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West Dickens Avenue by John Corbett

Jacket: Hardcover
Pages: 208 pages
Publisher: Presidio Press; 1st edition (February 4, 2003)
Genre: Military
ISBN: 0891417850

Comments about the author: John Corbett returned home to Nyack, New York, following his service in Vietnam. He now lives in Key Largo, Florida. West Dickens Avenue is his first book.

Review: Everyone needs a place to call home. Some homes are elaborate and luxurious, but for United States Marine Corp Private First Class John Corbett, Serial Number 2321157, during the Siege in 1968 it was Khe Sanh, South Vietnam. To be more exact it was a foxhole Corbett named West Dickens Avenue that was in the Gun #1 section of the 81mm Mortar Section, Mortar Platoon, Headquarters and Service Company (H&S), the 1st Battalion, 26th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division on the Eastern Perimeter of the USMC Khe Sanh Combat Base. The book is named after a common yellow street sign “West Dickens Avenue” that the author finds in a junk pile while searching for material to strengthen his foxhole soon after getting to Khe Shan a few weeks before the Siege began.

Mr. Corbett of Nyack, NY, joined the Marine Corp in 1968 on a two-year enlistment (a special that ran during the Vietnam War) and was trained as MOS 0341 – mortar man. Assigned the duty of an ammo hauler at Khe Shan, one that delivers cases of mortar ammunition from the ammunition bunker to the gun tube to be fired, Corbett earned a mere $129 per month +$60 for being in a combat zone and overseas. The irony was that he really had nothing to spend it on except toothpaste and Corbett said, “how much toothpaste do you really need?”

The great Siege of Khe Shan during the 1968 Tet Offensive pitted between 20,000 – 30,000 North Vietnamese Army (NVA) regulars supported with rockets, mortars and heavy artillery and armored vehicles at nearby Lang Vei Special Forces camp against roughly Marines 6,000 (plus a few hundred South Vietnamese Rangers and American Service people from the other Armed Forces). Much has been written and discussed about this battle over the years, but Jack Corbett’s numerous references to the constant shelling, sniper fire, limited ammunition for the Americans guns, the lack of water for hygienic purposes, the hoards of rats and flies, all make this memoir personal. One can only guess at the long-term psychological damage that was inflicted upon the Khe Shan defenders by the stress of the 77-day Siege.

The author’s writing style is short remembrances of specific things – M16, The Shower, Ambush, Mack – that range from a paragraph or two to a few pages. It is almost conversational in style, but extremely informative, especially for a novice. Corbett takes the time to explain the small details of everyday life that when taken together make a rich picture for the reader.

This reviewer has read many dozen personal memoirs of the Vietnam War, but this one was interesting because it takes the view of a grunt, there is very little overall strategy mentioned, mainly just the views and experiences of one person. Unlike many other Vietnam memoirs that try to fill in the gaps with historical overviews or moral observations, Corbett avoids these pitfalls and keeps this work straightforward and pure by staying true to his individual story.

— Reviewed by: Scott R. DiMarco


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