Alpha One Sixteen

A Combat Infantryman's Year in Vietnam

Peter Clark

A new visceral memoir of a year of combat with Alpha Company, 1st Infantry Battalion, in Vietnam, 1966.
Date Published :
September 2018
Publisher :
Illustration :
5 b/w photos and 5 b/w illustrations
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ISBN : 9781612005997
Pages : 224
Dimensions : 9 X 6 inches
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Peter Clark's year in Vietnam began in July 1966, when he was shipped out with hundreds of other young recruits, as a replacement in the 1st Infantry Division. Clark was assigned to the Alpha Company. Clark gives a visceral, vivid and immediate account of life in the platoon, as he progresses from green recruit to seasoned soldier over the course of a year in the complexities of the Vietnamese conflict.

Clark gradually learns the techniques developed by US troops to cope with the daily horrors they encountered, the technical skills needed to fight and survive, and how to deal with the awful reality of civilian casualties. Fighting aside, it rained almost every day and insect bites constantly plagued the soldiers as they moved through dense jungle, muddy rice paddy and sandy roads. From the food they ate (largely canned meatballs, beans and potatoes) to the inventive ways they managed to shower, every aspect of the platoon’s lives is explored in this revealing book. The troops even managed to fit in some R&R whilst off-duty in the bars of Tokyo.

Alpha One Sixteen follows Clark as he discovers how to cope with the vagaries of the enemy and the daily confusion the troops faced in distinguishing combatants from civilians. The Viet Cong were a largely unseen enemy who fought a guerrilla war, setting traps and landmines everywhere. Clark's vigilance develops as he gets used to ‘living in mortal terror,’ which a brush with death in a particularly terrifying fire fight does nothing to dispel. As he continues his journey, he chronicles those less fortunate; the heavy toll being taken all around him is powerfully described at the end of each chapter.

About The Author

Peter Clark was raised in Illinois, where he graduated from New Trier Township High School. He was in the United States Army from 1965 to 1968, including Vietnam service with the 1st Infantry Division. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois and Yale Law School and a member of the Massachusetts Bar. He has been a county prosecutor, counsel to state mental health and social service agencies, a legal aid lawyer, and an Assistant Attorney General in Massachusetts. He currently serves in the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services in the Office of the Inspector General. He currently lives in Catonsville, MD.


"Thoughtful, provocative memoir of slogging through one of the worst of many bad years of the Vietnam War. Clark, now an attorney in the federal government, signed up for the Army in 1966 as a college kid without much direction in a class of enlistees dominated by young men trying to avoid poverty or jail. There was only one destination, of which the author writes, meaningfully, "while Vietnam wasn't likely to be a good war, it was the one I had." Educated, smart, and contrarian, Clark earned demerits for his lack of religious belief ("I was certainly going to try to be the atheist in the foxhole") but respect for his intelligence. That earned him a not-very-coveted job as a radio operator, a bullet-inviting standout in any landscape for its long antenna and proximity to a senior officer. Clark survived the long odds before finally taking a hit, returning wounded to an "America that I had almost forgotten," filled with people who didn't really want to know about the war. Half a century on, the author tells a nuanced, morally complex story of class division, racial enmity, and the always-looming danger of death. In one memorable episode, he tries to convince a young Vietnamese woman to take cover in a firefight. "The look she gave me," he writes, "was an elegant combination of utter hatred and disdain which held no trace of ambiguity." He was no white knight but the enemy, and an enemy with all the firepower in the world. Veterans will recognize several tropes that the author carefully overturns, too, including the timeworn "recurring GI fable" promising that a short-timer would be posted to base camp to reduce his chances of being killed on the last days of his tour. No such luck, especially for someone who, like Clark, "wanted to be in the infantry, out of ignorance." A worthy entry in the vast library of books devoted to a misbegotten conflict."

- Kirkus Reviews

"Peter Clark spent nearly a year in Vietnam with the 1st Infantry Division. Now, a half century later, after Yale Law School and many  years of public service, he writes magnificently of that youthful experience. In intelligent, articulate and beautifully evocative language he renders an honest, moving and richly nuanced account of what it was like to go to war and then, being wounded, to come home again. Compassion, good sense, and decency permeate every page. An outstanding contribution to the literature of the Vietnam War."

- Lewis Sorley, author of A Better War

"Alpha One Sixteen is a great and necessary addition to the canon of Vietnam War memoirs. It may be hard to believe, but the days are numbered for America’s surviving Vietnam War veterans. Like their fellow warriors of America’s many conflicts, the memories of Vietnam veterans like Peter Clark need to be heard, studied, and appreciated. Clark and his fellow men of the 16th Infantry Regiment have earned the right to be read by a new generation of Americans."

- New York Journal of Books

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