A Rumor of War

“A singular and marvelous work.” —The New York Times



The classic Vietnam memoir, as relevant today as it was thirty-five years ago.

In March of 1965, Marine Lieutenant Philip J. Caputo landed at Da Nang with the first ground combat unit deployed to Vietnam. Sixteen months later, having served on the line in one of modern history’s ugliest wars, he returned home—physically whole but emotionally wasted, his youthful idealism forever gone.

A Rumor of War is more than one soldier’s story. Upon its publication in 1977, it shattered America’s indifference to the fate of the men sent to fight in the jungles of Vietnam. In the years since then, it has become not only a basic text on the Vietnam War but also a renowned classic in the literature of wars throughout history and, as Caputo explains, of “the things men do in war and the things war does to men.”


Rumor of War DVD



“To call it the best book about Vietnam is to trivialize it . . . A Rumor of War is a dangerous and even subversive book, the first to insist—and the insistence is all the more powerful because it is implicit—that the reader ask himself these questions: How would I have acted? To what lengths would I have gone to survive? The sense of self is assaulted, overcome, subverted, leaving the reader to contemplate the deadening possibility that his own moral safety net might have a hole in it. It is a terrifying thought, and A Rumor of War is a terrifying book.”
—John Gregory Dunne, Los Angeles Times Book Review

“Caputo’s troubled, searching meditations on the love and hate of war, on fear, and the ambivalent discord warfare can create in the hearts of decent men, are among the most eloquent I have read in modern literature.” —William Styron, The New York Review of Books

“Every war seems to find its own voice: Caputo . . . is an eloquent spokesman for all we lost in Vietnam.” —C. D. B. Bryan, Saturday Review

“A book that must be read and reread—if for no other reason than as an eloquent statement against war. It is a superb book.” —Terry Anderson, Denver Post

“This is news that goes beyond what the journalists brought us, news from the heart of darkness. It was long overdue.” —Newsweek

“Not since Siegfried Sassoon’s classic of World War I, Memoirs of an Infantry Officer, has there been a war memoir so obviously true, and so disturbingly honest.” —William Broyles, Texas Monthly

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A Rumor of War

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Comments (49)

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  1. Scott says:

    The first book I read of yours…summer of what must have been 1985…reading a copy while handing-out stacks of them to freshmen cadets at the Air Force Academy…a compelling read, each of the three or four times that I’ve read it now. Too young to have gone or to have been sent, the words are enough to transport the reader to that other time, to cause us to begin to understand or feel what the soldiers and marines felt…and yes, to wonder how we would have survived, both when we were there and after we had returned, had we been so fortunate.

    • Philip Caputo says:

      Thank you for taking the time to write. I appreciate your sentiments, and your attention to good grammar.

  2. Scott says:

    That second sentence doesn’t make sense…please change it to “Too young to have gone or to have been sent, the words were enough to transport me to that other time, to cause me to understand or feel what the soldiers and marines felt, and yes, to wonder how I would have survived, both when I was there and after I had returned, had I been so fortunate.”

    Thank you.

  3. William Hunt says:

    I just finished reading A Rumor of War. I just want to say that I really enjoyed it. Your story left me with a deeper respect and a greater appreciation for all those young men that served in Vietnam. Thank you for the book and your service.

    Semper Fi
    Bill Hunt
    Retired MSgt, USMC

  4. Ralph Hilsman says:

    I’ve read many of the Vietnam era authors/book but somehow missed this gem. What is so unusual that this is set in the early part of the war and really gave me a view I had not read-the splendid little war. It really is an insightful coming of age story. I am a little younger than you and just missed out on the draft, but not the anti war sentiment. What really brought it home though was your last chapters which so clearly articulated the schizophrenic nature of the war where you didn’t know if your enemy was the Vc or Uncle Sam. What foreshadowing too-as those who don’t know (or pay attention) to history are doomed to repeat it. How true that has been. It was a treat to find a book written in 1977 that has so much relevance today + such a wonderful read. Look forward to reading more of your work!
    Ralph Hilsman

  5. Bruce Lamm says:

    Born in ’65. Just finished your book. Felt the need to express to you my appreciation for the book and your effort in creating it. Grew up in the shadow of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base where my father was employed in a civilian capacity. A strong military influence exerts itself over this region. Being a kid at the time of the war though, all I really remember are the body count figures as reported on ABC’s Nightly News and, of course, the evacuation upon the fall of Saigon. Thank you for an important document of your experience.

