Vietnam Memoir with a Twist
Afternoon Vietnam gives us a perspective quite different
from other books—indeed other media—about the
Vietnam war. The author, Gary L. Wilhelm, is an engineer and
was an engineer called to “duty” by his firm,
Univac. Readers will find his viewpoint sometimes tinged with
satire, more often will a gentle humor marked with disbelief.
After all, how can a civilian employee be prepared for the
likes of Vietnam when so often even those with military training
is a reality about the prose—a reality that goes unconfirmed—that
much of this book is from actual notes or a journal written
on-the-spot. The same goes for the structure which, though
told as if it unfolds with a real-time projection—also
seems to be punctuated by whatever oddity (the one and a half
page description of the Vietnamese laundry woman who washed
the authors’ clothes in metal cans and swept the sand
from his sleeping quarters) happens to come to mind. Sort
of a Viet-style stream of consciousness. And the story is
all the more believable for it.
Afternoon Vietnam includes a couple suggestions for further
reading. One on the copyright page , is a free discussion
guide for the book that may be handy for the needs of secondary
education units at www.thewiseowlfactory.com/good-afternoon-vietnam-book-review-and-free-guide/.
The other, the last chapter titled “Conclusions”
at the end of the book rarely seen in a memoir, is an integral
part of the memoir. Indeed the book, though personal and first
person, is often more of a teaching tool than a memoir. I
consider it cross-genre. The need to share, the connection
with biography, the personal aspect of the book only served
to intensify the usefulness of it as a teaching tool in terms
career and life planning as well as the far-reaching and unexpected
effects of war.