/ Published May 07, 2014
David and Lee Roy: A Vietnam Story by David L. Nelson and Randolph B. Schiffer. Texas Tech University Press, 2011, 288 pp.
David and Lee Roy: A Vietnam Story is a memoir of the lives of two men. David Nelson recounts his experiences with best friend Lee Roy Herron as they grew up in west Texas and attended Texas Tech University before getting caught up in the fray of Vietnam. Both men ended up joining the Marines (Nelson as part of the Marine Corps judge advocate general program and Herron as an infantry officer). After graduation, their lives diverged, Nelson receiving a delay in joining the Corps to complete his law degree and Herron deploying to Vietnam and dying in action in 1969. David never did make it to Vietnam, serving in Okinawa as the war drew to a close. Eventually, Nelson settled into life in Houston as a successful lawyer for a financial firm and nonprofit organization. However, a chance meeting with Lee Roy Herron’s former commanding officer sparked Nelson to track down what exactly happened to his old friend, culminating with a dedication to Herron at their alma mater.
Clearly, this work is a deeply personal one for David Nelson, weaving his personal story into the narrative of his friend. A number of Nelson’s stories come from memory, but he also took great pains to contact various people in Herron’s life to complete the picture of what happened after the two went their separate ways. From west Texas to Mexico to Vietnam, Nelson spent several years researching the life story of his friend. Early on in the work, Nelson is candid with the reader, indicating that a good bit of the dialogue is re-created since no full, word-for-word transcript of Herron’s interactions exists. Still, based upon personal experience and interviews with people associated with Herron, the dialogue/interaction seems a genuine reflection of his personality.
Although this story concentrates on the Marine Corps, some themes/concepts apply to the Air Force reader. Key among them is Nelson’s sense of “survivors’ guilt.” Nelson does not say so directly, but the theme appears, nevertheless, especially as he comes to grips with the fact that while he lived his life, raised a family, and dealt with various trials and tribulations, Herron never got that chance. From time to time, as Nelson thinks of his friend, he believes that he somehow failed him—that he lived, but Herron did not. The eventual quest to uncover the full story about what happened to Herron is a much as tribute as a cathartic act for the author.
Given the high deployment rates for all members of the armed forces since 2001 and the various mission sets those deployments entail, such a feeling would not be uncommon among today’s Airmen. The counterterrorism wars of Afghanistan and Iraq found many Airmen not only working in a joint/coalition environment but also conducting missions (convoy duty, forensics of improvised explosive devices) that traditionally are the realm of Soldiers or Marines. Numerous stories of survivors’ guilt can be found in accounts of returning Airmen, and the US armed forces will continue to deal with those issues for the foreseeable future.
Overall, David and Lee Roy: A Vietnam Story is quite readable. The military aspect does not dominate but still plays an important role. Readers who grew up in Texas can probably relate a little easier to the narrative, but Nelson does well enough describing life in west Texas that anyone can comprehend it. The book does not rate as required reading for all service members, but for those who pick it up, it will be worth the time.
Maj Scott Martin, USAF
Chievres AB, Belgium
"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."