• 344 pages
  • 6 x 9
  • Price: $51.50
  • EAN: 9781566396745
  • Publication: Apr 1999

Ordinary Lives

Platoon 1005 and the Vietnam War

W. D. Ehrhart

In the summer of 1966, in the middle of the Vietnam War, eighty young volunteers arrived at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot on Parris Island, South Carolina, from all over the Eastern United States. For the next eight weeks, as Platoon 1005, they endured one of the most intense basic training programs ever devised. Parris Island was not a place for idle conversation or social gatherings and these men remained from start to finish almost complete strangers. Ehrhart did get to know one Marine, his bunkmate John Harris, who quietly shared his sweetheart's letters. He was a friend who died in Vietnam only a year later.

Twenty-seven years after basic training, Ehrhart began what became a five-year search for the men of his platoon. Who were these men alongside whom he trained? Why had they joined the Marines at a time when being sent to war was almost a certainty? What do they think of the war and of the country that sent them to fight it? What does the Corps mean to them? What Ehrhart learned offers an extraordinary window into the complexities of the Vietnam Generation and the United States of America then and now.

Based on supporting materials from military records and family members as well as interviews—some of which Ehrhart held in such active secondary roles as dairy farmhand, fishing companion, and impromptu guest at a family wedding—this book records the more-than-30-year journey that each man took after his boot-camp graduation on August 12, 1966. Photos of the men, both then and now, accompany the profiles. Their stories are diverse, but as Ehrhart says, "It was, in short, history, and each of these men was and is a part of that history. . . . There are, no doubt, scoundrels and liars and losers among these men, but as a group they have mostly impressed me with their decency, their loyalty, their hard work, and their perseverance in the face of hardships and hurdles, the everyday obstacles that make ordinary lives extraordinary."


"Post-soldier reporter Bill Ehrhart in this searingly honest book will win your heart and mind as he chronicles without histrionics the lives of a group of ordinary Americans who did not think they were doing anything extraordinary when they risked, and often lost, their lives just because their country asked them to. After the war the survivors silently went back to work, often at low-paying, non-establishment jobs for an establishment that never even said thanks. Ehrhart, by giving 'just the facts,' says thanks admirably." George C. Wilson, author of Mud Soldiers and Supercarrier and former military correspondent for The Washington Post

"These profiles of the men of Platoon 1005 and the many paths their lives have taken since Parris Island and Vietnam are testimony to the resilience of individual personality and the quirky variety of human experiences. Bill Ehrhart, who was one of them, writes about his fellow Marines with eloquence, sympathy, and respect. Their stories make a moving and illuminating book." Arnold R. Isaacs, author of Vietnam Shadows: The War, Its Ghosts, and Its Legacy

"While the Vietnam War provides the background, it is only incidental to the story that Ehrhart wants to tell. While the search for Platoon 1005 is fascinating...the core of the book is the eighty sharply drawn vignettes of the men who made up the platoon. Ehrhart describes his subjects with delicacy and caring." Dr. Jack Shulimson, retired United States Marine Corps historian

"...engaging and appealing. ...Ordinary Lives introduces his readers to what happened to nearly all the eighty members of Ehrhart's recruit platoon during the war." Journal of American Culture

"Ehrhart has admirably restored individual selves and in the process created a moving verbal tapestry that reiterates some of the contradictions that permeated America during and after Vietnam." American Studies

"By any measure of his work, W. D. Ehrhart stands as one of the most accomplished and seasoned contemporary non-fiction writers who has devoted his pen to the Vietnam War experience. ...he writes Ordinary Lives with mixed emotions about a diverse group of American marines, himself included, who suffered traumas, wounds, sometimes death, and heartbreaking defeats, as well as about others who bathed in real victories." H-Net

"The book illustrates powerfully the depth of loss because of the war and the persistence of feelings of loss." The Oral History Review

About the Author(s)

W. D. Ehrhart is Research Fellow in American Studies, University of Wales, Swansea. He is the author of numerous books, including Busted: A Vietnam Veteran in Nixon's America and Vietnam-Perkasie: A Combat Marine's Memoir. His collections of poetry include Just for Laughs, Carrying the Darkness: The Poetry of the Vietnam War, and the forthcoming Beautiful Wreckage: New & Selected Poems. He lives in Philadelphia.