Saddle Bag Book: Long Daze at Long Binh
In December 1972, I was a senior at Hurley High School in Wisconsin. I was looking forward to the Christmas break and not thinking about getting drafted to Vietnam—until I got my draft card in the mail.
My draft status was 1A and my lottery number was nine. People in the know about such things told me I was going to be drafted and probably ship out to Vietnam.
History shows that the Paris Peace Accords were signed in January 1973 to end the involvement of the U. S. military in Vietnam. Active conscription also ended and I never got drafted. To those who did, the future in the military could be uncertain, but for many it entailed service in Vietnam.
Only the most optimistic of souls could have ever envisioned any part of the experience in the Vietnam war to be the source of anything resembling humor. For those of us who graduated from high school and became draft-eligible in those days, the prospect was no laughing matter, yet a new book turns that notion on its head.
Long Daze at Long Binh by Steve Donovan and Fred Borchardt is a very unexpected book, indeed. So, why are we even talking about it? Does this book have anything to do with motorcycles? Not necessarily, even though there are a couple of anecdotes about a GI’s Honda and the role Lambretta scooters had.
It’s structure of short, punchy chapters makes it a great saddlebag book to have along on those longer road trips. And, in one of life’s little ironic twists the once again shows how small the world really is, Steve Donovan turns out to be the guy I bought my 1984 Honda V30 Magna from back in 2005.
That said, many motorcyclists of a certain age are also Vietnam veterans or served in other parts of the world during the Vietnam era. For those among our readers, Long Daze at Long Binh may have a special appeal and interest. For everyone else, the book provides a surprising insight into one of the most controversial military actions the U.S. has ever engaged in.
Donovan and Borchardt saw the war from their roles as combat medics who actually wound up helping to build the new 24th Evacuation Hospital at Long Binh. Drafted together from Wisconsin they served in Vietnam in 1966-67. In that role, they didn’t go afield, but did serve in the 24th Evac that cared for combat wounded GIs, civilians and pretty much anyone in need of care. They also did construction, administrative functions and some things you probably would not expect during their tours.
The fact that they could find humor—and no small amount of irony—in their experience in the war shows the resilience of their collective spirit. The book does offer laughs that come from that most unexpected source, but it never loses sight of the serious and often tragic nature of war. Donovan and Borchardt nonetheless thread the needle to bring out the funny things that happened without making light of the often-painful circumstances.
The format is as unique as the subject; it is set up as a dialogue between Donovan and Borchardt. It is a fascinating approach and works to the extent that it makes you a part of the conversation. Each chapter ends with an anecdote called “Fact or Fiction?” The items cover a range of topics, including some of the kind of dark humor that the mix of medicine and war can conjure:
“The story goes that Chief Nurse Taylor told the Chief Surgeon that she’d read a book about Vietnamese culture and customs. ‘It said the women normally walk ten paces behind their husbands out of respect,’ she told him. ‘Now I see the men are walking twenty paces behind their wives. What do you suppose it was that enabled the women to achieve such a momentous reversal of roles?’ she asked. ‘Land mines,’ replied the surgeon.”
To be sure, the book is earthy in parts, as one would expect from a book about war. Still, the stories that are shared shed new light on a war that for many was a dark time.
- Title: Long Daze at Long Binh
- Author: Steve Donovan and Fred Borchardt
- Published: 2017 Paperback. 372 pages. Measures 8.75” x 6.0”
- Publisher: DCI Communications, Box 44625, Madison, WI 53744-4625
- ISBN: 978-0-9986159-0-5 MSRP: U.S. $24.95 Kindle e-book: $5.99