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Northrup went to war eagerly, but as an Automatic Rifleman in the Marine Corps's First Division he experienced the horror of combat. He soon wanted only to survive and go home. "I got used to looking at dead and wounded people, Asian or American," he writes. "I'd say, 'Gee I feel sorry for you, but I'm glad it's you and not me lying there."

Northrup suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder "before it had a name." After returning from Vietnam he spent ten years drifting from city to city, job to job, drinking too much, he says. "It was like I didn't want to bring the stink of war home."