Mel Smith was born August 15, 1948 in Helena, Montana. He grew up in a blue-collar neighborhood very similar to the one described in “NAM, The Story of a Generation”, on the edge of town, with dirt streets, no sewer service, and one street light on the corner.
He joined the Naval Reserves in the fall of 1966 and started his active duty in July, 1968. He was assigned to the destroyer U.S.S. Taylor out of Pearl Harbor, just after it was deployed on a six month West Pacific tour. On his tour with the Taylor, he was a member of the deck force, the tough ship maintenance division. He transferred to the U.S.S. DeHaven out of Long Beach, California, which left two months later on its own West Pacific tour. On the DeHaven he had the position of Postal Clerk and took over the ship’s post office, the best enlisted duty on the ship. Like all servicemen, he was given an early out in April of 1970, as Nixon was winding down Vietnam.
He returned to Montana State University and completed a B.S. in Film and Television, graduating in June 1973.
Mel Smith currently lives in Arizona with his wife, Alane. He has three children and three grandchildren. He runs his own advertising company, AdSmith and writes in his free time.
NAM, The Story of the Vietnam Generation
A riveting, historically accurate tale of war’s horror, impossible love, and ultimate redemption. This is the Vietnam generation’s story.
Through battle, love’s heartbreak, and unbelievable loss, follow the lives of three Vietnam War combatants: a North Vietnamese patriot and two untested American boys, as they deal with the legacy of their nations’ tragedy. A historically accurate, riveting account of war, its personal cost and lingering aftermath.
It was the sixties. We were the baby boomers and our fathers had fought in World War II—the heroes who saved the world from tyranny. It was our obligation to serve, as they had. To duck service, was not an option; not if you believed in life in America, the American way, and family values.
• • •
“No, Cam…I’m right about Vietnam and World War II,” he said, pointing the two fingers holding his cigarette at me like darts. “You’d better have a damn good reason to ask a man to put his life on the line ’cause there’s no greater sacrifice he can make. Our fathers had Hitler, Mussolini, Tojo to fight…some of the biggest evil the world has ever known. They really were fighting for freedom and our way of life. Losing wasn’t an option.
“What did we have?… Huh? What the [*] did we have to fight for? Not a goddamn thing! We went because we were Americans…because we were asked by our country to go…young men always have been. So we went…and we died. That’s bravery and sacrifice above and beyond the call, my friend. Dyin’ for nothin’…that’s a hell of a thing to ask of a man.”
• • •
“NAM, The Story of a Generation” is a tale of times that defined a generation: the counter culture that grew out of it; commitment without conscience; love in impossible circumstances; the unimaginable horror of war, healing hope, and renewal. The Vietnam War is the common thread that binds together the lives and fortunes of the three main characters.
An epic novel about a generation and the conflict that changed two nations.
What People Are Saying:
“Smith’s effort is nothing short of extraordinary. The story is emotional and heartfelt and feels 100 percent authentic. Most impressively, it covers all major aspects of the war: American culture before, during, and after the conflict; the various mind-sets of young men and their parents before they entered the war (and during and after); debates about the war’s purpose; in-country living, fighting, and friendships; death and war wounds–and coping with both afterward; the rich tapestry of the counterculture; the war from the perspective of Vietnamese fighters and civilians; the protest movement and veterans’ reactions to it; the effect the war had on veterans in the near aftermath as well as thirty years later. It’s a tremendous history lesson and thoroughly entertaining.” — David Aretha, editor of The Sixties Chronicle and books on the Vietnam War.
“An ambitious tale that attempts to capture the epic size of the Vietnam conflict.”–Kirkus Review
“…This is one of those rare semi-autobiographical American Vietnam War novels that includes a substantial cast of well drawn and realistically portrayed Vietnamese characters. I highly recommend this well-written book. It held my attention and more.” — David Wilson, Books in Review II, The VVA Veteran
NAM, The Story of the Vietnam Generation
A Novel by MEL SMITH
NAM, The Story of the Vietnam Generation is a tale of times that defined a generation: the counter culture that grew out of it; commitment without conscience; love in impossible circumstances; the unimaginable horror of war; healing hope; and renewal. The Vietnam War is the common thread that binds together the lives and fortunes of the three main characters who are NAM, The Story of a Generation.
August 16, 1948, the day Babe Ruth died, sixteen-year old Le Van Dat, a young Vietnamese patriot, leaves to join Ho Chi Minh’s Vietminh. On the same day, Mark Cameron and JT Johnson are born into very different circumstances in the United States.
Le Van Dat is a nationalist and follower of Confucius. His consuming, idealistic drive to free his country of a thousand years of foreign occupation is fueled by a sense of personal honor and obligation to his ancestors. Though he disdains communism, Le Van Dat will rise to the rank of general in the People’s Army largely through his courage, inspiring leadership and the support of his superior officer and mentor, Tran Van Minh. Dat is intimately involved in the war’s biggest battles and carries the conflict from the novel’s first pages. His affair and infatuation with Nu Chi, a young South Vietnamese with connections to her own government, sparks a fundamental change in Dat that leads to a harrowing search and improbable resolution as the South crumbles in the spring of 1975.
