May 31, 2012

Book Review: The Village by Bing West

Cpl. Laura Cardoso
Desert Warrior Staff
Courtesy photo

The Village is a great book. It tells the story of 15 Marines assigned to defend a hamlet, working with about the same number of Popular Force militiamen. Of that original group, 7 are killed in the first half of the book, which was intense. As you read you learn how the Marines love their work, get along fine with the villagers, and exact an even higher toll on the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese units sent against them.

Bing West is a gifted writer. He is very descriptive and can give the reader a picture perfect image of what you are reading.

He also knows what he’s writing about because West was a platoon leader in Vietnam. He visited the village often, and he led some of the patrols he describes, though mostly the book is based on interviews with the men of the combined-action squad.

The first half reads like a novel, but real life seldom follows a plot line so they way the story is written later on changes.

When the Marines are withdrawn from Binh Nghia, the village first reverts to Viet Cong control, then is pacified as the war situation changes after the bloody battles of Tet.

West returns to the village again and again, mostly recently in 2002. He ends that visit, and this edition of the book, with a visit to a well and a shrine that the Marines had built in 1967, and that still held a plaque in their memory.

The extent to which the Marines are integrated into the village is amazing. The villagers love the Marines, inviting them over for tea and dinner, and at one point even siding with a Marine against another villager in a fight. The Marines unofficially adopt a mistreated orphan boy, and some of them learn to speak Vietnamese.

The book was not only a quick and easy read but very enjoyable and informative. It gave me a good understanding of what happened in the village.

I’m glad I had the chance to read it and I recommend it without reservation.

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