Doug Stanton is a journalist, lecturer, screenwriter, and the author of the New York Times bestsellers In Harm’s Way and Horse Soldiers. In his new book, The Odyssey of Echo Company: The 1968 Tet Offensive and the Epic Battle to Survive the Vietnam War (Scribner, 2017), Stanton tells the story of Stan Parker, a story Parker had been trying to tell for half a century.
“Stanley Parker had just turned 20 when he enters the Army,” Stanton says. “It’s January 31, 1968, and he and his platoon from the 101st Airborne Division have arrived on a scrubby hilltop in northern South Vietnam at about 4 a.m. The Tet Offensive commences all across South Vietnam. Some 100,000 North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops attack simultaneously throughout major capitols and districts. Stanley Parker and his friends are overwhelmed and must begin then fighting for their lives.”
Parker’s reconnaissance platoon, Echo Company, is forced into hand-to-hand combat across landing zones, rice paddies, hamlets, and dense jungle, just weeks after arriving in Vietnam. The men of Echo Company form a lifelong brotherhood, bonded by battle and their surviving the onslaught.
Stanton met Parker while working on another assignment in Afghanistan as both boarded a military helicopter. Stanton was struck with the fact that Parker, even while serving in another war, still wanted to talk about Vietnam. It seemed he had yet to tell his story, and Stanton wanted to help him tell it.
“We’re flying over small villages in Afghanistan in broad daylight, and we’re a very large target in the air,” says Stanton. “I’m not concerned, but I am fascinated that what Stan wants to talk about is Vietnam. And I realized —he’d never really come home.”
Stanton says the Vietnam War different was different from previous conflicts because many veterans returned home and were not greeted as military heroes. Some encountered protests and disdain, or were made aware that no one wanted to hear their stories. Parker’s own neighbor, a veteran of World War Two, cuts him off when Parker wanted to compare experiences.
After extensive research and travel across the country to interview other veterans, Stanton says, “I can say with great sadness, but hopefulness for the book, is that Parker’s feeling of solitude within his experience is universal.”
Stanton hopes the book breaks through that silence and helps start conversations, encouraging the families and friends and colleagues of Vietnam veterans to listen to their stories. “These guys are reaching 70. In my experience in reporting, it’s at that age that they begin to really open up.”
Doug Stanton’s book, Horse Soldiers, about U.S. troops riding horses to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan, is being made into a movie, directed by Jerry Bruckheimer, titled 12 Strong. It's expected in theaters at the beginning of 2018.
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