Small Wars Journal

To Kill a Man: A Short Story

To Kill a Man: A Short Story by Jim Webb, Politico

Long before James Webb became secretary of the Navy or a U.S. senator—or even potentially a 2016 Democratic presidential candidate—he was a 23-year-old Marine fighting in Vietnam’s An Hoa basin, west of the city of Da Nang, as part of the Fifth Marine Regiment. During his tour as a rifle platoon and company commander, Webb was awarded the Navy Cross, the Silver Star, two Bronze Star Medals and two Purple Hearts for his actions in combat. An enemy grenade left him with shrapnel lodged in his head, arm, leg and back. Recounting his gritty combat tour during some of the war’s darkest days—in one eight-week period, his rifle platoon suffered 51 Purple Hearts among those killed or wounded—he told an interviewer in 1988, “My greatest feeling in Vietnam was that I was a pawn.”

Webb’s time at the war helped to inspire his career as a writer; his 1978 debut novel, Fields of Fire, is considered one of the best books ever written about the Vietnam War, and his writing ever since has often focused on combat. It’s an experience, Webb says, that the average civilian can never understand. As he wrote in his 2014 memoir, “I and my fellow combat veterans stand on one side of a great impassable divide, with the rest of the world on the other.”

This is Webb’s first piece of fiction published since September 2001…

Read on.