H. Lee Barnes’ sixth book, When We Walked Above the Clouds: A Memoir of Vietnam, is quite possibly the best written memoir of the Vietnam War to date.
Barnes relates his experience as an Army Green Beret — first during the 1965 civil war in the Dominican Republic and later in Tra Bong, Vietnam – in a haunting first person voice that makes the reader feel every bit of the action. In reading his book, one feels the anguish that came from losing friends; the despair as one loses confidence in leadership and the brutality that comes from the conditions in rural Vietnam – from huge rats to water-borne diseases that no chemical could treat properly.
The story starts with Barnes as a young college student. He couldn’t afford his tuition, left school to earn the money to return, and – as a result – also lost his student deferment from the draft. He was drafted into the Army shortly thereafter.
As his Army training progresses, Barnes is introduced to the Green Berets and knows that he wants to become one.
More than anything, his account is one of loss – of morale lost to alcoholism, teammates lost to friendly fire, missions aborted, and missions endlessly and futilely repeated. As his story advances through his tour in Vietnam, so does the attrition – teammates transferred or killed; innocence cast off. Yet against this dark background, he still manages to be one of the quiet professionals whose service, overshadowed by the outsized story of Vietnam, nonetheless carried the day.
As When We Walked Above the Clouds comes to an end, the reader feels that he or she understands the Vietnam War as well as possible without actually being there. I highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in military history.