  6. Andrew Grossman says:

    Dear Mr. Caputo,

    I am a professor and I will be teaching a course on counterinsurgency warfare (I am a severe critique…) and using your book among others. I first read “A Rumor” when it was first published and I am re-reading it now in preparation for the seminar. It a fine piece of work and still riveting. I have question: I am using another two books one that reminded me of “A Rumor” when I first read it back in the early 1980’s Kenn Miller’s “Tiger the Lurp Dog” for in its own way, it also captures much of what you captured in “A Rumor of War.” The other book I just completed last night: Bing West’s “The Wrong War” (his “The Village” is also on our reading list and bookends his “The Wrong War”) and this was a most depressing read for nothing seems to change in these so-called “winning of hearts and minds.” Sorry, the question is: have you read these other two books and do you have any thoughts? Thanks so much for your time.

  7. Andrew Grossman says:

    Mr. Caputo,

    Thanks so much for your reply. Do you do visits to college campuses? I would like to invite you to speak at Albion College and my honors seminar in particular. I fully understand if you are too busy. The quote I cannot get out of my mind (of many)from Rumor: [paraphrasing from memory here] I have never seen pigs eat roast humans…(re: the effects of napalm)…I finished the book, again, last night. Along with your other works (I love DelcCorso and Horn of Africa too). Thanks again for your response.

    Andrew Grossman

  8. Warren Carnell says:

    When your book was given to me by a friend, I had no idea what to expect.
    You have put into words, thru your excellent narrative, what it was like for the “boys”, early in the “war”, to be thrown into an untenable and hopeless situation.
    Reading your description of the conditions, poisonous kraits, utter darkness, mud/muck, mind-numbing, stifling heat was, made it feel like I was there with you on “Purple Heart Trail.”
    In fact one of my favorite quotes in book with regard to the heat was “the temperature on the thermometer was no more inductive of the actual conditions than a falling barometer is indictive of a tornado’s destructive path.”

    Thanks for the education, the honesty, the realism, and most of all your support for the men and their mission, while properly placing the blame for failure on the political hacks and armchair generals in DC….

    I plan to read it again in a year or two….

  9. william j sullivan says:

    Dear LT.this book gave me what I needed about my dads past.he would only talk after a few too many but he stated to me you! you! were the only Lt. he trusted after harvest moon.My name is william sullivan son of John”jack”sullivan your radio man for the 3rd.Danag
    If you have time I’m tring to find “ski” his best friend in nam. “spook” and “grimy” if you have any info on them i would love it. thank you. william

    • Philip Caputo says:

      Thanks for getting in touch, but I think we have a case of mistaken identity here. I did know a Sgt. Hugh John Sullivan, who was KIA in June, 1965, but no one named Sullivan was my radioman. I had three, named Chriswell, Widener, and Jones.

  10. Christian T says:

    What was your book recieved when it was published in 1977?

    • Philip Caputo says:

      If you mean how was Rumor of War received, the reception was extraordinary, with splendid reviews from critics across the country and a positive response from the book-reading public. A Rumor of War made best-seller lists nationwide, and, nearly 40 years after its publication, it continues to sell around 15,000 copies a year.

  11. don wendling says:

    Mr Caputo you’re books rule I’ll b reading them a lot

  12. Jim Hill says:

    Lt. Caputo, I am a former Captain in the USMC (1970-78). My overseas tour was with BLT 3/8 in 1972 and I did not have to go to Vietnam. Your book was the first I read about the Vietnam War and I have a 1977 first edition copy. It is read every few years and I am now reading it again. It keeps me up at night, just like it did when I first read it. This is a simple “thank you” for the remarkable best book ever to come out of the Vietnam experience. Your words and wisdom have stayed with me for many years. Now, at age 65, I have lost a young friend in Afghanistan, Navy Senior CPO Blake McLendon (September 2010), and wonder why we never seem to learn which battles are worth fighting. You remain an inspiration. Semper Fi.
    Jim Hill

