Reviewed by Diana L. Ahmad
In 1968-1969, R. L. Tecklenburg, the author, served as a U.S. Marine in a Combined Action Team (CAP) unit in the rural Phu Loc District. Tecklenburg provided a brief autobiographical look at his year in Vietnam. Since leaving Vietnam, the author searched for meaning in his experiences during the conflict. The book deals with his attempts to understand his role, as well as discovering what happened to the people he met decades earlier. While the autobiography jumps from one event to the next, it ultimately comes to a conclusion that makes sense to the reader and the author. He combined the standard histories of the Vietnam War with the history of the country of Vietnam, and his efforts to figure out his role in it.
In the 1970s, to help him come to terms with his time in Vietnam, he traveled to Europe, the Middle East, and South Asia. He finally returned to Vietnam in 2003 and 2004, and met many of the people he knew while stationed there. As a member of the CAP unit, his role was not like those in a traditional combat unit; instead, he and his men worked with the local population providing medical assistance, building schools, protecting the villagers from the Viet Cong and the NVA and denying the enemy sanctuary and support. In large measure, Tecklenburg saw his mission as improving the villagers’ lives.
Importantly, Tecklenburg attempts to place his experiences with those of the Vietnamese and their history. He wanted to see if things changed for the people he knew and whether or not things happened as he remembered them. As the title of his book implies, he felt like one of “the boys next door” in his village as he had made friends with the local population. The author discovered that many of his memories had faded but that some events stood out and he remembered them in detail. He reconnected with several of the people he knew during his tour and even finally paid a man who had been his “houseboy” money that Tecklenburg had owed him for many years. He believed that the Vietnam experience taught him how to control his own life. Tecklenburg seemed surprised that the “American War” was only a small part of the history of Vietnam, but came to realize that the people he knew possessed a history thousands of years old allowing him to appreciate the resilience of the people he met.
Instead of a traditional autobiography starting at point A and going through in a chronological fashion, the author bounced between topics, such as his experiences in the villages, the history of Vietnam, and his travels to Turkey and India. In many regards a straightforward explanation of his time in Vietnam would have been easier to read, yet his book proved better than that because it showed how he dealt with his tour in country upon his return to the United States. A quick and interesting read, The Boys Next Door provided far more than the strategies involved in fighting the conflict.
The Boys Next Door: A Marine Returns to Vietnam. By R. L. Tecklenburg. Haworth, NJ: St. Johann Press, 2013. Illus.
Reviewed by Diana L. Ahmad, Missouri University of Science and Technology
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