Local author Marvin J. Wolf examines soldiers’ lives after Vietnam

BEYOND BATTLE: Local writer Marvin J. Wolf, left, recently co-authored They Were Soldiers: The Sacrifices and Contributions of Our Vietnam Veterans. The book is available now. Author photo by Don Ray

Prior to moving to Asheville in 2016, author and Vietnam veteran Marvin J. Wolf read Tom Brokaw’s 1998 bestseller, The Greatest Generation, a cultural history about the Great Depression and World War II. Wolf enjoyed the book but took issue with the title Brokaw bestowed upon the American cohort born between 1901-27.

“It was the same men and women … of the Greatest Generation that sent me and almost 3 million of my brothers and sisters to Vietnam to fight a war they knew we had no chance of winning,” Wolf asserts. The defeat, controversies and generalizations about the U.S. presence in Vietnam, Wolf continues, has been a burden that his generation shoulders to this day.

“Most of the guys that I knew who came back from Vietnam had a very rough go,” Wolf says. “Unlike our fathers who served in World War II or in the Korean War, we were not welcomed back. … The common consensus was that we were a bunch of losers. That we had been traumatized by the war, and that we were drunks and drug addicts, and that we beat our wives.”

Challenging these long-held assumptions, Wolf recently co-authored They Were Soldiers: The Sacrifices and Contributions of Our Vietnam Veterans with friend and former war correspondent Joseph L. Galloway. The book, which was released on May 12, features in-depth profiles based on interviews with 48 veterans, including filmmaker Oliver Stone (Platoon) and retired four-star Gen. Colin Powell.

However, Wolf notes, the majority of the individuals he spoke with for the project are far from household names. “I spent months looking for Vietnam veterans who had unusual stories to tell,” he says.

Among those figures is Weaverville resident Mike Hebert. In 1972, he worked as a midshipman on the USS Newport News, which supplied gun support for U.S. Marines and South Vietnamese units. A member of the Navy Reserve, Hebert’s time on the cruiser was limited to the summer between his junior and senior years of college. Yet within that brief period, Hebert’s crew was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for its engagement in combat during a raid of Haiphong harbor.

Like the 47 other profiles featured in They Were Soldiers, the majority of Hebert’s chapter explores his post-Vietnam career. “I wanted to concentrate as much as possible on what these soldiers did after they got out of the Army,” Wolf explains. In Hebert’s case, he went on to become a spy for the CIA, working in the Soviet Union during the Cold War and later running counterterrorism operations in West Africa. He retired from the CIA in 2002.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, regular book-signing events have been put on hold, Wolf says. But, like many people during the current health crisis, he and Galloway have embraced online platforms and phone interviews as a way to promote their book’s message. Because while Brokaw crowned the soldiers of World War II as the leading members of the Greatest Generation, Wolf contends those Vietnam veterans featured in They Were Soldiers are living proof that his cohort “is every bit as worthy of respect and admiration as the generations that preceded us.”

SHARE

Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

About Thomas Calder
Thomas Calder received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program. He has worked with several publications, including Gulf Coast and the Collagist.

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

2 thoughts on “Local author Marvin J. Wolf examines soldiers’ lives after Vietnam

  1. Mike

    Your uncle who has been my BFF since 2nd grade saw the worst of it in the Nam and it showed for a few years after he came back. I was a commissioned officer (via ROTC) in the USAR from 68 to 82 but blessedly I never made it to Vietnam. It was obvious to most of us junior officers (who had 1/2 brain) that the Johnson and Nixon admins were not fighting the war to WIN and we thought it was a stupid waste of life to fight if you don’t have the will to do WHATEVER it takes to win .

    I’ve always felt that if the anti-war progs of my and your uncle’s generation had based their argument on “This war, as is being by the Johnson admin in 67-68 , is unwinnable. It is not worth losing another American life” .. Then a coalition (no war ever or don’t fight unless you are willing to win) could have possibly stopped it ( That is how I felt going back to my ROTC days).. Instead the progs called us in the military racist baby killers :-(

  2. Davyne Dial

    Wondering if the author found John Patrick McAfee (of Hendersonville) among his Vietnam vets to feature? If not, he’s a worthy follow up, one of the most evolved Vietnam vets I’ve had the pleasure of knowing.
    “Slow Walk in a Sad Rain” is his book about a tour on the Cambodian border as a Green Beret/Special Forces combatant and the novel way a couple of the cannon fodder soldiers got out of the country.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.