MY LIFE AT THE LIMIT – Donald Swan
While more than 125,000 celebrated the Summer of Love in 1967, I was in Vietnam trying to stay alive in a war zone, following soldiers in and out of battle as a Combat Correspondent with the elite 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile). Unsurprisingly, that experience changed my life immensely.
There are Twelve compelling chapters, and many riveting photos in my Vietnam chronicles. Although this book is Historical Fiction,* My story is based on actual events from the War, as I remember from some fifty-five years ago. All people, places, and battles are real unless otherwise noted.
My Vietnam story is less about me and more about the GIs in the jungle, young men, and some boys who volunteered or were drafted. They were a generation defiled of their youth, yet, when called upon, they fought and died for each other with extraordinary acts of courage. One of the soldiers in my story received the Medal of Honor for his exceptional valor during a horrific ambush.
At least seven men could witness his heroism because he saved their lives. I was there and watched in awe as Charles C. Hagemeister, our medic, fought the enemy with inconvincible courage and tenacity. (Regrettably, he died in 2021 at age 74.) But, finally, albeit after death, he’s getting the recognition he deserves through this book.
Men like Chuck Hagemeister came home to an ungrateful nation and faced many challenges in the country that some soldiers believed they were defending. As the conflict dragged on, the notion of “Fighting in Vietnam to Defend one’s Country” was passionately challenged. But, despite or because of that, I believe the stories of these young men fighting in the muck, trying to survive in the oppressive heat, challenged in ways most will never know, should be passed on to future generations. Although there are many books on the Vietnam War, none are about Chuck Hagemeister, the ambush, and his Medal of Honor.
Although I restrain from some of the odious language and slurs in my Vietnam story, I will have plenty of blood and guts elucidation. For example, I won’t tell you we lost someone on the battlefield. Instead, you’ll hear something like: He caught a large piece of shrapnel in the gut, kept asking if he was going to die, lied to, then made us promise that we tell his mom that he loved her, and bled out before the medivac arrived. In chapter seventeen (The Bravest of them All), that illustration will seem tame when I portray how our men were slaughtered in an ambush.
You probably already know that in the field, GIs are often called the Vietnamese g**ks or d**ks.” It came from frustrated and weary grunts fighting a vicious enemy, an adversary that bolted from camouflaged spider holes with AK-47s blazing; they employed hit-and-run tactics and set booby traps and punji pits. The enemy shot at our men from friendly villages to lure the GIs into returning fire and killing civilians. Our soldiers, the ground pounders, were often unable to distinguish enemy from civilian and were saddled with ridiculous rules of engagement. Hence, these infantrymen calling the enemy g**ks. I am not going to judge.
Thirty-four chapters constitute the rest of my momentous Life At The Limit, with Elvis, Rock ‘n’ Roll, Romance, PTSD, Disease, and my Auto Racing. In addition, part II of the book contains nine bonus chapters with four additional and incredible stories of Veterans in battle, including two POW stories, one from Vietnam and WW II. Finally, I close the book with What I’ve Learned.
What this book is Not: There’s no superfluous assessment of the war that most readers already know, no history, no discussion of the draft, no tearful goodbyes from family, none of me playing Army as a kid, no rhetoric at all. Instead, I waste no time putting you with me in the sucking mud of the monsoons, stifling heat, snakes, and punji stakes. You’ll hear the anxiety of men walking point, lulled into boredom, then terror, running out of food, water, and ammunition.
Finally, you will face the most horrific torment of battle — as too many did — haunted by the last words of a friend dying in their arms. It’s a raw and honest account of what I and others experienced in Vietnam and many more adventures in my fascinating Life at the Limit.
READER DISCRETION ADVISED
*This is a work of Historical Fiction. I choose this genre primarily to eschew Internet trolls who are notorious for spending an inordinate amount of time and resources trying to find fault in a non-fiction book. If a real or imagined mistake is found, they attempt, often successfully, to discredit the book and gain support for others to do likewise. Some trolls even suggest that readers who feel slighted or believe the writer was inaccurate in describing a battle they were in should sue the author. So, this is fiction, Historical Fiction. The WWW has been a blessing to tens of millions, but one of the downsides is the existence of these despicable trolls. Historical Fiction is set in a real place during a culturally recognized time. The story’s details and actions can be a mix of actual events and ones from the author’s imagination as they fill in the gaps. Characters can be pure fiction or based on real people (often both).