  13. Jim Hill says:

    BTW, I bought and am just finishing your latest book, The Longest Road, another book difficult to put down at night. Clearly, you’re not a one trick pony when it comes to writing :)
    Jim Hill

  14. Jim Hill says:

    Dang it, Lieutenant, The Longest Road was so good I finished it quickly during my night-time reads where my wife and I share some quiet time, now loaning it to my retired Army Major friend. Tonight, just went to Amazon.com and purchased Means of Escape. Sounds like you’ve led a life of adventure and have been able to share it with all of us. Thanks again.

  15. Donna Chase says:

    My brother served as a Marine in Vietnam and has professed many times that your book, “Rumor of War” was the most honest record and true dialogue of his experiences. Thank you for helping me understand what my brother endured (he was wounded on his 21st birthday, believing he was dead…left in the jungle and was “found” 3 days later). By the grace of God, we still have my brother today. A most wonderful man. My hero. Thank you for sharing your story with all of us.

  16. HAL says:

    Back in the late 80’s, I was in high school and just as many other teens, of every place and every time, I used to think of war as the ultimate adventure. It was the days of movies such as Platoon and Born on the 4th of July. Actually, in retrospective, I came to understand that the whole media was cluttered with an exploitation all around Vietnam in those years.

    And I found your book at my parents’. As I read it, my view on the conflict gradually changed. As the juvenile hype on the subject gave pass to the critic understanding, my own points of view shifted. This book, obviously cannot teach anybody about the realities of war. But when you’re a teen you cannot assess such fact all right away.

    Years later, in the early 1990’s, I was drafted to boot camp and then I learned what it takes to earn patches & badges when you hump on boots and helmets. In Mexico, there is a federal act, known as the Estrada Doctrine, that refrains the government from joining international conflicts. OK, just as I underwent Basic Training, for the first time in decades the Mexican President gnawed on the idea of setting aside said Doctrine and join a multinational force, namely the Operation Desert Storm in the Middle East. Didn’t happen, and as years passed by, when I recall on the subject, I usually think ‘geez, a helluva occasion to switch foreign policies, if the Mexican Congress had resolved otherwise, voting in favor of the President’s motion, guess who was in training echelon before receiving orders to the Gulf’. Eventually, I came to understand that if there is a final lesson to learn from experiences like yours, is that oneself shouldn’t be looking for experiences like yours. Just like Bon Jovi’s song says, “and you can go to war, but only if you have to”.

    Partly on the subject, party on the prose, your book became one of my favorites. The only pleasure as big as reading, is re-reading. It’s kind of a surprise to run into your website, to notice that you personally reply to comments, and to finally get in touch (or kind of) with a person who has been on my bookshelf for years.

    BTW, it was me who initially wrote the Wikipedia entry!

    My best regards, Lt. See you around.

  17. Katie Patrick says:

    Hello! I’m in high school and just finished your book A Rumor of War. I was wondering what your opinion of combat in general was?

  18. don wendling says:

    mr caputo, i live in bufalo ny. if u ever get down here, with the missus, coffee is on me. Sir, a point i think needs to be made once. i have been following the iraq and afghanistan wars. Im a space program avid avid fan. The point is this. If you consider the what is the post Apollo program era, roughly 1972, to now, thats 42 years. and , sir in fact , with all respect all respect to the men and women of our armed forces, the lowest, the fewest, the least, the smallest number of our men and women to , actually have died in combat , roughly 7000 in all wars our country has been directly involved in , as compared to the Vietnam era, (58000) korea, (33000)ww1 110000 or ww2, 290000, is in in fact, that 42 year era. what ever thoughts you have , id be very keen on hearing them ty

  19. Scott Hall says:

    Dear Mr. Caputo
    Thank you for a well written and extremely insightful read! You share an honest and clear reflection in a way that had me stop every few pages and simply think. I can only imagine the vulnerability and courage it took to walk those trails, yet believe it took the same to write this memoir. I also liked this book because you share the very real inner conflicts and emotional changes that we often find ourselves experiencing (compassion, morality, trust, anger, perseverance, etc.). I’m writing this at a moment before reading the final pages and just wanted to share my gratitude. Best Regards
    Scott H.

