Perfume River Nights: A book to save the guys

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“For the guys who died beside me, for the 300 million men and women who served, for the families, the 60,000 victims, and for the young people out there to know about war and combat without experiencing it.” –M.P. Maurer

At the age of seventeen, Michael P. Maurer had to decide if he should shoot or not; if he should kill or not. Some of today’s teenagers are struggling with deciding which mobile phone they want to buy next. Time has changed, but we should never forget about what happened overseas in 1955-1975. Three million Americans were sent to Vietnam—60,000 didn’t return, 300,000 were wounded. And in Maurer’s words, no veteran has completely survived.

A part of himself died on the Asian continent. This is just an illusion, a facade he creates. After he returned home, he couldn’t talk about his experiences for decades. He then decided to make a big and unexpected step and moved to Vietnam to “save the guys.” He went through the wounds of the Vietnam War again and he knew that it would destroy himself but he felt responsible and he has promised to his friends to write the story—to create a remembrance.

Maurer wrote for thirteen years and, going through all these terrifying experiences again, he admits that he cried sometimes while writing; he was afraid of writing and it took him almost fifty years to tell the story.

Writing was his last chance and he was afraid he wouldn’t do well enough to save the guys. He wanted to write honestly and create an engaging story about physical and moral survival; people, love, hate, team spirits, relationships with himself and his friends and even with his enemies. He wrote about terror, death, violence, combats, landscapes and their beauty, about courage and why we seek it, choices and consequences, and the transition of a young men’s character in an environment of war.

When Maurer moved back to Vietnam for nine years, he moved back to the place of his biggest nightmares. But it was a matter of surviving, he said. He wouldn’t be alive today if he hadn’t done it. He sat down next to the Perfume River crossing the city of Huế and wrote his book. He spoke to the river. The river holds our stories, the river is us, he said.

Maurer is a poet and he can catch you off guard with his style of narrating. During his presentation, he alternated between screaming specific facts and whispering the truth of war and the truth of every veteran’s feelings. His story and his authenticity stayed in my head for the next few days. I bought his book and will read it with my full respect for the men and women who served. While writing this article, I was afraid that I couldn’t live up to Michael P. Maurer’s presentation and story, but I hope I can help to save the guys by spreading his immensely touching story.

Maurer’s book presentation was part of the Veteran’s Voice Month and the event was organized by the Veteran’s Resource Center of St. Cloud State University, which was established in 2006 and is open to everyone.