Author Event: Charles McNair - "Soldiers of a Foreign War" (NWL)

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Program Type: Author Event
Age Group: Adult
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"Soldiers of a Foreign War" presents the Vietnam War in all its conflicted complexity. It is told from the enlisted soldiers' perspective and deals with the American and Vietnamese's, experiences as they leave their families and enter their countries' respective armies.

The story lines follow two American infantry platoons led by sergeants Cado and Eldridge, a three-man NVA combat cell comprised of Chi, Duan and Thuy and Sp. Steve Aiken a medic in the surgical hospital. The action takes place in six months during 1969-70, in War Zone C, northwest of Saigon.

The daily misery of living and fighting in the jungle and rice paddies for these men is unimaginable. The planning, execution and aftermaths of combat operations, is presented in detail. The novel is unique in its descriptions of the wounded and their fates. Most war novels will say, "Joe got hit and was evac'd to the hospital." The book tells exactly what happened when Joe got to the hospital. The variety of destructive wounds required immediate surgeries. That was the function of the surgical hospital but the toll taken on the staff has not been told to the extent that this novel does.

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McNair was born in San Diego and attended public schools through his first year at UC San Diego. He enlisted at age nineteen in September, 1968, trained as a combat field medic and operating technician over the next nine months. By June, 1969, he was assigned to the 45th Surgical Hospital, in Tay Ninh province, Republic of Vietnam. His job as an OR tech was to directly assist in operations.

The 45th was situated in the middle of Tay Ninh Basecamp, sixty-five miles northwest of Saigon in a region known as War Zone C. The Cambodian border was about ten miles away on three sides of the camp. The base sat astride the termini of the Ho Chi Minh and Sihanouk Trails, near Nui Ba Den, the Black Virgin Mountain, an area that saw nearly continuous combat, up to and including the Cambodian invasion of May-June, 1970. The hospital received the wounded directly from the battlefield and performed lifesaving surgeries. We were also subjected to frequent ground, mortar and rocket attacks.

McNair returned home in June, 1970, and served out the remainder of his enlistment at the Ft. Ord military hospital in Monterey, California.

Ten days after his discharge, he started back at UC Riverside, graduating in August, 1973. He worked as an OR tech at the local hospital for a year and began medical school at UC San Francisco. He moved to Connecticut for his residency and practiced medicine for thirty-five years. He retired in December, 2016.

He married Jean Mitchell in June, 1974, and they have three children and two grandchildren.

PARKING: There is ample library event parking in the nearby Isham Garage. Please bypass the garage kiosks and come directly to the Noah Webster Library Meeting Room, 20 South Main Street, where you may validate your parking with your license plate number.