When the 160 boys of Charlie Company were drafted by the US Army in May 1966, they came from all corners of America and all walks of life. There were farm boys from the Midwest, surfers from California, city-slickers from Cleveland, and share croppers from the South. When Charlie Company departed Vietnam in December 1967 after one year in the Mekong Delta, there were only 30 men who were not casualties—and their lives had been changed forever.
In his new book, The Boys of ’67, Andy Wiest, the award-winning author of Vietnam’s Forgotten Army and The Vietnam War 1956-1975, examines the only unit in the Vietnam era to train and deploy together as a ‘band of brothers.’ In the spring of 1966, the war was still popular and the draftees of Charlie Company saw their service as a rite of passage. But beginning on May 15, 1967, the date of their first major engagement with the Viet Cong where 14 of their number were wounded and the first of their brotherhood was killed in action, the slow drum of death and destruction began its steady beat.
By the time the remaining boys of Charlie Company flew home in December ’67, popular sentiment had turned against the war and the boys of ’67 were among the first to be spit on and harassed by hostile anti-war protesters when their ‘freedom bird’ landed in the States.
Prior to writing The Boys of ’67, Wiest interviewed more than 50 officers and enlisted men who served with Charlie Company, including both of the company’s commanders, one of the battalion chaplains, the Company First Sergeant, and two of the original four platoon leaders. In addition, he interviewed more than 15 family members of Charlie Company veterans, including wives, children, parents, and siblings. Wiest also had access to personal papers, collections of letters, a diary, an abundance of newspaper clippings, training notebooks, field manuals, condolence letters, and photographs from before, during, and after the conflict.
As Wiest shows, the fighting that Charlie Company saw in 1967 was equal to any that has been previously documented, including the infamous ‘Ia Drang’ and ‘Hamburger Hill’ battles. As a result, many of the surviving members of Charlie Company came home with what the military now recognizes as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder—a diagnosis that was not recognized until the late 1970s and was not widely treated until the 1980s. Only recently, after more than 40 years, have many members of Charlie Company achieved any real and sustained relief from their suffering. For some Vietnam dominated the remainder of their lives; for others the war was locked away forever. The intimate story of legacy of Vietnam for its American combatants and their complex reintegration into society forms one of the most important components of The Boys of ’67. It is a story all too often forgotten in most works of military history, where the wars end with the signing of the peace treaty – a story made all the more important as a new generation of American warriors return from their foreign fields.
On September 7-8 Charlie Company will unite in New Orleans to mark the 45th anniversary of their tour in Vietnam. The best turn out in years is expected due to the publication of The Boys of ’67, which is being made specially available to the veterans and their families prior to the publication of the book on September 18.