Tuesday, December 27, 2011

David & Lee Roy: A Vietnam Story

As they approached the end of high school in Lubbock, Texas, David Nelson and Lee Roy Herron would find themselves having to make the same decision thousands of other young men their age were making all around the country.  The Vietnam War was raging and their peers were dying there by the dozens every week.  Would David and Lee Roy enlist; wait to be drafted; find a way to avoid the conflict as long as possible, gambling that the war would end before their draft deferments did; or would they run?  The boys, best friends as long as either could remember, took the honorable road of signing up for Marine Corps officer training with active duty to follow their graduation from Lubbock’s Texas Tech University.

Fateful decisions were made at Texas Tech.  David opted, with the blessing of the Marines, to delay active duty while he attended law school at Southern Methodist University.  Lee Roy, to the surprise of no one who knew him, decided to live his boyhood dream of fighting for his country, and was assigned the role of combat infantry leader upon completion of a Vietnamese language school.  David, from the moment he decided on law school, worried that he had let his old friend down and began to withdraw from contact with Lee Roy.  He tried to convince himself that he skipped Lee Roy’s wedding because of law school demands, but he still felt guilty about missing the opportunity to see his old friend one last time before Lee Roy left for combat.

David Nelson
Just two months into his tour of duty in Vietnam, Lee Roy Herron died a hero, killed in battle against overwhelming odds, and David Nelson would feel guilty for the rest of his life about the different paths he and Lee Roy had taken.  A chance meeting at a Houston bookstore book-signing in 1997, during which David met Lee Roy’s old commanding officer, would finally provide the opportunity for David to meet his grief and guilt head-on.  He decided to honor Lee Roy Herron’s memory by writing a book of his own about their friendship and Lee Roy’s amazing patriotism and heroism.  The book he co-authored with Randolph Schiffer all these many years later, David & Leroy: A Vietnam Story, is a heartfelt tribute from one soldier to another – written after decades during which David Nelson, both consciously and subconsciously, continued to battle the guilt he probably still feels some of today.

It is certain that the story of David Nelson and Lee Roy Herron is not a unique one.  Similar decisions were made by hundreds of thousands of young men during the Vietnam War era and it was not uncommon for best friends to take opposite paths.  David Nelson and his co-author have written a book that will likely offer comfort, of a sort, to many who came of age in the 1960s.  What confusing times those were for all of us.

Rated at: 4.0

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