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Posted on Aug 13, 2009 in Books and Movies

Loon: A Marine Story – Book Review

By Alexander Wilson

Loon: A Marine Story. By Jack McLean. Presidio Press, 2009. 256 pages. Hardback. US $25.00.

Loon should be required reading for anyone interested in the Vietnam War.

Note: All quotations taken from the advanced uncorrected page proof copy of Loon. Please consult the final bound copy of the book for the final version of these sections.

“Kids like me didn’t go to Vietnam.”

This sentence is the foundation from which Jack McLean builds his excellent new memoir, Loon: A Marine Story. McLean’s work is above all a superb personal narrative and a gripping tale of combat; but it is also a much more complete story, painting a portrait of McLean’s own generation, and looking at the tumultuous time of the late 1960s. It is a story not only of the Vietnam War, but of political turmoil, the Beatles, and antiwar protests as well, and the effect that they had upon the average Marine fighting in Vietnam.

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McLean grew up in the suburbs of New York City, and attended the prestigious Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, along with future president George W. Bush. His childhood and adolescence were idyllic; “my young life was straight out of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.” No one would have ever guessed that McLean, after struggling through five academically grueling years at Andover and being rejected by all of the colleges to which he applied, would decide to enter the United States Marine Corps and spend eight months on a bloody combat tour in Vietnam, and then return to attend Harvard.

The road to Vietnam began for McLean after he decided to put college on hold and enlisted in the Marine Corps in March of 1966. As McLean puts it, “They needed fresh bodies to fill their ballooning war quotas … Unlike five different colleges, the United States Marine Corps actually wanted me.”

After completing basic training at Parris Island, McLean was assigned to supply school and subsequently spent a brief stint at a major Marine Corps supply center. He finally shipped out for Vietnam on November 5, 1967, as part of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 4th Regiment, 3rd Marine Division.

The next eight months were ones of combat, chaos, and coming of age for McLean. In his own words, “Welcome to combat. It was not like in the movies.” He participated in numerous patrols near the DMZ (De-Militarized Zone) shortly after arriving in Vietnam, but his unit was lucky in that it was not initially involved in any heavy combat. Instead, McLean and his Charlie Company comrades were tasked with manning and improving defensive positions near the DMZ, an assignment that brought a short period of relative peace. It was during this time that McLean learned, to his complete surprise, that he had been admitted to Harvard University, to which he had grudgingly applied during a previous leave. Needless to say, he was ecstatic.

Yet the lull in combat for McLean was not to last, and his company shifted from a defensive role to aggressive patrolling. On June 4, 1968, McLean and fellow Marines from the 3rd Marine Division were transported by helicopter to a landing zone south of Khe Sahn, a position that would come to be known as Landing Zone Loon, or simply LZ Loon—hence the title of McLean’s memoir.

At LZ Loon, McLean and his comrades-in-arms would spend the next three days in intense, almost uninterrupted combat against numerically superior NVA forces. For McLean, this was both his first and last major combat engagement. It was the bloody climax of his combat tour in Vietnam, and fittingly forms the absorbing climax of his memoir.

“For those three days in June 1968 Charlie and Delta Companies 1/4 were the war in Vietnam.” Of the 180 Marines who landed on LZ Loon, only 60 survived, and at least 22 dead were left behind. Many of McLean’s friends lost their lives in the battle, the horrors of which would scar him for life.

Soon after the battle at LZ Loon, his tour of duty was up, and he was discharged from the Marine Corps and departed Vietnam for the States. Bewildered at the apathy and hatred shown by many of his fellow Americans towards Vietnam veterans such as himself, he learned not to speak about his military service, burying his memories of Vietnam deep inside himself. He went on to earn the distinction of being the first Vietnam veteran to graduate from Harvard and embarked upon a long and successful marketing career.

An excellent memoir of a privileged boy’s maturation as he journeys through the Marines, Vietnam, and an Ivy League school, Loon should be required reading for anyone interested in the Vietnam War. Those simply looking for a well-written and captivating combat narrative won’t be disappointed either.

ACG Intel:

Loon: A Marine Story (Amazon)

LZ Loon

Alexander Wilson has been an avid student of history and military history since he was eight. He especially enjoys ancient Rome, the Middle Ages, and World War II, as well as the American Civil War. When not doing schoolwork, working, reading, or writing, he can usually be found building models, gardening, or playing Axis and Allies Miniatures. He is an active member of the Armchair General and HistoryNet Forums, under the username “CatholicCrusade,” and a fan of the Cincinnati Reds.

