Summary and book reviews of They Marched Into Sunlight by David Maraniss

They Marched Into Sunlight

War and Peace Vietnam and America October 1967

by David Maraniss

They Marched Into Sunlight
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2003, 592 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2004, 608 pages

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Book Summary

Moving between the campus at Madison and the jungles of Vietnam, with side trips to Hanoi and Washington, the tale unfolds with a magisterial sweep that recaptures the war and its era, filled with moral ambiguity and moral conviction.

Here is the epic story of Vietnam and the sixties told through the events of a few tumultuous days in October 1967. David Maraniss takes the reader on an unforgettable journey to the battlefields of war and peace. With meticulous and captivating detail, They Marched Into Sunlight brings that catastrophic time back to life while examining questions about the meaning of dissent and the official manipulation of truth, issues that are as relevant today as they were decades ago.

In a seamless narrative, Maraniss weaves together three very different worlds of that time: the death and heroism of soldiers in Vietnam, the anger and anxiety of antiwar students back home, and the confusion and obfuscating behavior of officials in Washington. In the literature of the Vietnam era, there are powerful books about soldiering, excellent analyses of American foreign policy in Southeast Asia, and many dealing with the sixties' culture of protest, but this is the first book to connect the three worlds and present them in a dramatic unity. To understand what happens to the people of this story is to understand America's anguish.

In the Long Nguyen Secret Zone of Vietnam, a renowned battalion of the First Infantry Division is marching into a devastating ambush that will leave sixty-one soldiers dead and an equal number wounded. On the University of Wisconsin campus in Madison, students are staging an obstructive protest at the Commerce Building against recruiters for Dow Chemical Company, makers of napalm and Agent Orange, that ends in a bloody confrontation with club-wielding Madison police. And in Washington, President Lyndon Johnson is dealing with pressures closing in on him from all sides and lamenting to his war council, "How are we ever going to win?"

Based on thousands of primary documents and 180 on-the-record interviews, the story unfolds day by day, hour by hour, and at times minute by minute, with a rich cast of characters -- military officers, American and Viet Cong soldiers, chancellors, professors, students, police officers, businessmen, mime troupers, a president and his men, a future mayor and future vice president -- moving toward battles that forever shaped their lives and evoked cultural and political conflicts that reverberate still.

A Brief Preface

This book is shaped around two events that occurred contemporaneously during two days in the sixties -- October 17 and 18, 1967. The first was an ambush in Vietnam that occurred when the Black Lions, a renowned battalion of the First Infantry Division, marched into the jungle on a search-and-destroy mission forty-four miles northwest of Saigon. The second was a demonstration at the University of Wisconsin where antiwar protestors staged a sit-in aimed at preventing the Dow Chemical Company, manufacturers of napalm, from recruiting on the Madison campus. The title is taken from the first line of "Elegy" by Bruce Weigl, a poem about U.S. infantrymen in Vietnam marching into sunlight on their way to a deadly ambush. But the image applies to all the people of this book who were caught up in the battles of war and peace during that turbulent era. Soldiers in Southeast Asia, student protesters in the United States, President Johnson and his advisers at the White House -- ...

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Reviews

Media Reviews

The Washington Post - David Halberstam

At its best, They Marched Into Sunlight is wonderful reporting. The military part, the story of the 2/28 (second battalion of the 28th infantry regiment) Black Lions walking into the ambush that day, recalls some of the very best nonfiction writing of the war....He has added one more uncommonly readable book to what is already a rich literature of a difficult chapter in American life.

The New York Times Book Review - Philip Caputo

Moving between the campus at Madison and the jungles of Vietnam, with side trips to Hanoi and Washington, the tale unfolds with a magisterial sweep that recaptures the war and its era, filled with moral ambiguity and moral conviction, with promise and dread, with hippie antics and weekly body counts.

The New York Times - Janet Maslin

Are the battle and the antiwar melee profoundly linked because they occurred simultaneously? No...but what will now connect them forever is this book's inspired use of narrative cross-cutting to produce devastating culture shock. In adopting what is surely the most hackneyed and overused of storytelling techniques, too often a method of building fake suspense out of arbitrary connections, Mr. Maraniss succeeds in making adroit, wrenching juxtapositions.

Publishers Weekly

The two narratives together provide a fierce, vivid diptych of America bisected by a tragic war a moving remembrance for those who lived through it and an illuminating lesson for a new generation trying to understand what it was all about.

Booklist - Gilbert Taylor

This is a concentrated, visceral remembrance of the Vietnam War in both its military and social dimensions.

Library Journal - Karl Helicher

This lengthy narrative keeps the reader engrossed throughout. Highly recommended for public libraries.

Kirkus Reviews

A sprawling, vivid, and hard-to-put-down account of a mere two days in the fall of 1967, a time of two fierce battles one in South Vietnam, the other in Wisconsin.....Both battles wrought terrible scars that have still not healed, and Maraniss’s careful narrative shows just why that should be so. Extraordinary, and likely to become a standard in courses devoted to the history of the Vietnam War.

Reader Reviews

Bobby D.

Once in a very long while comes a book that is a single amazing achievement. This book draws you into its world and vibrates in your mind like marbles in a jar as you read. David Maraniss accomplishment is totally overwhelming in it’s detail and ...   Read More

Craig Hullinger


Great book. I strongly recommend it. Tying in the protest movement to the war was very effective. As a Vietnam Vet, I find the war stories far more compelling than the protest movement.

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