There have been a number of films made on the subject of war. Most of them are incredibly brutal portraits of what it was like to take part in wars of the past, or even to take part in war today. Sometimes amongst the bloodshed and horror depicted in these films, the filmmakers forget to focus on the individual characters and how they deal with the terrible events they are surrounded by. Because of this, I took an interest in reading Michael Duffy’s autobiography entitled From Chicago to Vietnam: A Memoir of War. Before I began reading the memoir, I expected to learn about the gruesomeness of war and how that affects a human being. What I was surprised to find was that Duffy’s memoir isn’t just a story about the brutality of war, but also the story of how Duffy and other people dealt with the war day to day. Reading this memoir was a truly eye-opening experience to how horrifying war can be, even without violence.
Duffy’s memoir begins with him arriving in Vietnam and while the book is mostly concerned with his tour, he also is able to weave in stories from his youth growing up in Illinois. By the end of the book, I felt like I was able to get a good picture in my head of who he is as a person. A lot of this is due to Duffy’s writing style. What I admired most about his style was how direct it is. He doesn’t spend multiple paragraphs or pages describing one thing. Instead, he simply just points out what he saw in clear, concise, and short sentences. This kind of writing style made me feel like I was right next to him seeing how all of these events unfolded. In a book like this where the goal of the author is very clearly to give the reader an idea of what kind of experience they had in a war, Duffy’s writing style absolutely helps feel like they are there in the action. Also, he does include some footnotes in various chapters in order to explain military technology and terminology. This allowed me to not get stuck in the finite details and keep moving along with the story.
The best thing I can say about Duffy’s work here is he perfectly captures the confusion and chaos of war, while also giving the reader the idea of the day-to-day horrors that one faced in Vietnam. From the get-go, Duffy is able to give the reader some insight on just how chaotic the war was by relating the story of him losing his luggage when he arrives. Duffy presents every single thing he did when he got to Vietnam and how he went about trying to find his belongings and this story really helps illustrate how messy and confusing things were in the war at that time. When Duffy then dives into the day-to-day events, he makes a point to inform the reader about the poor living conditions, the brutally hot weather, and the sheer exhaustion that he felt during his tour. This felt more horrifying to me that the passages that contained violent images and acts. I couldn’t help but wonder how anyone could live through such a difficult experience and come out of it alright. The conditions and things Duffy went through are so hard to read about and not wonder about the author's state of being.
My biggest takeaway from the memoir, though, comes in the form of Duffy relating to the reader one of the things that kept him going. Before his tour, he applied to Colorado College and he hoped he would be able to attend and graduate from there, making him the first in his family to graduate college. During his tour, he received his acceptance letter and from then on had a goal to do his duty and get home so he could get a quality education. This aspect of the memoir I found to be quite inspiring and I felt like it took my reading experience to an even more positive level. I found it so comforting to read about how a young man was able to go into a war and experience terrible things day after day and yet remain focused on a goal. I think anyone who reads this memoir can take away that lesson from it. Sometimes when you are going through something terrible, it helps to have something to work towards and keep you grounded. I learned an important lesson from this memoir and that's the biggest compliment I can give.
Whether you are someone who is interested in war or just want to read a true story, I highly recommend reading Duffy’s book. Not only is it extremely well written, but it has a refreshing perspective on war. This perspective helps the memoir stand out from all of the other forms of storytelling focused on war.
From Chicago to Vietnam: a Memoir of War is available through amazon.
All images used with the express permission of the author.