No Bugles No Drums – Charles Durden

No Drums No Bugles - Charles Durden

Another book about a ‘grunt’s-eye’ view of the war in Vietnam. But with some original quirks that make it worth reading.

The conversation is fast paced for sure but the nonstop wisecracking – quick as a Kalashnikov on full auto (get the picture?) can get a bit tedious. Nobody is slick enough to talk that fast. Are they? Maybe I’m just jealous…

Soldiers swear. A lot. And it’s good writing to keep dialogue realistic (even the great Norman Mailer could have improved what were known as his ‘fuggin’ novels’ with some more gutsy realism). Nevertheless, just as it gets tedious listening to someone whose entire adjective repertoire begins and end with ‘fuckin’, there are overdone sections here that make it sluggish reading. Four ‘fucks’ in eight lines starts to get unrealistic, even for a grunt.

This is a book about a confused city boy in Vietnam ‘Indian territory.’ Just a wild guess but I’m pretty sure the writer was probably very inspired by Holden Cauldfield in ‘Catcher in the Rye’ (certainly no apologies necessary for that!). Many times Durden’s character questions himself: ‘I’m weird, I said to myself. I’m weird, I’m weird, I’m weird, I’m fuckin’ weird.’

It must be his perspective that is wrong he decides, since everyone else sees the reason for the war. This book (written a year after the fall of Saigon) raises poignant doubts about the reasons being in ‘Nam. ‘The right thinking people – the ones who said North Vietnamese PT boats attacked American destroyers in the Tonkin Gulf, when it later turned out there prob´ly wasn’t a fuckin’ Indian within twenty miles…the silly bastards saying we’re winning when we’re gettin’ our asses kicked – all this shit of supporting a military dictator so the people can have a democracy. Bombin’ hospitals and schools and sayin’ ooops!’

Most of this could so easily relate to other times, other wars. Will we ever learn?


I bought my copy of this book in Sue’s Book Exchange, Cairns, Australia and left it at Mango Tree Hostel, Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro. It’s done some miles already. Hope it has happy travels from here on.


Kitbaggers book project – travel literature on speed.

Have you ever handled a classic paperback and wondered where it’s been and whose hands it passed through? Do you love the well-handled look of a book that’s obviously seen decades of serious mileage through places you might only have imagined?

This project was conceived long ago through a conversation (in San Jose, Costa Rica) between a group of friends who’d wondered about these same things and thought it would be interesting to try to trace the history of just a few random books that we read on the road.

More than just a review – this is also the story of a single adventurous copy that’s probably still out there touring the world somewhere. Let us know if you find it.

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