Rediscover: A Rumor of War

Lieutenant Philip Caputo arrived in Danang on March 8, 1965 as a member of the Marine Corps' 9th Expeditionary Brigade, the first regular troops sent to fight in Vietnam. His experiences during the war, both commanding on the front lines and among out-of-touch officers in the rear, are the basis of his classic 1977 memoir, A Rumor of War.

Caputo divides the book into three parts. In "The Splendid Little War," he explains why he joined the Marines and how his initial deployment in Danang, in a defensive position around an airstrip, developed into skirmishes that portended a longer, much more difficult conflict than had been promised. In "The Officer in Charge of the Dead," his reassignment to a desk job devoted to documenting casualties proves unsatisfying but eye-opening, as Caputo interacts with senior officers more concerned with trivial matters than war-winning strategy. Part three, "In Death's Grey Land," finds Caputo back in command of a rifle company, in a war now expanded into its full bloody scope. His career is derailed by a court martial after Caputo's soldiers deliberately shoot two prisoners. He returns to Vietnam in 1975 as a war correspondent, just in time to witness the fall of Saigon.

Philip Caputo will be featured in Ken Burns and Lynn Novick's upcoming PBS film, The Vietnam War, which premieres September 17 at 8 p.m. On August 1, Picador released a 40th anniversary edition of A Rumor of War ($20, 9781250117120) with a new foreword by Kevin Powers, author of The Yellow Birds. --Tobias Mutter

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