Mark Cameron is a Montanan born into a rough neighborhood on the edge of town. He is a tough little guy who, as a young teen, finds his personality altered after a savage beating from a bully. Growing into manhood he becomes obsessed with avoiding conflict and adopts conniving ways of keeping himself out of trouble. Entering college, he is swept up by the early resistance to the Vietnam War, even though he had already joined the Naval Reserve as a high school senior. Mark enters active duty following his freshman year and meets JT Johnson at the Treasure Island Naval Station.
JT Johnson is the son of an ambitious entrepreneur who builds a golf course in Fullerton, California following World War II. JT is seen as the prodigy; the son who will live the father’s dream and become a golfing legend. Indeed, JT is a gifted athlete and excels as a youngster, winning prestigious amateur tournaments. Rich, privileged, and well-connected, Jay’s father tells the boy he will never have to serve in the military. But when JT flunks out of college, the head of the local Draft Board, a prominent antagonist of the family, arranges for JT’s draft induction. Jay’s father steers him to the Naval Reserve, thinking it the safest option. But JT is a man of action and talks Mark Cameron into volunteering with him for River Patrol Boat duty, the most hazardous river duty in Vietnam.
The death of close friends haunts Mark during his tour and for years following as he copes with his own physical and mental wounds in a society that does not want to hear his story or recognize his sacrifices. He is ultimately saved by the friendship of a Vietnam Veteran double-amputee and the love of a special woman.
Five Points of Interest
5 Points of Interest about the Book’s Content or Story
- Understand the Vietnam War backstory. Through Le Van Dat readers will develop an understanding of how a poor country like North Vietnam could persevere and ultimately win a war against the world’s largest superpower. Revealed is a historic and cultural backbone of a foe that would never give in and would fight with every available weapon to gain victory; a fact not considered or fully understood by America’s politicians.
- Who fought in Vietnam and why. The characters in NAM, The Story of a Generation present a conflicting and confusing rationale for why men fight in war and how different this rationale in combatants can be.
- How Vietnam changed war forever in America. The Vietnam Generation was the first to nationally resist, in great numbers, a war declared by the United States. It was a rejection of mindless war-making that changed the country forever, though Vietnam’s lessons are sometimes forgotten today.
- The shameful way Vietnam Veterans were treated upon their return is carefully examined in NAM, The Story of a Generation. Many of the problems and issues experienced by the characters in the book are retold from actual accounts. As the Vietnam Generation grew into middle-age, America’s treatment of all military combatants markedly improved as a direct result.
- Understand the Baby Boomers. Often called the “Me Generation”, Boomers are often tagged as the spoiled and entitled generation. Understanding this generation means getting inside their heads: how were they raised and who raised them; what were the expectations of the Greatest Generation on their children; were they cowards or patriots; who among them fought, and why?
The Music of NAM, The Story of the Vietnam Generation
In the first draft of NAM, The Story of a Generation, I led off every milestone chapter with lyrics to a song from that year that fit the context of an event in the story from the same year. For a generation that was raised on rock ‘n roll, I thought it apt and pretty cool. However, I soon discovered publishing rights and how difficult it is to obtain permission to publish lyrics from any song. The lyrics were removed. However, I can certainly tell you what the songs were, and you might keep them in mind as you go through the novel. Not a bad playlist if I say so myself.
1953: Young at Heart sung by Frank Sinatra
1956: Whatever Will Be, Will Be sung by Doris Day
1960: Mack The Knife sung by Bobby Darin
1962: Wimoweh sung by Karl Denver
1964: Mr. Lonely sung by Bobby Vinton
1965: What The World Needs Now Is Love sung by Jackie Deshannon
1967: I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ To Die Rag sung by Country Joe and the Fish
1968: I Am The Walrus sung by the Beatles
1968: For What It’s Worth sung by Buffalo Springfield
1969: Monster sung by Steppenwolf
1970: Fortunate Son sung by Credence Clearwater Revival
1973: Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight by James Taylor
1975: Lady sung by Styx
1998: Yesterday by Lennon and McCartney
The Vietnam War, Film by Ken Burns & Lynn Novick
Sunday September 17, 2017 at 8/7c.
Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s ten-part, 18-hour documentary series, THE VIETNAM WAR, tells the epic story of one of the most consequential, divisive, and controversial events in American history as it has never before been told on film. Visceral and immersive, the series explores the human dimensions of the war through revelatory testimony of nearly 80 witnesses from all sides—Americans who fought in the war and others who opposed it, as well as combatants and civilians from North and South Vietnam.
Ten years in the making, the series includes rarely seen and digitally re-mastered archival footage from sources around the globe, photographs taken by some of the most celebrated photojournalists of the 20th Century, historic television broadcasts, evocative home movies, and secret audio recordings from inside the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations. THE VIETNAM WAR features more than 100 iconic musical recordings from greatest artists of the era and haunting original music from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross as well as the Silk Road Ensemble featuring Yo-Yo Ma.
Get an advance look at the film below; featuring interviews with filmmakers, behind-the-scenes footage and exclusive clips from the series.