Click Here To Purchase 365 and a Wake-Up: My Year in Vietnam

Author: Frank Jolliff

Publisher: Harmonie Park Press

ISBN: 978-0-899901-52-7

I am old enough to remember the Vietnam conflict but as I was not born until just after the Second World War this is the first war that I can vividly recall from watching the TV news. Like many that were not involved, I have nevertheless remained interested in reading about the history of this conflict and I was grabbed by this recent personal account. This is the story of one man’s year serving as a medic in the infantry –hence the ‘365’ prefix to the title.

When Frank Jolliff went to Vietnam in 1968 as a twenty-year-old draftee, he was one of 2,215,000 sent to war by Uncle Sam between August 1964 and December 1972. Nobody needs to be reminded of the devastation the conflict caused to the lives of so many on both sides. 153,452 military personnel were injured, many with life altering disfigurements and severe psychological problems, but at least they survived. More than 58,000 never made it back and more than 1,700 were reported missing. In Britain we closely followed the events of the war but we were immune; for once this had been a conflict that our government refused to participate in and we can be thankful for this.

In ‘365’ the author recalls in descriptive prose his year in ‘Nam from the first day at basic training until his discharge from the military in 1969. Just before his discharge he narrowly avoided a Court Marshall for returning a couple of days late from a rest and recreation trip to Australia, but he did face an intransigently vindictive officer intent on punishing him and delaying his discharge. In between the author provides a rich account that documents what life was like for a grunt fighting a cunning and usually unseen enemy. He tells how the Viet Cong would regularly arrive silently to inflict casualties on the author’s platoon when they least expected it. Within days of arriving in the war zone the author had a narrow escape after a stray bullet from one of his colleagues ricocheted causing him a flesh wound, but apart from some minor injuries from shrapnel, he counts himself lucky to have survived. But he was involved in plenty of action and he lost colleagues; one of them a tower of a soldier that stepped on a booby trap and a sniffer dog that he did his best to save without knowing its fate after it had been airlifted from the battle zone.

The book describes the sometimes boring, often terrifying daily routines of a grunt’s life in an alien sub-tropical land they were not fully prepared for. In between brief respites at camp, they fought not only a hidden enemy but the harsh jungle environment, not least the leeches that sucked the blood from their bodies whenever they were forced to wade across rivers and through rice fields. There is also an anecdote that tells how his colleagues had to dispatch a water buffalo that charged at them. The book describes his platoon’s relationships with local villagers, including the author’s role in helping deliver a baby to a young Vietnamese woman. He also takes the reader with him on R & R trips to Japan and Australia where, for a few short days, he could relax, become absorbed in the culture and put the war aside.

This war was costly in lives and in monetary terms but it also created so much emotion especially over the neglect expressed by the US Government towards its war veterans. Unlike most other books I have read about the conflict, there is none of the ‘gung ho’ often associated with some accounts and it is comforting to report that the author makes no attempt to glamorise the war or the part he played in it. What I most enjoyed about the book is that like the author’s name – it is ‘frank’ – without any need to exaggerate any of his experiences. He is humble, and downplays the contributions that he made under fire and he is surprised when he is awarded the Silver Star medal of valour. But, unless you have ever played any active part in a war it is difficult to imagine the deep traumas that Frank and his colleagues faced in the booby-trapped jungles or from being caught in a fire fight without cover in an open paddy field. But the author sets the scenes very well. Our troops serving in Afghanistan may draw a parallel with their own experiences and will, of course be better placed to understand the pressures of fighting against a devious enemy in a hostile land when friend and enemy can be undeterminable. Frank Jolliff knows the realities of being sent to wars by politicians who have no experience of the consequences, and, like every soldier that goes into conflict, he needed no reminder that every day might be their last. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in reading an honest account of a conscripted soldier.

Click Here To Purchase 365 and a Wake-Up: My Year in Vietnam