At the height of the Vietnam war, the U.S. Army drafted Norman Hile out of law school, trained him to be an artillery officer, and in August 1970 sent him to serve a one year combat tour in South Vietnam’s I Corps, where the war was hottest. “Keeping Each Other Alive” is Hile’s memoir of that combat tour. Quoting from letters he wrote home from the field, using photos he personally took of combat operations, and recounting his memories of that unforgettable year in war, Hile describes what it felt like to be an artillery forward observer in the field with an infantry company, and then an aerial observer in light planes and helicopters flying over enemy territory.
“Keeping Each Other Alive” is a very personal account of what one soldier endured in a war that had already been lost when he arrived to fight it. Hile recounts the terror of nighttime mortar attacks, sweltering in Vietnam’s tropical heat and humidity while carrying a heavy pack, trying to spice up C-rations, surviving a monsoon storm on a mountainside, providing aerial cover for a convoy heading to see Bob Hope’s Christmas show, and being one of the first to arrive overhead at Firebase Mary Ann to witness one of the war’s worst debacles. Hile’s memoir allows the reader to experience not just the conditions that soldiers in the Vietnam war withstood, but also crackles with flashes of insanity, pathos and humor that soldiers in that war were bound to experience while trying to keep themselves and each other alive.