Seven in a Jeep

Gaydos, Ed. Seven in a Jeep: A Memoir of the Vietnam War.  Columbus Press: Columbus, Ohio, 2013.

In Seven in a Jeep, Ohio author Ed Gaydos colorfully renders his experience serving in the LZ Sherry artillery battalion of the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. From waiting for his draft number, going through basic training and specialized training, to his tour in central Vietnam, this story is wonderfully told through brief anecdotes and character sketches, and is intended to “leave something for the next generation beyond dates on a tombstone and an old fatigue shirt.” 

Seven in a Jeep is more literary memoir than history book, but the casual reader will still learn a lot about military maneuvers: at the time of Gaydos’ service (1970-71), the Nixon administration was in the midst of drawing down US Forces in an attempt to transfer military duties to the South Vietnamese Army. Often supplemented with letters he had sent home from the war, the story is full of military and technical lingo, but Gaydos explains it all to the reader as he learned it forty years prior. Some of the best writing in Seven in a Jeep details day-to-day life in the battery (rats and dogs, taking a shower, monsoon season) and Gaydos’ job in the FDC (Fire Direction Center) and artillery. Learning about weaponry fills a large bulk of the new soldier enlistment process and there are plenty of interesting tidbits about the weapons found in the war. One will walk away with a better understanding of how brutal howitzer fire can be.

A mostly apolitical work, Seven in a Jeep avoids any real discussion of why the US military was engaged in combat against the North Vietnamese forces, instead using both the war and the military bureaucracy as darkly comic foils. From fake reports about flies, to incompetent fresh lieutenants put in charge of seasoned veterans, to minesweepers holding their helmets on with one hand for Army protocol, while sweeping for mines with the other, the war seemed to be more about regulations, protocol, and more regulations than anything else, and soldiers fought the rules just as much as they were fighting the Vietnamese. In this sense, Seven in a Jeep is reminiscent of Richard Hooker’s M.A.S.H.

But perhaps what makes Seven in a Jeep most enjoyable is the stereotype-defying character of Gaydos himself. When his number came up, Gaydos was a seminary school dropout who was completing a graduate degree in philosophy. If he was going to serve, he figured, he was going to serve as far out of harm’s way as possible. After some research, he figured the Army would be his best option. From enlistment to flying home on The Freedom Bird, Seven in a Jeep is a young man’s story of survival in a no-win situation. 

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