Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War.

Author:Watson, George M., Jr.
Position:Book review

Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War. By Karl Marlantes. New York, Atlantic Monthly Press, 2010. Glossary of Weapons, Technical Terms, Slang and Jargon. Pp. 598. $24.95 ISBN-13:978-0-8021-1928-5

This novel follows a U.S. Marine infantry platoon cherry lieutenant named Mellas who in 1969 maneuvered his troops in and around the demilitarized zone (DMZ) that separated the two Vietnams. The novel touches almost every human emotion and wartime experience--pain, exhaustion, sorrow, guilt, fear, hatred, disease, starvation, wounds large and small, and, finally, death, slow and quick. The author shows the dreariness of life in the boonies, with the confining triple-canopied jungle and the often incomprehensive decisions of rear echelon leadership juxtaposed against the reality of the situation at the battlefront. Besides enduring murderous enemy gunfire and mortars, the Marines had to cope with nature--mosquitoes, leeches, humidity, cold, tigers, other wildlife, and unrelenting torrential rains.

The reader has a front row seat into the reality of battle in the bush, where the enemy might not be even discernable when confronted; where those Marines not killed, maimed, or wounded, fire back into the dark impenetrable jungle hoping against hope to blast some human target to Hades. These daring and heroic souls venture well beyond their artillery coverage to confront ambushes laid down by some of Asia's most seasoned and professional troops from the North Vietnamese Army (NVA). All this to capture, abandon, and then recapture a strategically situated hill called Matterhorn, which offered a clear view of some close-in valleys and small streams along the Laotian and Vietnamese border. The marines planned to use Matterhorn as a firebase for launching artillery.

The Marines, exhausted from many days of conducting operations in outlying areas without adequate food or water, were ordered to build substantial sandbagged bunkers and holes, to establish a protective berm, and to create an essential line of fire. That they were then directed to dismantle their bunker works and move off Matterhorn led to serious grumblings from the troops and junior officers. After a stand-down in base camp that lasted less than forty-eight hours and that included drinking bouts and marijuana smoking, the Marines were ordered out to the jungle again to assault the recapture Matterhorn.

By this time, however, the hill had been occupied by NVA regulars who were making use of the...

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