Loon: A Marine Story
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“Kids like me didn’t go to Vietnam,” writes Jack McLean in his compulsively readable memoir. Raised in suburban New Jersey, he attended the Phillips Academy in Andover, MA, but decided to put college on hold. After graduation in the spring of 1966, faced with the mandatory military draft, he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps for a two-year stint. “Vietnam at the time was a country, and not yet a war,” he writes. It didn’t remain that way for long.
A year later, after boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina, and stateside duty in Barstow, California, the Vietnam War was reaching its peak. McLean, like most available Marines, was retrained at Camp Pendleton, California, and sent to Vietnam as a grunt to serve in an infantry company in the northernmost reaches of South Vietnam. McLean’s story climaxes with the horrific three-day Battle for Landing Zone Loon in June, 1968. Fought on a remote hill in the northwestern corner of South Vietnam, McLean bore witness to the horror of war and was forever changed. He returned home six weeks later to a country largely ambivalent to his service.
Written with honesty and insight, Loon is a powerful coming-of-age portrait of a boy who bears witness to some of the most tumultuous events in our history, both in Vietnam and back home.
Shangri-La Hotel and had been well prepared by my buddies. I had carefully positioned myself near the front of the bus to be the first off and, thereby, the first in the check-in line. When I arrived at the counter, I requested a specific suite, signed the register, was handed a key, and hustled over to the men’s shop before the last person was off the bus. Beach Boys music was being piped into the lobby. Beach Boys music! War? What war? Having acquired five days’ worth of presentable
tent with some curiosity, Negron saw Corporal Dwayne Slate and Sergeant Smiley jump out of the jeep, pull the tarp off the back of the trailer, and throw all manner of equipment to the ground. By the time they were done, the two had off-loaded eighty-seven new nylon backpacks, two cases of load-carrying web harnesses, and piles of other vital paraphernalia. “Where do I sign?” asked an overwhelmed Negron. “Nowhere, I hope,” replied a nervous Slate. “Take it easy, Skipper. Gotta go.” With that,
position to compare notes with Lieutenant Jackson. It was nearly impossible for them to navigate their way around the hill because they were blinded by the tall elephant grass. On their way, they saw two CH-46 helicopters laboring under the weight of several pallets of 105 mm artillery ammo that were being delivered. “This must have been a major NVA position,” remarked Jackson. “We’ve got log bunkers with connecting trenches leading over to your position.” He seemed overjoyed. The NVA had done a
you. Over.” Negron grabbed the handset from Tillery. “Three, this is Six Actual, do you read me? Over.” “Roger that, Skipper.” Mitchell was out of breath and scared. “Three, can you give me their grid coordinates. Give me some numbers so I can lay some lumber on them.” With that, two more 122 mm rockets screamed over the perimeter, followed by a volley of incoming grenades, mortars, and small-arms fire. The ground attack had begun. “Here they come!” someone screamed. “Gooks in the
climbed in. We kept up our covering fire, at once relieved and wistful to see them getting evacuated, and filled with hope that perhaps we would be next. At least we knew that we had someone’s attention in the rear. Our eyes were fixated on the chopper as it lifted and banked, but it didn’t seem able to gain altitude. We began to cheer for it. “Come on. Get up, get up, get up.” But it was not able to elevate. It had been shot. It was going down. It had reached the edge of the far side of