Larry Heinemann, Novelist of the Vietnam War, Dies at 75


Larry Curtis Heinemann was born on Jan. 18, 1944, in Chicago. His father, John, owned a small bus company, and his mother, Dorothy (Denton) Heinemann, was a homemaker who also owned a babysitting business.

Mr. Heinemann received an associate’s degree at Kendall College in Chicago in 1966, the year he was drafted into the Army. He was sent to Vietnam in 1967 as part of an infantry battalion.

“We were not pleasant people,” he wrote of himself and his fellow soldiers in a 1997 essay for the PBS website, “and the war was not a pleasant business. I have no doubt we radicalized more southern Vietnamese to Ho Chi Minh’s national revolution than we ‘saved.’”

He served a year in Vietnam. After leaving the Army in 1968 he returned to Chicago and earned a bachelor’s degree at Columbia College Chicago in 1971.

“I was not one of those guys who got home and went to their room and shut up,” he told The Los Angeles Times in 1988. “I know guys who the war’s been eating up for 20 years. Anybody who asked me about it, I told them. I shot my mouth off about everything — the whorehouses, the endless hatred, the ugliness, the real work of the war. It took two to three years of talking to get the story out.”

Then he wrote the story.

His first novel, “Close Quarters,” was published in 1977. It was the tale of an ordinary soldier in Vietnam, starkly told. In Newsweek, Peter S. Prescott reviewed it along with “A Rumor of War,” a memoir by another Vietnam veteran, Philip Caputo, that had come out at the same time.

“Larry Heineman in his novel, like Caputo in his memoir, is telling us that the Vietnamese experience was, for Americans, much worse than many of us had imagined,” Mr. Prescott wrote. “Each implies that this kind of war, with its peculiar combination of stress and fatigue, of futility and lunatic violence, batters the average American boy loose from his reason — as well as from whatever moral and spiritual resources he has.”

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