Wild depicts his grim experiences as a young American soldier during the Vietnam War.
When only 19, debut author Theodore Wild, raised in Burlington, Vermont, was deployed to Vietnam. Ravaged by war, the jungle was a tinderbox of death traps, a place “where unknown diseases and cholera vie in contests with VD, dysentery, malaria, tuberculosis, and dengue fever to take the young quickly into forever.” The heat alone could kill someone. However, Wild became a member of a tightknit “clan,” populated by men with nicknames like “Lifer,” “Pres,” and “Curly.” He depicts his experience with an impressionistic lyricism, a poetically ambitious attempt to capture the rawness of wartime. Wild paints his military brotherhood with great depth, especially “Lifer,” so dubbed because he was serving his second tour, and a mysterious stranger who received parcels of books from an unnamed source and carried a picture of a trash can in lieu of a loved one. Besides the stirring descriptions of combat—the painful death of another soldier, Trask, is agonizing—Wild also examines his struggles to re-enter quotidian life. The author’s remembrance is cinematically dramatic, overflowing with action, pathos, and philosophical introspection. This unusual combination of existentialist rumination and violence is reminiscent of the novels of André Malraux. However, in place of a plot in the conventional sense is a series of peripatetic vignettes, a narrative style that can become taxing. Also, Wild’s linguistic daring comes with some risk: While his prose can be literarily inventive, it can also be unreservedly overwrought. “Walk, walk, as always, as ever; this was our task, our due, our eternity. We were the Walls of Sparta, mindless of the blight we sheltered; we were Martel at Tours, Frankish swords to slay the infidels.”
An emotionally wrenching, realistic account of the Vietnam War occasionally weighed down by overheated writing.
Vietnam Veterans of America Magazine Review
Lions and Tigers and Cong
describes a variety of places, people, and events in the life of a 19 year old in the Vietnam War as he grew from boy to man. Ted Wild served with Charlie Company in the 5th of the 46th infantry Battalion and later with Bravo Company of the 4th of the 21st Infantry, aka Big Bad Bravo. Wild’s title comes from his newbie’s briefing on what he would find in the jungles of Vietnam.
The author draws on personal experiences as well as on stories, tales, legends, and remembrances of those who fought in the Vietnam War. Although Wild calls his book a memoir he changes all the names, so it is difficult to tell what is real and what is not. Many of the stories are raw and disturbing, but the book gives an excellent look at what life was like for a Vietnam War infantryman.
What struck me most was the quality of the writing. Here are a few passages that demonstrate Ted Wild’s literary talent:
“The heavens hid what we had done to the land. The craters and denuded fields marked our progress, and the land could not be re-farmed, rebuilt, re-tilled nor carted away to be buried.”
“He was a dilapidated alky blues singer, shuffling, carrying a weapon, heading to his janitor job at some midnight bus station to clean toilets used by homeless winos.”
“This acre of sand, this scant fathom of water, was ours, and we played and swam and splashed in it, children forever for a fleeting moment.”
“You have the drive, the passion, the love for a hundred people, and it is distilled by this sour, vile nightmare of war.”
This book is the story of a group of men whose love for one another and need for one another were eclipsed only by the danger that shaped their lives.
—Mark S. Miller
Clarion Foward Review
Lions and Tigers and Cong is a war memoir with literary flourishes.
Theodore Wild’s Lions and Tigers and Cong is a bracing firsthand account of the grunt’s life during America’s long war in Vietnam.
In 1966, Wild was an average guy. He volunteered for the draft with the understanding that by volunteering he would serve for two years, not three. When Wild, whose alias is Jim Reynolds in this memoir, was called up, he joined a band of young warriors and was put into Charlie Company, 5/46th Infantry. Later, Reynolds/Wild was transferred to Bravo Company, 4/21st Infantry Division. In both units, Reynolds met and made friends with a cast of characters who relied on black humor to deal with the horror of war.
The writing pulls no punches. All emotions are thrown on the table, and most come with expletives. This war memoir is full of rugged and hard men who are caked in violence and is not for audiences who are squeamish—or who demand linear narrations. Battle scenes are interspersed with scenes of tomfoolery and excerpts of poetry meant to showcase Reynolds’s profound thoughts.
