I have just finished reading his novel “Lost Soldiers” and come away deeply impressed with this man. A highly decorated Vietnam Marine veteran, former Secretary of the Navy, then Deputy Secretary of Defense, and former senator from Virginia, he writes with humor and toughness.
The main man is Brandon Condley, a Vietnam Marine vet who has become more at home in Sai Gon (note the preferred Vietnamese rendition of Saigon) than anywhere else. He is likable, cynical, and unable to discern a future for himself. His good friend is Dzung, a South Vietnamese war hero reduced to driving a cyclo and relegated with his family to District 4 with fellow South Vietnamese vets by the communist conquerers.
Dzung is special in his own right; his impudent conversations with Manh, a government agent, are a delight. One can picture him straight-faced as he delivers irony and sarcasm on the new regime despite Manh’s warnings to be more respectful. His pitiable earnings of $5/day and hungry children have not defeated his mental prowess.
As Condley strives to identify retrieved lost bones and track down a deserter and murderer with anthropologist Hanson Muir, we are shown what Sai Gon the city is like on the streets and in private Vietnamese lives. The traffic chaos and noise come through with a will. I liked the author’s reference to the government officials striving to send their children to the UK or the US to study and find a future on their return to Vietnam.
I like James Webb because of the way he writes. So much of him as a man comes through. There is sophistication, intelligence, compassion, wariness, and knowledge of human foible that could well translate into good governance.
At the present time his candidacy for president doesn’t seem to have reached much prominence. In the meantime, I look forward to reading his classic “Fields of Fire.”