OVERRIDE

Bringing It All Back Home

An Oral History of New York City's Vietnam Veterans

Philip F. Napoli

Hill and Wang

A collection of heartrending oral histories that topples assumptions about the people who served in Vietnam

The Vietnam War was a defining event for a generation of Americans. But for years, misguided and sometimes demeaning clichés about its veterans have proliferated widely. Philip F. Napoli’s Bringing It All Back Home strips away the myths and reveals the complex individuals who served in Southeast Asia. Napoli was one of the chief researchers for Tom Brokaw’s The Greatest Generation, and in the spirit of that enterprise, his oral histories recast our understanding of a war and its legacy.

Napoli introduces a remarkable group of young New Yorkers who went abroad with high hopes only to find a bewildering conflict. We meet a nurse who staged a hunger strike to promote peace while working at a field hospital; a paratrooper whose experiences on the battlefield left him with emotional scars that led to violence and homelessness; a black soldier who achieved an unexpected camaraderie with his fellow servicemen in racially tense times; and a university administrator who helped to create New York City’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Some of Napoli’s soldiers became active opponents of the war; others did not. But all returned with a powerful urge to understand the death and destruction they had seen. Overcoming adversity, a great many would go on to lead ambitious lives of public service. Tracing their journeys from the streets of Brooklyn and Queens to the banks of the Mekong, and back to the most glamorous corporations and meanest homeless shelters of New York City, Napoli reveals the variety and surprising vibrancy of the ex-soldiers’ experiences. “For almost everyone the time in Vietnam was the most exciting and the most alive time of your life,” one veteran recalls. He adds: “I still have this little trick . . . When I lie down and go to sleep, if there’s something bothering me, I say, ‘You’re warm, you’re dry, and there is no one shooting at you.’”

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1


MAKING SOLDIERS: THE BOYS WHO BECAME THE MEN



 

On December 7, 1941, the attack on Pearl Harbor galvanized public opinion in favor of war. In June 1942, a “New York at War” parade up Fifth Avenue attracted about 500,000 participants and 2.5 million spectators. The parade was intended, according to The New York Times, to “visualize the magnitude and intensity of the city’s contribution to all phases of the war program.” The Times pointed out that the crowd was larger than in “any other single American city with the exception
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REVIEWS

Praise for Bringing It All Back Home

Bringing It All Back Home is a book we should all read, for it takes us from city streets to Vietnam jungles and back again. It’s an important and instructive account of the pilgrimage of New York’s young men who went to war and came home to resume their city lives and share their experiences.”
—Tom Brokaw

“The war in Vietnam ended four decades ago, but it still weighs on the men and women who served there, and even on those who, for one reason or another, did not. Philip F. Napoli . . . movingly delivers a belated salute to the former group . . . shatter[s] stereotypes of a lost generation.”
The New York Times Bookshelf blog

“Riveting . . . Bringing It All Back Home crackles with the kind of extraordinary voices Studs Terkel mined from ordinary people.”
—Denis Hamill, New York Daily News

“A thoughtful, deeply personal approach to understanding the Vietnam War for the Americans who fought it.”
Kirkus Reviews

“[A] readable chronicle that uses the personal histories of the soldiers (in the interviewees’ transcribed words) to tell the human story of the American war in Vietnam . . . include[es] rich accounts of the lives of the men before they went to war and after they returned home. While some of the combatants’ stories are New York City–specific, the bulk of them mirror the experiences of Vietnam vets from across the nation. The book is a welcome addition to the Vietnam War oral history literary canon.”
Publishers Weekly

“Napoli is the perfect person to write this book. Having worked with the Vietnam veterans of New York City for many years, he has come to understand us. While focused on vets from NYC, these stories are very representative of all of those who served in Vietnam and what happened to them upon their return home. I want to thank Professor Napoli for telling the true story of Vietnam veterans, who have often been exploited in the media.”
John Rowan, President, Vietnam Veterans of America

“Philip F. Napoli’s oral history of New York’s Vietnam veterans is a remarkable book. It gives us a powerful view of what it was like for American soldiers to fight in Vietnam, and perhaps most of all it shows us how they lived once they came home. An important book for anyone interested in the Vietnam War.”
—Alan Brinkley, National Book Award–winning author of Voices of Protest and The Publisher

“Deftly weaving narrative with the authentic voices of veterans, Bringing It All Back Home vividly portrays its subjects’ experiences in Vietnam, the trials of reentry into civilian life, and the challenges of building lives marked by memories both haunting and inspiring. This brilliant and moving collection offers insights that are profoundly relevant to our times, given the enormous population of veterans returning from our most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
—Edward T. O’Donnell, author of Ship Ablaze

