For American combat troops returning from Vietnam, there were many things that needed to be forgotten. The horror of seeing buddies blown to pieces, the insidiousness of an enemy that often lived among them, and the nagging question of why Southeast Asia weighed heavily on battered soldiers. And then the American people sealed the nightmare by spitting on them.

Rick Atkinson’s “The Long Gray Line” follows members of the West Point class of 1966 from their arrival at the U.S. Military Academy as plebes in 1962 and the ensuing four years of grueling education, through their harrowing service in Vietnam to the aftermath of men trying to reconcile the full meaning of “duty, honor, country.”

One of the book’s central characters Tom Carhart recounts landing

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