war story

A Chilling Account of the Vietnam War on the Ground

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The Killing Zone:  My Life in the Vietnam War by Frederick Downs, Jr.

4 star

4 stars

First published in 1984 and updated in 2007, Frederick Downs, Jr.’s personal account as an infantryman in Vietnam during the war is one of the best books ever written about those who saw ground combat in Vietnam. It’s a jarring story of a soldier’s life in the field as told through Downs’ chronicle of his time near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) in 1967-68. That his novel is a must-read for West Point cadets is a testament to its accurate portrayal of military combat conditions.

My father served in Vietnam in the same area and time period as Downs. His book taught me a lot about what life in the killing zone was like for my father, who rarely spoke of the war before he passed away. The author writes with such vivid detail and intensity that he drags the reader into his story. At times, I thought I was in the field with him — even though I will never know what men like Downs went through during the war. His book is a tribute to the Vietnam veterans who rightly deserve recognition for their sacrifices. I also appreciated Downs’ efforts to promote reconciliation with the Vietnamese people.

I gave this book 4 stars because it’s not for everyone. Downs tells it like it was. His graphic depictions of the reality of the Vietnam War and derogatory language might leave some readers offended. It should be understood, however, that his narrative portrays the realities of that time period and was not gratuitous. Written as a daily journal, the book does not follow the traditional structure of a novel. The primary conflict in the story — war — does not lend itself to a concise climax or ending.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to read a first-hand account of the Vietnam War or about the life of a soldier in combat. In an age when soldiers are still deployed to far-away battlefields in hostile conditions and face grave danger each and every day, this 45-year-old story is just as relevant today as it was when it happened.

The Killing Zone is now available at: