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When We Walked Above the CloudsWhen We Walked Above the Clouds

A Memoir of Vietnam

H. Lee Barnes

Narrated by Capt. Kevin F. Spalding USNR-Ret

Approximately 10.5 hours

Unabridged


Downloadable edition:

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Book published by University of Nebraska Press


There is the mythology of the Green Berets, of their clandestine, special operations as celebrated in story and song. And then there is the reality of one soldier’s experience, the day-to-day loss and drudgery of a Green Beret such as H. Lee Barnes, whose story conveys the daily grind and quiet desperation behind polished-for-public-consumption accounts of military heroics. In When We Walked Above the Clouds, Barnes tells what it was like to be a Green Beret, first in the Dominican Republic during the civil war of 1965, and then at A-107, Tra Bong, Vietnam. There, he eventually came to serve as the advisor to a Combat Recon Platoon, which consisted chiefly of Montagnard irregulars. Though “nothing extraordinary,” as Barnes saw it, his months of simply doing what the mission demanded make for sobering reading: the mundane business of killing rats, cleaning guns, and building bunkers renders the intensity of patrols and attacks all the more harrowing.

More than anything, Barnes’s story is one of loss—of morale lost to alcoholism, teammates lost to friendly fire, missions aborted, and missions endlessly and futilely repeated. As the story advances, so does the attrition—teammates transferred, innocence cast off, confidence in leadership whittled away. And yet, against this dark background, Barnes still manages to honor the quiet professionals whose service, overshadowed by the outsized story of Vietnam, nonetheless carried the day.

H. Lee Barnes is a professor of English at the College of Southern Nevada. He is the author of several collections of short stories, including Minimal Damage, and a novel, The Lucky.

REVIEWS:

When We Walked Above the Clouds was written for those who want to know what it was like to dig trenches in 110 degree heat, rip off leeches, zip a buddy inside a body bag, or pull the trigger on a complete stranger. This is what the war in Vietnam was like as told from a grunt’s level. Barnes pulls no punches in his gritty account of the teammates he served with, and of those he lost, at a mountain jungle village called Tra Bong.”

—Lt. Col. (Ret.) Raymond C. Morris, U.S. Army Special Forces, author of The Ether Zone: U.S. Army Special Forces Detachment B-52, Project Delta

“As beautifully written as it is heartbreaking, Lee Barnes’s memoir probes through the conventional views of the Vietnam War and finds, amid the squalor, the banal, and the absurd in the Tra Bong action of 1966, the truly heroic.”

—Mary Clearman Blew, author of All but the Waltz

“Lee Barnes growls his profane hymn not just to this war but to all wars. In the process, he justly scuttles Hollywood hyperbole, REMF embroidery, and self-serving short-rounds. The writing is stark. Hard. Honest. Do you and yours a favor. Own this book. You will be left with the scent of blood and cinnamon and something more: the need to shake the hand of a returning warrior.”

—Bill Branon, Captain (DC) USN (Ret.), author of Let Us Prey

“In the grand scheme of things, not much happened at Tra Bong; "the life of a trooper out here meant little, except to those who were out here." But with sharp and unsentimental prose, Barnes makes it matter a great deal. A war remembrance of beauty and unadorned brutality.”

Kirkus Reviews

“This rare look into life as a Green Beret makes a compelling read.”

Joint Forces Journal

“Perhaps the best aspect of the book ... is the attention Barnes pays to the words he puts on the page. Each one carries with it a meaning and a weight that makes his story far more than a war memoir or even a coming of age story.”

—Caleb S. Cage, Nevada Review





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