Who knew that the 1960s would be so weird? This book is the true story of three bright young men who eagerly enter Brown University in 1962, filled with hopes and dreams but with no inkling what is in store over the turbulent decade ahead. They all have earned full Navy ROTC scholarships and look forward to serving their country in uniform when they graduate. In fact, they sign up to be the United States Marine Corps officers. An inconceivable succession of the world and national events dramatically transform the nation from a society rooted in conformity and comfortable conservatism into one impregnated with new found scepticism and liberalism. There is no place where these ideas take hold more quickly than on the college campuses.
The Vietnam catastrophe mushrooms out of nowhere into the most divisive issue of the century. The three struggle to swim against the flood tide of anti-establishment and anti-military sentiment. Yet, they remain steadfast in their conviction to answer their country’s call. They are fun-loving, serious, naive, immature, and yet mostly dependable, all in one package. The study, play sports, party, drink beer, chase girls, horse around, fall in love, graduate, get married, have kids, and go off to war.
This story recounts college life, fast friendships, and boys becoming men. There is plenty of humour, love, determination, and rambunctious adventure, even as it becomes clear that the ugly cloud of Vietnam is destined to seize their lives after graduation. After graduation on 6/6/66, with gold USMC second lieutenant bars pinned on their collars, they march off to infantry officer training in Virginia. It is a bittersweet time as new marriages struggle to coalesce despite the terrifying separation which is imminent. One goes to Vietnam and returns home before the other two, who have trained to become fighter pilots, join squadrons in DaNang.
Astonishingly, despite overwhelming personal sacrifice, they still must endure catcalls and blatant disrespect from the very people at home whose freedom they are committed to ensuring. Dreadfully, the pilots never return and perish in the cockpits of their spectacular war machines over the jungles and seas of Vietnam, resolutely carrying out their assigned missions in that God-forsaken place. Never does their resolve and commitment to duty waiver. Was this horrible price worth it? That dilemma has taken a half-century to contemplate.
“Member of the Class”
I learned of this book from the Brown Alumni Magazine and immediately downloaded it. After all, I was also a graduate of Brown University, Class of 66 and was eager to see whether our memories of that era were congruent. Written in a serviceable style, the story describes the author’s college experience, his training to become a US Marine Officer, his subsequent tour in Vietnam, and his life after he left the Marines. Although I do not remember ever crossing paths with Mr. deLuca, I was friends with the Pembroke student who married one of his close friends. The theme through out the memoir, both in words and unspoken, is Why did the author survive while his two close friends and others die in Vietnam? I can understand why this has haunted him but to the objective reader the question is not so hard to answer. Yes, an element of chance played into it, as in so many events in history, but even more important is the fundamental decision Mr. DeLuca made to become a logistics officer while his friends chose to be pilots.
The sad, sad ultimate answer is that our best and brightest were sacrificed in a brutal war by self-serving and cynical leaders who made no commitment to win the war or protect their troops. Distance and time do not make this conclusion any easier to accept, especially when a new generation continues to die for the same ill-defined reasons.
Aside from the author’s recurrent cries of anguish (“Why me?”) the story was not particularly vivid or evocative. It did not take me back to the halls of Brunonia in more than a superficial way. I found the link to a video at the end commemorating the dedication of a plaque to those of Bravo Company who had died far more moving.