Reviewed by: Lisa Brown-Gilbert, Pacific Book Review
Participation in the Vietnam War for most soldiers caused profound lifelong effects that resulted from their experiences during that era. Vietnam War memoirs have become the fodder for many books recounting that time and one such book, In Our Duffel Bags written by Vietnam Vets, First Lieutenant Richard C. Geschke and Lieutenant Robert A. Toto. Both men are long time service buddies as well as friends and it is through this book they share the sometimes harrowing events encountered during their service in the “War with no purpose; no mission statement.” This narrative book uniquely conveys each man’s first hand experiences as soldiers serving in the US Army during the Vietnam War era and their transition to civilian life afterwards.
Their eye opening journey through the military started with voluntary enlisting into the United States Army ROTC program during college. Upon graduation, they were first brought into Infantry Officer Basic Training in Fort Benning, Georgia, then moved to places like West Germany, Panama and eventually found themselves in the dreaded area of Southeast Asia, Vietnam. During their time spent serving in the military, the duffel bags of these soldiers not only held their necessary supplies but also carried their stress filled memories of pain, frustration, loneliness, fear, determination and death as they served in the United States Army from 1969 to 1972. It is by writing this book that they have finally unpacked the memories contained in their duffel bags.
In Our Duffel Bags is not written in a way that is over the top with military lingo as one might expect in a book of this nature, however it does includes a glossary to explain the military jargon that was used throughout the book. While the majority of the chapters are written by Richard C. Geschke, there are also the first hand accounts that are intermittently inserted throughout the book written by co-author and long time friend, Robert A. Toto. Having interweaving stories by two authors helps to complete the picture with a different perspective and insight. Ultimately in this book the Vietnam soldier’s life is laid out; the good, the bad, the weak and the strong, are all defined by the stories in this book. For some, reading this book will be a venture down memory lane perhaps sparking their own buried memories and emotions making this book a really good and relatable read. For other readers who may not have been old enough to remember the war, let alone be a soldier in it, this book will read like a history text book with facts drawn from some of the original participants. The tone of the book is very factual and at times dry, but is intelligently written. The stories are written in a down to earth manner using language that makes it easy to relate to the storytellers. This is the type of book that can be a captivating read for those wanting to indulge in the mindsets of young men forced into becoming soldiers during a war in which no one wanted to fight.