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Vietnam vet to read from his combat novel

Mike Heaney’s platoon was in the lead on patrol in the dense Central Highlands of Vietnam when his company was ambushed by Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army regulars, twice their number.
“I was about the seventh or eighth position and 10 men were killed around me in less than a minute,” he recalled.
Heaney’s unit was surrounded and almost overrun. “I remember thinking, ‘we’re not getting out of this alive,’” he said.
In addition to the 10 men with Heaney, 16 more soldiers were killed and another 60 wounded from a total of about 120 in his company.
Heaney himself was wounded and spent three months in hospitals overseas, luckily avoiding the amputation of his right leg, before being sent home.
That was in May, 1966. Now, some 50 years later, he says, “I think about that ambush every day.”
Heaney will read from his combat memoir, “Moderate Casualties,” this Sunday, March 18, 7 p.m., at the Champlain Valley Unitarian Universalist Society, 2 Duane Court, Middlebury (near Middlebury Union High School). 
Heaney was one of the American soldiers whose story was featured in Ken Burns’ monumental documentary of the Vietnam War, which aired this past fall.
Working with Burns “was a blessing for me,” he said. “I got to tell the story of my 10 lost men, to give them at long last a voice of their own. I swore I would keep their memory alive.”
Heaney is a 1964 graduate of Middlebury College, where he was very much an admired student leader: co-captain of the soccer team and chief justice of the Judicial Council, among other distinctions.
He was also selected the “Outstanding ROTC Student” in his senior year (all Middlebury men at the time were required to complete two years of ROTC training and many, like Mike, remained in the program and graduated as commissioned officers in the Army).
He joined the infantry, volunteered for service in Vietnam, and arrived there on Christmas Day, 1965.
Upon his return from Vietnam, he enrolled in Harvard Law School, earned his degree, and practiced law in Washington, D.C. and New Jersey.
But all was not right.  “I was experiencing PTSD symptoms, drinking abusively and generally floundering,” he said. “I was basically a high-functioning alcoholic.”
He entered alcohol rehab in 1983. “There I met another sorry-ass Vietnam vet and both of us began talking for the first time, trading war stories and sharing a good deal of our sorrow,” Heaney said. “That opened a door: I wish everybody had an AA group,”
In 1990, Heaney went back to school, graduate study at Rutgers, earned a Ph.D and turned to full-time college teaching, mostly about Vietnam and other American wars, focusing on the men and women who fought them.
In 2008, he traveled back to Vietnam and met with a group of Vietnamese veterans of the war: “They accompanied me to the site of the ambush of my platoon, and stood quietly by while I cried and said good-bye to the souls of my men,” he said. “Just as I said I would, souls that were now free.”

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