kelsey Mccluskey
Jan 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Like other first hand accounts I have read from soldiers who fought in the Vietnam War this was gripping and real and took the reader right into the action. It told about the day to day life of someone on the ground, in the jungle, doing what they were trained to do, while still being completely unprepared for the war they were involved in. Downs is 23, in charge of men younger and than him but all are unprepared for what they are about to experience. Living with the constant fear of ambush and ...more
Jul 22, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 20th-century
"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
This book is as good as any day to day account of a soldier in the Vietnam war that I have read. It is not as good as Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes, but supposedly that book was fiction. The beauty of the book is also its depiction of Vietnam veterans that came back, which were most often draftees and were constantly belittled by the press and much of the American public as "baby killers". Fortunately we have learned some lessons based on the treatment of veterans of subsequent wars. In his prefa ...more
Aug 19, 2014 rated it liked it
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
Oct 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 22, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Jeff Lacy
Sep 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing

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
Reginald V.
Jan 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I agree with the "Army Times": The best damn book from the point of view of the infantry men who fought there." I have yet a LOT of the Vietnam cannon. This is so far the only book that brought home to me the immediacy of being right there on the trails, in the jungle, on the bridges, in the choppers and seeing the enemy face to face.

If this book could have been written, published and READ in 1969, the War would have ended well before 1975.
Jun 19, 2011 rated it really liked it
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.
Jun 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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)
Phil Hamman
Oct 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: viet-nam-war
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.
Vinh Pham
Mar 10, 2016 rated it liked it
This was a great book based off the war they had in the jungle during the Vietnam War. It brings a perspective of the soldiers in war, and how it was during the battle they had. This book gave me a really good amount of history on how the battle in the jungle was, as enemies hid behind bushes and such, for good camouflage.
Aug 31, 2007 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fl
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.
Ginta Harrigan
Nov 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
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.
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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
“Nobody could have traveled a trail with more caution than yours truly, but I got nailed anyhow, and just when I was beginning to think I was a black Davy Crockett.” 0 likes
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