Letters from Duc Phong District


Non-Fiction - Autobiography
200 Pages
Reviewed on 11/12/2020
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Lesley Jones for Readers' Favorite

The Vietnam War has been extensively documented in books, films, and news reports. But what exactly did those on the front line endure during the conflict? Gain a unique insight through personal letters into the mind of a young intelligence officer stationed in the Duc Phong District of South Vietnam between 1970-71 in Letters from Duc Phong District by Peter Beaman. Each of the personal letters lays bare one officer's innermost thoughts and the dangerous and eventful situations he experienced. Laid out in chronological order, the letters are addressed to the most important people in the young officer's life at that time. The letters describe his fears of attack from the enemy and what reception he would face on his return to the US. Along with photographic accounts of his time in Vietnam, the truth regarding the relationship between the Vietnamese villagers and American soldiers is also revealed. This is an unforgettable memoir that highlights the struggles, hopes, and fears of a young man and the Vietnamese people caught in the middle of a long-standing and infamous war.

Letters from Duc Phong District by Peter Beaman is such an absorbing memoir and highlights a unique perspective on the Vietnam War. There is such a contrast in each of the letters. I especially loved his endearing letters to Barbara and his parents. Peter's benevolence towards the Vietnamese people was heartwarming and this warm relationship of support between the native villagers and the soldiers is little known. He seemed so vulnerable at first but, as the letters progressed, you see his demeanor changing gradually towards fearing for his life and then acceptance of his situation. I absolutely loved the photographs throughout the memoir, especially of the Vietnamese children. The memoir is exceptionally well-written and the strong emotions of helplessness, fear, frustration, and uncertainty came through perfectly. The terror of the Vietnamese people towards the Viet Cong was also very emotional to read, to live under that constant fear must have been unbearable. I thought including the political and economic inequalities facing Vietnam added great depth and another layer of interest to the memoir.

Jon Michael Miller

The first thing you should know about Peter Beaman’s Letters from Duc Phong District is that it consists almost entirely of actual letters and photographs from his stay as an intelligence officer in a hamlet near the Cambodian border during the last year or so of the Vietnam War. That’s it—only his raw, unedited, personal correspondence. (He adds a brief comment at the end.) Apparently, young Pete (25) kept carbons of letters he typed on an old typewriter, put them in a box somewhere, and—fortunately for us—now brings them out of storage. They are not, I must tell you, easy to read—faded, small type, single-spaced. He wrote to his parents, of course, in a surprisingly uninhibited voice, as well as to his Harvard pals, and to a girl back home whom he seems to have been courting. Some of these are marked "unsent." As we would expect, his voice differs in tone and detail according to the recipients.

For anyone interested in those anguishing times of conscience and turmoil, Peter Beaman’s letters are a treasure. Why? Because though he admits to “no big wartime experiences to brag about,” he was in the thick of things. With more complaints than Holden Caulfield, he wrote home of his daily official duties, his supervising officers, wild R&Rs, frequent illnesses and hangovers, interests in audio equipment, cameras, cars, books (Boswell, no less), food, booze, and of course “chicks.” I was shocked at his opinion that Nixon’s invasion of Cambodia—which caused such an uproar at home—was highly effective in reducing NVN’s penetration of the South, a view he often propounds. Pythons, ocelots, scorpions, centipedes abound, not to mention the beloved villagers of mostly Montagnards. He was no fan of VN culture, to put it mildly, but he had several "epiphanies" in Bangkok. The faded letters are difficult to read, no doubt, but the reward is more than worth the effort. Young Beaman’s voice is as if Holden has grown up, gone to Harvard, was drafted, and added his scorn—and l’amour de la vie—to the morass we call Vietnam.

Jose Cornelio

Letters from Duc Phong District by Peter Beaman is an unusual autobiography of an intelligence officer, detailing his experiences in a remote village in Viet Nam. It is composed of the letters written by the author to different people between 1970 and 1971. The reader reads in them a first-hand experience of war; the hopes and fears of a young intelligence officer, his experience and image of the people of a jungle village in Viet Nam, his love for a woman, and his dreams for the future. The letters are unedited and they reflect the state of mind of the author at the time they were written. They are pdfs of carbons of letters arranged chronologically and dealing with a variety of themes — love, war, family, patriotism, friendship, humanity, and personal growth.

Letters from Duc Phong District by Peter Beaman documents the US involvement in Viet Nam, a memoir of war in the form of letters. In each letter, the author shares a piece of his humanity and his soul, each letter unveiling an experience that is both intimate and important to the author. It is not lacking in humor and entertainment, but it is also filled with pathos as the reader follows an experience that involves solitude and hardship. The book also features images that are thought-provoking and that allow the world the author experienced to come alive. Letters from Duc Phong District transports readers to an experience that no one wants to see happen again. While it captures the personal journey of this officer with occasional notes, it is indeed a document that features some interesting details of the Viet Nam era.