Reynolds is not the only star in this book. Fellow soldiers drawn from all walks of life are given the spotlight in order to show the war through their eyes and to understand their experiences after the war. There’s a streetwise stickball player from New York, Grover; a sunburnt Texan, Dobert; and other members of Bravo Company. However, frequent changes between characters are distracting and involve sometimes drastic changes in scenery and times, mimicking the discombobulating nature of combat and memory.
When the book focuses on Reynolds’s interior life alone, it does so to excess, slowing the pacing to convey his singular experiences in country alongside postwar traumas. The varied prewar and postwar lives of these men are discussed at length, along with the culture of the 1960s that they all enjoyed. For example, while relaxing after a patrol, the boys of Bravo Company sit around and listen to Little Anthony and James Brown. Also shown are some of the letters that Reynolds/Wild received from the home front, highlighting the fact that Vietnam did not just impact those fighting it on the ground or in the air.
Above all about the veterans of Bravo Company, Wild’s text forwards the message that war never ends for former soldiers. Lions and Tigers and Cong is a war memoir with literary flourishes.
ByGary Dolenon November 10, 2016
Format: Paperback|Verified Purchase
First of all, I was in the same unit as Theodore but two years later. Most of the places he visited.....I too was there but with much less action then he experienced but non the less the same experience. The heat, rain, digging your own grave every night almost everything was right on. The way he penned his thoughts were funny in only a way a grunt can explain. The games we played with each other truly explained well. Anyway, good book which I have already recommended to my other Vet friends. Thanks for the memories.
ByKelcanon July 2, 2017
Suggested to me by a friend as a fascinating and thoughtful book - It Is! I learned more and more and felt so much every time I picked this book up... enlightening and bitter sweet. This was not a subject I normally would have chosen to read about yet I'm so thankful for the insistence and have already passed it on.
Bydragon manon December 18, 2016
This is an outstanding book. Every kid or person who thinks Rambo movies were Vietnam and that war is romantic (thanks to you also John Wayne) should be made to read this book to understand what war is really like and the true aftermath of it. I was fortunate to be just a few years to young for the draft. Ted has a very eloquent use of language and descriptive phrasing to make this book stand out. Thanks for writing it.
In Lions and Tigers and Cong, Vietnam War veteran Theodore Wild chronicles his 22-month service in the late 1960s.
Wild’s memoir begins when he arrives in South Vietnam as a young volunteer and ends with his discharge in early 1969. Instead of writing as himself, he adopts the persona of Jim Reynolds, a self-described “man of war” drawn to battle by a sense of timeless duty. Wild’s narrative tracks Reynolds’ journey from neophyte to warrior and highlights the bonds that develop among the grunts hailing from different backgrounds but finding commonality.
As Reynolds tries to survive physically and emotionally, he marvels at “the flexibility and the adaptability of the human spirit” amidst danger. While the war drones on, he increasingly sees the conflict as senseless and regrets the lives lost on both sides.
Wild follows Reynolds’ service chronologically. Through vivid details, he captures the daily lives of soldiers, describing the relative comforts of basecamp and the graphic horrors of the battlefield. Wild’s prose is at its most evocative when revealing Reynolds’ thoughts. At one point he notes: “The ground retched at being so invaded, and the earth shuddered in haste, in fear, at the things that men could so casually do.”
The narrative could be improved by tightening some chapters; italicized sections often veer off-track, alluding to Reynolds’ past lives or dreams. This doesn’t detract, however, from the raw power of the book’s portrayal of individual courage and camaraderie among troops. “Think about it,” says one soldier to another. “Five, ten years from now…you can drop dead, and none but family and maybe a few friends will give a shit. Die tomorrow, and one hundred and sixty guys will go on a rampage, shake down the stars, storm hell’s doors for you. Fucker, this is a sad, magnificent fraternity.”
This is an engrossing, harrowing account of war. It will appeal to Vietnam veterans, those interested in military history—and anyone who appreciates powerful, muscular writing.