Alpha One Sixteen

REVIEW: Alpha One Sixteen: A Combat Infantryman’s Year in Vietnam

Peter Clark’s year in Vietnam began in July 1966, when he was shipped out with hundreds of other young recruits, as a replacement in the 1st Infantry Division. Clark was assigned to the Alpha Company. Clark gives a visceral, vivid and immediate account of life in the platoon, as he progresses from green recruit to seasoned soldier over the course of a year in the complexities of the Vietnamese conflict.

Alpha One Sixteen

Clark gradually learns the techniques developed by US troops to cope with the daily horrors they encountered, the technical skills needed to fight and survive, and how to deal with the awful reality of civilian casualties. Fighting aside, it rained almost every day and insect bites constantly plagued the soldiers as they moved through dense jungle, muddy rice paddy and sandy roads. From the food they ate (largely canned meatballs, beans and potatoes) to the inventive ways they managed to shower, every aspect of the platoon’s lives is explored in this revealing book. The troops even managed to fit in some R&R whilst off-duty in the bars of Tokyo.

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Alpha One Sixteen follows Clark as he discovers how to cope with the vagaries of the enemy and the daily confusion the troops faced in distinguishing combatants from civilians. The Viet Cong were a largely unseen enemy who fought a guerrilla war, setting traps and landmines everywhere. Clark’s vigilance develops as he gets used to ‘living in mortal terror,’ which a brush with death in a particularly terrifying fire fight does nothing to dispel. As he continues his journey, he chronicles those less fortunate; the heavy toll being taken all around him is powerfully described at the end of each chapter.

Peter Clark was raised in Illinois, where he graduated from New Trier Township High School. He was in the United States Army from 1965 to 1968, including Vietnam service with the 1st Infantry Division. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois and Yale Law School and a member of the Massachusetts Bar. He has been a county prosecutor, counsel to state mental health and social service agencies, a legal aid lawyer, and an Assistant Attorney General in Massachusetts. He currently serves in the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services in the Office of the Inspector General. He currently lives in Catonsville, MD.

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