8 Comments

  1. hey i was on lz loon june 4th 1968 i was with the 1st chopper that got in on the 4th of june i was with Deta 1/ 4 1st plt 1st sq,, my company com.. was 1st Lt Michael Jackson which was hit in the letf side…. yes it was a battle that i will never get out of my head three days of hell I’ll always remember seeing the chopper going down in smoke from Charlie Co below me i was with the team that came down the the trail to give the rest of Charlie compasny surport so you guys cauld get in our lines i was then on was just below where the chopper was trying to land and where the rockets was hitting i remember you guys carring your dead … and we all said our last prayer

    • Dave, are you a small guy that carried to 60 gun?

      • No i was with 1st sq.. 1st plton the lower side where the choppers where coming in.. the gun team was the next hole from me Only knew him by the name of Yoyo…. and i know u know him for sure

        Gerry you and i went to delta on the same day along with Barry and Frazier

  2. I was a machine gunner with D company 1st plt. I remember 4 RPGs striking both sides and front of my hole. I was dazed from the explosions and could not hear the explosions around met. I was out of ammo for the gun and I was firing with my a gunners rifle and my 45 after he had left to get more ammo. He was hit as an aircraft dropped napalm on the facing hill. I could feel the heat and smell the raw smell of burning fuel.

  3. I remember.
    I was 3rd plt, radio operator in C company.
    Yes I was on the lower hill.
    and was so glad to join D company on the higher hill.
    until I got there.. you guys were no better off then we were.
    I remember seeing the enemy going through the bodies of the guys that fell. from c company
    I can also remember singing the Marine corps hymn.
    We sang, so to help the down pilot find our lines.
    That is where I got my heart
    Semper Fi

    • My husband was radio operator in Co C. His name, Glenn Casey. He was wounded 16 Mar 1968. He remembers Glenn Weeks. Maybe you could contact? Proud wife of a Marine VET.

      • Mrs. Casey,

        Glenn Weeks and David Shurr, as well as other 3rd platoon C-1-4 Marines, are trying to get in touch with you.

        Thanks

        Byron Moore

  4. I was at the battle of LZ LOON. Jack McLean’s book about the battle is top notched. An amazing literary accomplishment in that he remembered the details of that day, D-Day (6/6/68) so well. I for one am greatly impressed that he put it all down realistically as it happened in his eloquent writing. His description of the battle is true to the facts and especially fascinating to me because it was written from a perspective that I did not know. He was in Charlie Co. while I was on the opposite side of the LZ in Delta Co.. I was witness to and involved in the hand to hand combat that he mentions in his novel. What only a few there could know was that the NVA ran out of ammo at the same time we did. That meant handguns, grenades, entrenching tools and bayonets all around by both sides. The NVA that broke thru the perimeter started throwing Chi Coms and Satchel charges into our foxholes. I remember us throwing them back out. Then it got even worst because both sides called in artillery on the LZ killing each others own men. A command decision in which I have no quarrel because we had no ammo to defend our positions. Except, for CPL Bruce Aruta, the only Marine still shooting down the NVA as they passed through the lines. After reading McLean’s book I for one am damned glad Captain Negron was CO for Charlie Co. and Lt. Mike Jackson CO for Delta. Both CO’s saved our hides by calling in deadly accurate airstrikes and artillery. The NVA gunners shot down several choppers full of Marines as we murdered rows of them charging up the hill into our M60s fields of fire. Thanks to Jack’s novel we LOON grunts will be remembered for this fierce battle; a very hot LZ no one had ever heard of, like so many other battles thru out history; unheralded, unknown & forgotten. On that day our foe was equal to any the Corps ever fought. In the end we were tired of keeping the hill and they were very glad we left. Semper Fidelis

    It was thru Jack’s novel that I rediscovered how much our CO’s did on that day. Lt. Mike Jackson called in some seriously close airstrikes that blunted the attack on our side. The smell of napalm in the morning stinks of dead and living human flesh; their screams are sometimes in my nightmares even now. Luckily for me I was with some tough as nails Marines in my foxhole; Pop Eye Resinger & CPL. Bruce Aruta. Thanks to the cool head of Lt. Mike Jackson and Bruce’s expert shooting I survived to fight another day. After LZ LOON I still had 11 more months of Vietnam. SF

    0331 1st PLT 1st Squad/Guns Delta 1/4

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