Permanent Change of Station: Vietnam by Christopher Rector.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.
Permanent Change of Station: Vietnam is a well-informed blend of fiction, autobiography, and memoir. It gets under your skin, takes you back to the war, and brings to mind a number of scenes from films and other books about America’s political deception and the soldiers and families who paid the price for it. Some of the characters, such as General Abrams, are historical, and the rest appear to be fictional, though act and sound as if they are the real thing. The author is a retired army veteran and his knowledge and experience bleed throughout the pages. There is little preamble, as we follow a new arrival meeting his superiors at the 240th Intelligence Detachment based at the U.S installation of Long Binh.
Everyone in this story has their story, and personal view of how they got to Vietnam, what they believe, and/or what they are fighting for. Lieutenant Colonel Robert “Bull” Basham sees everything as fleeting, and lives for the momentary pleasure and profit. “Bull knew there was no permanence to any of this – the hotel, Lien (his mistress), or the war.” The primary protagonist, Adam Nussbaum, is an idealist from Manhattan, who works as an interrogator, and ends up in the field with First Lieutenant Mike Dempsey, and “Big” Ben Tenata SFC (Sergeant First Class). They end up developing a bond that only those who have fought and died together understand.
From beginning to end, readers can feel Mike’s perspectives, and feelings, evolve. His understanding, and respect, for his comrades (Peter Savory, Katie, Mike, and Major Tanaka) deepens, as his disgust and distrust of others grows. The men and women who are thrown in together in this mess of a war all have lengthy discussions about it – the Viet Cong (NVA), the South Vietnamese Army (AVRN), and the politics and demonstrations taking place in The States. The dialogue is congruent with each individual, and gives readers’ a lot of background about what was taking place at that time (in Vietnam and The States).
Aspects of this story remind me of the biography I wrote about a young Jewish doctor from Brooklyn, stationed at Udorn Air Force Base in Thailand during the war (Dr. Leff – Stepping Into The Fire), who begins to hear stories from CIA pilots about bombing villages in Cambodia and Laos. His patriotism is challenged when he fights to make this knowledge public. Permanent Change of Station: Vietnam is better written than my biography about Dr. Leff, and describes the futility and loss experienced by so many. Nurse Katie captures the essence of the war when she responds to something Adam says. “And you remember Adam we’re here in Vietnam because we’re trying to kill them, and save them from something I can’t even remember what.”