ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Like many men of his generation, Mark Fleming confronted the difficult choices of American's war in Vietnam. At a time when trust in government was in question due to a seemingly intractable war against a determined adversary, skepticism about the war's purpose and legality challenged traditional norms of patriotism. Mark's choices landed him in combat as a rifleman with the 1st Cavalry Division in 1971, the last full year of US ground combat operations in Vietnam.
Uncertain Soldier, Uneasy Veteran recounts Mark's experiences as he dealt with the challenges of life in the jungle against a tenacious opponent and later in the year navigating military bureaucracy as company clerk. It also chronicles his developing anti-war sensibility during his time in Vietnam and in the years following his return. Reading these pages offers the reader the details of life on patrol, the bonds shared by soldiers in combat and the isolated world of the US military in Vietnam.
Equally important, this personal memoir shows that the experience of war continues long after the weapons fall silent.
Why I wrote:
I wrote Reluctant Soldier, Uneasy Veteran to tell my story. My story is not about military prowess or heroism. Nothing I did was heroic nor can I claim any great military proficiency. I just did my best to keep up and not make some dreadful mistake that would kill somebody, including me. I write about the fear and uncertainty I felt as I weighed duty and conscience, about the choices I made, and how those choices have informed my life in the years since Vietnam.
My story's strength is its intimacy; no one else had the exact experience I did. Even the guys who experienced events with me did not experience the events in the same way I did. Just as I became part of the Vietnam war, Reluctant Soldier, Uneasy Veteran becomes part of its history.
How I wrote:
Reluctant Soldier, Uneasy Veteran is the end product of over four decades of sporadic writing and curating memories. I was writing Vietnam short stories in the mid-70s and began “downloading” my memories on to paper around the same time. I abandoned the short stories after a while but continued to document my memories. I kept up with one of my buddies from Vietnam and was able to compare memories with him as a reality check. But for much of the time, writing seemed to be just remembering stories. I was also working full-time from 1974 to 2001 and, if I really thought about it, Vietnam was a somewhat uncomfortable subject for me so it was easy to just ignore it and get on with life.
Even after confronting my doubts about and coming to some sort of a truce my about Vietnam service when I hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2002 and 2005, I managed to put off writing for at least another decade. When I finally got serious about doing something with the material that l had amassed, I could present a reasonable narrative of my experience but still wrestled with the same questions about duty and conscience that were part of my daily thought parade on the Appalachian Trail. This time around, the writing experience leaves me as conflicted as ever about Vietnam but also recognizing that the conflict is simply part of who I am.
The book is based primarily on what I recall from 18 months of military service. Many stories came to mind but the discipline of publishing forced me to examine my sources. More than a few times, I had to ask, “Did that really happen?” What survived that triage are the stories based on personal experience or reliable second-hand sources. Thanks to the availability of information on-line, I was able to find some information to clarify.
Hoochmates with Mark (center) on Firebase Fontaine
Newbie Mark on Firebase Silver
“The Army introduced a level of violence into my life that never existed before.
Before the Army and Vietnam, I never routinely wondered if someone approaching me on the sidewalk was going to attack me.”
From “Learned Violence” - “Reluctant Soldier, Uneasy Veteran” - pages 93-94.