  20. Jim carver says:

    Mr Caputo I was an infantry lcpl in 3/1 1st Mar Div and served like you in the Danang area in 1971. The war was winding down in 1971 for the Marines and I was on Okinawa and disappointed I wasn’t going “south”. So you probably understand that at the age of 20 I continued to request to go to Vietnam when I probably never would have been sent. I finally got my wish in March 1971. I’ll never forget that experience. I read your book when it first came out and again now at age 63. Thanks for writing a book that makes the vet stop and reflect on what he did to survive in that jungle.

  21. don wendling says:

    mr caputo, I have been looking for a clip from Vietnam, in which the marine general Wallace m.” wally” greene gives his infamous “you men are here to kill vc “speech. I cant seem to find it on you tube or anywhere else. Any idea where it may be found?

  22. Allen Wood says:

    Philip…it has taken me a long time to come to grips with my three tours as a LRRP/Ranger with the 1st Cav. Your book “A Rumor of War” was the first book I read after determining that I needed to re-open the wounds left from Vietnam and to re-examine my role there. I had always taken the position with myself that God would never forgive me for the things that I did as a LRRP and later as a Ranger. “We Were Soldiers Once…And Young” and “A Rumor of War” helped me move past all that and put everything in it right place in my mind. We simply did what we had to do to stay alive for one more day, what we were ordered to do, rightly or wrongly. Thank you for your honesty and integrity in writing this book. Now I look back with, mostly, sadness and regret for the time and innocence we all lost.

  23. Marta Mariani says:

    Dear Mr Caputo
    I’ve read “A Rumor of War” and I’ve found it an honest and sincere memoir of the Vietnam War. It’s not the classical account of the conflict but a much more introspective one. I’m writing a dissertation about the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and I wonder if you have suffered this sort of breakdown in the years after your months in the war.
    Thank you for sharing your experience and thank you for all of your books.
    Best regards
    Marta Mariani

  24. Robert Holstein says:

    Dear Mr. Caputo,

    Hello, my name is Robert Holstein and I am an 8th grade Edgebrook School student. As you might remember, I have contacted you a few weeks ago. As you may already know, a couple of friends and I are working on a History Fair project involving your project and want to ask a couple of questions.
    Did you experience any PTSD after returning to the US?
    Were the majority of the men you fought with drafted or did they volunteer?
    Did President Kennedy or any other propaganda persuade you to join in the war?
    Were the American soldiers that fought battle-ready and strategically adapted to the kind of warfare used in Vietnam?
    Do movies about Vietnam portray the real experiences accurately?

    Thank you very much for your time and we hope to hear from you soon.

    Robert Holstein

    • Dear Mr. Holstein:

      To answer your questions:

      1. Yes,

      2. All were volunteers. The Marine Corps drafted a few men later in the war, but it was, and is, primarily a volunteer outfit.

      3. I didn’t join the war. I joined the service in 1963, after Kennedy was assassinated, and though I was motivated by his call to “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask, rather what you can do for your country,” I had several other reasons for enlisting.

      4. They were well-trained and battle-ready for a conventional war, but not for the kind of irregular warfare waged in Vietnam.

      5. It depends on which aspect of the war the film deals with. “Apocalypse Now” was surreal, but it captured accurately the weird, surreal nature of the war. “Full Metal Jacket” was a more realistic film in the conventional sense, while the battle scenes in “Hamburger Hill” were so on target that the film could be a documentary.

  25. Steve Jennings says:

    My brother flew medivac out of Danang in 1965-66. He doesn’t talk much about his experience there. Thank you very much for your book, it gave me insight to why he seems at times distant and reluctant to get close.


  26. Dave Jackson says:

    First off thank you for your service Phil. Secondly, thank you for sharing your experience in ‘A Rumor of War.’ I was born in 1978 and am in the process of educating myself on the Vietnam war. Your writing captivated me. I began to imagine myself in your shoes and wondered how I would have reacted in the same situations. I appreciate your honesty on what the war was really like. Although the war may have been senseless, your sacrifice as well as those of Sullivan & Levy were most definitely not. I will continue to study accounts of war from men like yourself with the goal to not repeat the mistakes of the past. When my children are mature enough I will encourage them to do the same. Thank you again.

