Exit Wounds: A Vietnam Elegy

Written by Lanny Hunter
Review by Peggy Kurkowski

“Wars may be fought valiantly, but not gloriously. Glory is spit-shine. War stories should end in grief. Grief is searing” (41-42). And so is Exit Wounds, Lanny Hunter’s memoir of his time as a U.S. Special Forces medical officer in the front lines of the Vietnam War in 1965-66. It is also the poignant tale of his friendship with a Montagnard ally, Y-Kre Mlo, who fought and treated the wounded alongside Hunter.

When Hunter receives a letter from Y-Kre in 1997 asking for help after having spent 10 years in a communist reeducation camp, his return pilgrimage to Vietnam is studded with moments of painful memory, old instincts, and profound musings on the intersections of duty, faith, morality, and the human condition. Hunter was one of the most decorated medical officers in the war, where his actions at Plei Mei in October 1965—where for six days under constant hostile fire he triaged the wounded and saved who he could—earned him the Distinguished Service Cross. But Exit Wounds is not that story so much as the excruciating education he underwent as a “True Believer” who was eventually disabused of his notion of America’s moral high ground. The memoir seamlessly blends these two Vietnams—1965 and 1997—as Hunter and Y-Kre tromp old battlegrounds and reflect on their lives, together and apart. Hunter’s prose is poetic, at times staccato, and thrums throughout with a pulse-pounding urgency. Exit Wounds is transformative and transcendent… and not to be missed.