By John Ketwig (reviewer)
by Daniel Seidenberg, Jr.
(Publish America, 2010)
Daniel Seidenberg, Jr. was a California teenager, recently graduated from high school. He spent the summer of 1967 on the beach surfing, and then his draft notice arrived. To avoid the draft, he enlisted. He doesn't detail this arrangement, but it seems that he signed up for only two years and was assigned to the infantry. "I figured I could serve my country for two years and then carry on with a normal, civilian life," he writes. "Six months later I was in combat in Vietnam." Vietnam Ambush is a thin but very powerful book, a spare and unadorned but very thought-provoking description of his experiences as a grunt in Vietnam. Perhaps it is because the emotions Seidenberg describes are so familiar that this book is so devastatingly effective. Assigned to the 199th Infantry Brigade, the author describes the overwhelming fear and exhaustion he felt as his unit was assigned to a variety of missions and locations, all of which required lots of walking, carrying a heavy load of equipment in the terribly inhospitable conditions of Vietnam.
There is little that's new in this book, but the reader feels the draining fatigue, the electric terror, and the horrors that are so prevalent in modern warfare. The youthful surfer had to adjust to life in a war zone if he would survive, and the reader feels every ache and pain as Dan Seidenberg trudges through the harsh physical and emotional challenges of Vietnam. He must adapt to raw terror and the sight of human bodies destroyed, and the devastating loss of friends. Seidenberg understands that his story threatens to wear down a reader, especially one who has not experienced war, and he deftly interjects brief moments of humor, the youthful interactions with his comrades that allow them all to struggle through and maintain some sanity in a crazy, deadly environment. The reader is refreshed at these moments, but the story is anything but fun. Ultimately, Dan Seidenberg was hit by shrapnel in the right temple, a wound that left him totally disabled and unable to return to that normal, civilian life. His return home was every bit as difficult as his combat tour.
Vietnam Ambush is a relentless little book, and the author comes across as a great guy caught up in a war on the other side of the planet. The war disrupted every aspect of his life, the Veterans Administration was reluctant to help him, and yet he persevered and succeeded. Okay, it's not a unique story, but it is very well told and believable, and it should serve as a warning to young people considering joining the military. I came away wishing Dan Seidenberg, Jr. lived nearby because he seems to be a great guy and an excellent writer. I bet we could sit down with a couple beers and have a terrific conversation. Vietnam Ambush is not a book that will attract a lot of attention, but it is certainly an excellent telling of one man's devastating war experience. It's available on Amazon for under twenty dollars, and you won't be disappointed.
John Ketwig is the author of ...and a hard rain fell: A G.I.'s True Story of the War in Vietnam which remains in print after 32 years and 27 printings (Macmillan, 1985). A new book, Vietnam Reconsidered: The War, the Times, and Why They Matter is slated for publication early in 2019. John is a lifetime member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War.