Bringing It All Back Home is one of the most compelling oral history collections of the Vietnam War experience. The sum of that long, distant conflict’s impact on American life may be impossible to fully comprehend, but Philip F. Napoli’s book shows us how the nation’s biggest city experienced the war and its aftermath at the neighborhood and family levels.”
—Michael S. Foley, author of Confronting the War Machine and coeditor of Home Fronts

“Philip F. Napoli’s moving collection of New York City’s veterans’ voices is as varied as the men and women with whom he spoke. For some, as for their nonveteran fellow countrymen, Vietnam is well and truly over. But for many, in the words of one of the veterans, ‘It’s always there. It doesn’t go away.’ At a time when the voices of those who fight America’s wars are more muted than ever before, Bringing It All Back Home is an important reminder of what wars can mean for those who fight them.”
—Marilyn Young, author of The Vietnam Wars: 1945–1990

Bringing It All Back Home is a book we should all read, for it takes us from city streets to Vietnam jungles and back again. It’s an important and instructive account of the pilgrimage of New York’s young men who went to war and came home to resume their city lives and share their experiences.”
—Tom Brokaw

“The war in Vietnam ended four decades ago, but it still weighs on the men and women who served there, and even on those who, for one reason or another, did not. Philip F. Napoli . . . movingly delivers a belated salute to the former group . . . shatter[s] stereotypes of a lost generation.”
The New York Times Bookshelf blog

“Riveting . . . Bringing It All Back Home crackles with the kind of extraordinary voices Studs Terkel mined from ordinary people.”
—Denis Hamill, New York Daily News

“A thoughtful, deeply personal approach to understanding the Vietnam War for the Americans who fought it.”
Kirkus Reviews

“[A] readable chronicle that uses the personal histories of the soldiers (in the interviewees’ transcribed words) to tell the human story of the American war in Vietnam . . . include[es] rich accounts of the lives of the men before they went to war and after they returned home. While some of the combatants’ stories are New York City–specific, the bulk of them mirror the experiences of Vietnam vets from across the nation. The book is a welcome addition to the Vietnam War oral history literary canon.”
Publishers Weekly

“Napoli is the perfect person to write this book. Having worked with the Vietnam veterans of New York City for many years, he has come to understand us. While focused on vets from NYC, these stories are very representative of all of those who served in Vietnam and what happened to them upon their return home. I want to thank Professor Napoli for telling the true story of Vietnam veterans, who have often been exploited in the media.”
John Rowan, President, Vietnam Veterans of America

“Philip F. Napoli’s oral history of New York’s Vietnam veterans is a remarkable book. It gives us a powerful view of what it was like for American soldiers to fight in Vietnam, and perhaps most of all it shows us how they lived once they came home. An important book for anyone interested in the Vietnam War.”
—Alan Brinkley, National Book Award–winning author of Voices of Protest and The Publisher

“Deftly weaving narrative with the authentic voices of veterans, Bringing It All Back Home vividly portrays its subjects’ experiences in Vietnam, the trials of reentry into civilian life, and the challenges of building lives marked by memories both haunting and inspiring. This brilliant and moving collection offers insights that are profoundly relevant to our times, given the enormous population of veterans returning from our most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
—Edward T. O’Donnell, author of Ship Ablaze

Bringing It All Back Home is one of the most compelling oral history collections of the Vietnam War experience. The sum of that long, distant conflict’s impact on American life may be impossible to fully comprehend, but Philip F. Napoli’s book shows us how the nation’s biggest city experienced the war and its aftermath at the neighborhood and family levels.”
—Michael S. Foley, author of Confronting the War Machine and coeditor of Home Fronts

“Philip F. Napoli’s moving collection of New York City’s veterans’ voices is as varied as the men and women with whom he spoke. For some, as for their nonveteran fellow countrymen, Vietnam is well and truly over. But for many, in the words of one of the veterans, ‘It’s always there. It doesn’t go away.’ At a time when the voices of those who fight America’s wars are more muted than ever before, Bringing It All Back Home is an important reminder of what wars can mean for those who fight them.”
—Marilyn Young, author of The Vietnam Wars: 1945–1990

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  • Philip F. Napoli

  • Philip F. Napoli is an assistant professor of history at Brooklyn College, where he also directs the Veterans Oral History Project. He was one of the chief researchers for Tom Brokaw’s The Greatest Generation and An Album of Memories. He lives in New York City.

  • Philip F. Napoli Gabriel Liendo
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    Bringing It All Back Home

    An Oral History of New York City's Vietnam Veterans

    Philip F. Napoli

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    FROM THE PUBLISHER

    Hill and Wang

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