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Authors: Winston Groom

Better Times Than These

Winston Groom’s novel Forrest Gump,
the basis for the smash motion picture starring Tom Hanks, has won him resounding national acclaim. Now Pocket Books is proud to bring Winston Groom’s extraordinary first novel back into print.

Summer, 1966: A few months earlier, First Lieutenant Billy Kahn was studying geology on an ROTC scholarship; now he is the Executive Officer of Bravo Company, responsible for leading over one hundred young men into combat. But his problems are not limited to the Vietcong. There’s Colonel Jason Patch, his battalion commander, a cold and callous man willing to sacrifice troops for strategic position; Lt. Brill, an unbalanced sadist whose bizarre behavior spells trouble for the whole company; and Kahn’s own struggles with the death all around him, his sense of duty, and the American mission in Vietnam. And just when Kahn wins a Silver Star, he is drawn into an impassable moral quagmire that could mean his downfall—or his redemption.

AFTER THE BATTLE

Kahn, his wrist bandaged tightly in gauze and tape, moved among the wounded, offering them cigarettes and encouragement. The shrapnel had barely skimmed the back of his hand, digging out a little half-moon chunk of skin. Another eighth of an inch and he might have been out of it himself with a severed tendon or splintered bone.

There were many men, officers among them, who would have given a lot at this point for such a wound, but Kahn wasn’t thinking about that—one way or the other. He was consumed by a deep, yet controlled rage; an anger so fierce he probably could not have expressed it in words even if he had sat down and tried. It was as though he had spent the past three hours of his life in a slow-motion automobile wreck in which he was able to experience the terror of going out of control and still observe, at the same time, the injuries to other occupants. It was a hateful, helpless feeling.

POCKET BOOKS, a division of Simon & Schuster Inc.

1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020

Copyright © 1978 by Winston Groom

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.

For information address Simon & Schuster Inc.,

1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020

ISBN: 0-671-52266-3

First Pocket Books printing December 1994

POCKET and colophon are registered trademarks of Simon & Schuster Inc.
Cover art by Dominick Finelle

Printed in the U.S.A.

Author’s Note

This work is fiction. Accordingly, some of the terrain has been altered and military history rewritten to suit the story line. For instance, there is in fact an Ia Drang Valley, but most of the battles there took place a year before this tale is told. There are no such places in the Ia Drang as the “Boo Hoo Forest” or “The Fake,” and while there were several Monkey Mountains and Happy Valleys in Vietnam, none that I know of were located where they are put in this novel. Furthermore, there was never a
Fourth
Battalion of the Seventh Cavalry Regiment in Vietnam, and those units of the Seventh Cavalry that did serve there did so, by all accounts, honorably and well. Finally, any character appearing in this book is wholly made up, and no similarity to anyone dead or living is intended.

East Hampton, Long Island
September 23, 1977

For two soldiers—

My father, who served in a different in different times; and James Jones.

Table of Organization and Roster
a/o 21 July 1966 (incomplete)

Brigade Headquarters & Headquarters Company

Butterworth, Samuel G.; Brig. Gen.—Commanding
Dalkey, Robt. C.; Maj.—Aide
Holden, C. Francis, III; 1/lt.—Aide
Dunn, Richard A.; Maj.—Signal Liaison
Greaves, Wilson P.; Maj.—Chaplain
McCrary, Michael T.; 1/lt.—Graves Registration

Fourth Battalion Seventh Cavalry (airmobile)

HEADQUARTERS:

Patch, Jason C.; Col.—Commanding
Flynn, Thomas P.; Capt.—Aide
Kennemer, Frederick N.; Capt.—Adjutant

Bravo Company

HEADQUARTERS:

Thurlo, David A.; Capt.—Commanding
Kahn, William Sol.; 1/lt.—Executive Officer
Trunk, Myron B., Jr.—1/sgt.
Hepplewhite, Norman E.; Spec/4—Clerk
Bateson, Sidney P.; Spec/4—Radiotelephone

PLATOON LEADERS:

Sharkey, Stephen D.; 2/lt.—1st Plt.
Brill, Victor L., Jr.; 2/lt.—2nd Plt.
Donovan, Sean P.; 2/lt.—3rd Plt.
Inge, Cyrus A.; 2/lt.—Weapons Plt.

NONCOMMISSIONED OFFICERS:

Dreyfuss, Leonard T.—plt/sgt, 1st Plt.
Groutman, Gustavus R.—plt/sgt, and Plt.
Moon, Rollie I.—plt/sgt, Weapons Plt.

ENLISTED MEN:

Acquino, R. G.—rflmn

Conway, S. R.—medic

Carruthers, D. C.—rflmn

Crump, Homer R.—rflmn

DiGeorgio, Louis—rflmn

Dunbar, Tyron A.—rflmn

Harley, O. V.—rflmn

Helms, W. R.—rflmn

Hixon, T. G.—ammo brr

Maranto, J. B.—machguner

Miter, Harold N., Jr.—ammo brr

Muntz, Seymour H.—machguner

Poats, Edward—machguner

Spain, B. L.—ammo br

Spate, Leon—rflmn

Trent, C. T.—rflmn

OTHERS:

Fox, Carter; Capt.—JAG

Gore, Timothy B.; Capt.—JAG

Maitland, Paul, Lt. Col.—JAG

Peck, Oscar A.; 2/lt.—replacement

Range, John T.; 2/lt.—replacement

Sonnebend, Peter; Capt.—Pub. Info. Off.

Spivey, Edward; 1/lt.—aviator

Tolson, Mayon; Capt.—Charlie Co.

There’ll be better times than these,

In the Seventh Cavalry,

Just you wait and see,

Garry Owen!

—from a song of
The Seventh Cavalry Regiment

Part  One

THE
VOYAGE

1

T
he gray hull of the troop transport loomed at the dock like a ghost ship, and the men, milling around the olive-drab Army buses that stretched into the fog nearly half a mile, had been trying hard to get a good look at it for an hour. Sometimes the fog would thin for a moment and they could see the gaping square hole in the ship’s side through which men from other buses, carrying duffel bags and rifles and wearing helmets, were boarding. Occasionally they could catch a glimpse of the decks, on which there seemed to be a great clattering of activity, but it was too fleeting for the men to tell what was going on, and they had to strain to see what they could see.

They could hear the roar of big cranes loading cargo into the hold, but they could not see them either. And when the cranes stopped every so often, they could hear the lapping of water against the concrete pier and from the direction of the ship they could hear a great deal of yelling, as though a hundred men were yelling at each other at once, but they could distinguish nothing of what was being yelled. And above this, there was the blaring of voices from loudspeakers and bullhorns which echoed down the canyon of white terminal buildings and blended with the yelling and the roar of the dockside cranes into a single gigantic racket coming out of the fog.

Bravo Company had been waiting beside the buses for nearly two hours, talking quietly, sitting on duffel bags, smoking and cursing the damp Pacific chill which none of them had anticipated in July. Some of the men simply stared out into the fog toward the ocean, or toward where they thought the ocean was—in the opposite direction from where the ship lay—because they did not want to be reminded of why they were here. These few men seemed lost, most of them, in private thoughts about their homes and girlfriends and other things very far removed from this particular dock at the Presidio Army Transport Terminal on this particular San Francisco summer morning.

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