The Killing Zone: My Life in the Vietnam War

The Killing Zone: My Life in the Vietnam WarThe Killing Zone: My Life in the Vietnam War by Frederick Downs
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Killing Zone: My Life in the Vietnam War is easily one of the best Vietnam war books. Based on the true story of Frederick Downs’ deployment to Vietnam in 1967-1968, the book reads like a diary and articulates his experiences in detail. It provides amazing insight into what was going on in his mind (and around him) as he learns to adapt to the chaos of combat while keeping his men alive. Right from the book’s preface I was pulled in to the story when he described his post-deployment encounter with a man at the University of Denver in which the man sees his amputation above his left elbow and says, “Serves you right.” Wow. It’s easy to question another person’s morality when yours has never been truly tested.

One of the most powerful passages for me was also the following: “Man’s beginning and man’s end would always be attended by only a few. Those that bore him at birth and those that bore him at death. The only important thing was what he did in between.”

I read the updated reprint of the book and found the Afterword provided an insightful look into the after effects of his deployment, from his career with the VA to his closure revisiting Vietnam 20 years later. He also provided pieces of after action reports that described the fate of his fellow soldiers after his war-ending encounter with a “Bouncing Betty”. I highly recommend this book for a true glimpse into the soldier’s perspective of the Vietnam war.


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