In the titular story from Will Eisner’s anthology Last Day In Vietnam, an unnamed Major in the USMC and civilian news-reporter plan an impromptu escape from a Marine Firebase.
This is the Major’s last day on the current rotation. By tomorrow he is scheduled to ship out for Hawaii, where he will meet his newborn child for the first time. An enemy mortar attack however, has grounded all flights. The Major will not make it back to Bearcat in time for his flight out. But the day might yet be saved as the reporter spots one last chopper taking off. The two make a dash for it. This page shows the Major’s hurried scramble to board the chopper as it lifts off.
The beauty of this sequence lies in Eisner’s superb skill at telling a story across dimensions. It appears as if the Major literally crawls out from two dimensions into three, as he clambers aboard the Huey helicopter. Viewed from inside the Huey, the Major running towards the chopper is ordinary fare for comics. It is the world at a distance, the theatrical fourth wall remains undisturbed. But over the course of the two panels that follow, the fourth wall is breached and the violence and horror of a base camp under enemy fire recedes into the distance.
Last Day In Vietnam comes directly from Eisner’s own experiences as civilian contractor during the Vietnam war. It was during this period that he published PS Magazine for circulation among US troops. In this story, the civilian reporter (clearly an analog for Eisner himself) remains unseen, forcing the reader into this character’s point of view. More than simply a narrative continuum, the stories told in this book offer readers a sincere and open wrestling with Eisner’s own life experiences. It is this use of comics to navigate life experience that gives “Last Day” its full title; Last Day In Vietnam: A Memory.