Michael Herr, who died Thursday at 76, contributed to the scripts for “Apocalypse Now” and “Full Metal Jacket.” But his legacy probably rests in the searing “Dispatches,” drawn from his reporting in Vietnam.
“Hell Sucks,” which originally appeared in a 1967 issue of Esquire, was the beginning of that book. Esquire has posted it on its site; it remains an astonishing read.
With all of that dust blowing around, the acrid smell of gunpowder would hang in the air for a long while after fire fights, and there was also some CS gas that we’d fired at the N.V.A. blowing back in over our positions. It was impossible to get off a clean breath with all of that going on, and of course there was that other smell too, that most special of all smells that came up from shallow graves and from shattered heaps of stone wherever an air strike had passed. It held to the lining of your nostrils and worked itself into the weave of your fatigues, and weeks later, miles away, you would wake up from a dream in the middle of the night and it would be there in the room with you.