    Dave Jackson

  27. Ryan S says:

    I am currently reading, “A Rumor of War.” I am so far enjoying my read but I wanted to write the author about a discrepancy in the book when it talks of Walter Levy in chapter 13. It states that he studied at Columbia University which is untrue. Walter Levy attended Norwich University and graduated in 1963. The Alumni and the University hold Levy in high esteem as he was the first graduate who lost his life in the Vietnam War. He serves as a testament of the University alumni’s dedication to service. He is honored today by the Naval ROTC Unit there and the unit holds an annual obstacle race in his name.

    • How I missed this fact for all these years is beyond me. All the more inexcusable as I’ve spoken on panels at Norwich and in fact am heading there to take part in another one on April 9. I will make the change and notify my publishers to correct the mistake in the next edition. Thanks for calling my attention to it.

      • Ryan S says:

        As a Marine Officer and as an Norwich graduate, I want to thank you for your service. I’m sure Levy would appreciate the correction too.

  28. Steven R Turner says:

    Sir. The only books I read on Vietnam were yours, and Webb’s ‘Fields of Fire’. The only ones, that is, that I thought were worth it. I was a nomad radioman 03jan68 to 17may69. Worked with both Marines and Army. From dmz to central highlands. Straight out of high school and a believer. Later, not so much. After a while, it was the same fight over the same ground, over and over. Terminal deja vu. Thanks for putting it all in writing. Sometimes I’ve thought I was the only one there.

  29. Salomé says:

    I’m a french student of 16 and I actually study the Vietnam war. I have not found your book in french but I wanna know how do you represent the weariness regarding the fighting and the death ? And what was the main source of lassitude for you ?


  30. zac says:

    Easy read. He had some good points on war that of course never having been through a war – I would never have thought about.

    It wasn’t as philosophical or even maybe horrific as I needed. He sold me on why exactly did the Vietnam war effect men’s psyches more than any other war. To understand their psyche. He only would delve into that a few times. 

    I guess I felt this book was a good overall view on the Vietnam war. But it really did make me feel sympathetic for the soldiers.

  31. Ellie W. says:

    Dear Mr. Caputo,
    I read your book, Rumor of War, for my senior history class in high school. It made me laugh a few times, but it also made me want to cry. However, I really enjoyed reading it. I didn’t think I would like it because I am not really into war books or novels or anything like that. I like watching movies on wars, such as all the Hollywood movies on WWII but I didn’t think I would like this book as much as I did.
    Thank you for sharing your story to the world. It really forces people to think about what war is like.
    So again, thank you,

  32. John Stephens says:

    I was born in 1954 and had many friends and relatives who served in Vietnam. I did not serve myself and had very little concept of the reality of the situation over there. I do know that everyone that I knew who went to Vietnam was profoundly impacted by the experience. Unlike older men who had been in WW II or Korea, almost none of my friends or relatives ever talked about their experiences. I was visiting one of my friends who had a copy of Rumor of War and recommended that I have read. It. Was an eye opening experience and truly made me apprecitate how much the men and women who served went through. I made sure every young person in my family read it. A great book.

  33. Adrian Ng says:

    Dear Mr Caputo,
    I was born in Malaysia in 1970 and my first memory of the war in VN was watching the news of the helicopters being pushed off the aircraft carriers when SGN fell and my dad saying that South VN has lost the war. I never forgot that image and when I was 14, I wanted to find out more about the VN war after watching the TV movie of “A Rumor of War”. I purchased your book and I’ve reread it countless times for many years and just like you, I was also taken in by the adventure and glory of war having grown up on a diet of WW2 films. I have a couple of your other novels – Lions of Tsavo, Del Corso’s Gallery, Means of Escape, History of the VN War, but “A Rumor” has and will always be one of the most defining books I’ve ever read. It started a lifelong interest in understanding that war and about Vietnam the country and its people. It also inspired me to learn so much about VN that I ended up working in there and making lifelong friendships. Thank you again for writing a novel that opened a young boy’s mind and shaping his path.

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