A publication of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress

February 2001/March 2001

Books in Review

D.S. Lliteras' Torrid Tale Of A Corpsman’s Return

By Marc Leepson

His service as a Navy corpsman in Vietnam has been a recurring literary theme for D.S. Lliteras. The Vietnam War was a big part of three novels: Half Hidden by Twilight, In the Heart of Things, and Into the Ashes. And the war was the main subject of his exceptional book of haiku, In a Warrior's Romance.

Lliteras' latest novel, the Vietnam-War-heavy 613 West Jefferson (Hampton Roads, 208 pp., $19.95), looks at the wartime and postwar experiences of Richard Santo. Santo undergoes a rugged tour as a Marine in Vietnam. When he comes home, the alienated Santo falls in with a group of young people, including another Vietnam veteran, living on the fringes of society in Tallassee.

Santo is haunted by what happened to him in Vietnam. He goes through a good deal of psychic pain in the 13 months after the war as he and his friends wade hip deep into the sex, drugs, and rock and roll scene. 613 West Jefferson is, by far, Lliteras' most accessible and readable novel. The best writing comes in the in-country flashback scenes in which Lliteras perfectly evokes the physical landscape and the Marines' mental states.

AN ENCYCLOPEDIC EXAMINATION OF AMERICA’S LITERARY LIONS OF WAR

"The Vietnam War provoked an American literary expression almost from its inception, and one of the most frequently observed ironies of the war is that the one war the United States lost has also given rise to its most distinguished war literature." Those words, by Emory University English Professor Lucas Carpenter, come in the "Vietnam War" entry in the new Encyclopedia of American War Literature (Greenwood, 424 pp., $95), a meaty compilation of information on scores of novelists, poets, and dramatists who have contributed significantly to American war literature. The list of Vietnam War writers profiled in the book bears out Carpenter's observations.

The heart of this vast, valuable endeavor--edited by Philip K. Jason, a U.S. Naval Academy English professor, and Mark A. Graves, who teaches English at Morehead State University--are scores of individual, A-Z biographical entries written by the editors and a host of others, mainly college and university English professors. Your arts editor contributed three entries.

FICTION IN BRIEF

Gloria Emerson, the journalist and author best known for Winners and Losers (1978), the National Book Award-winning look at the Vietnam War's legacy, has published her first novel, Loving Graham Greene (Random House, 176 pp., $22.95). It is a short, effective look at a rich, eccentric American woman's infatuation with the great British novelist and with helping the world's poor and oppressed.

Flawed heroine Molly Benson travels to Algeria in a well-meaning but predictably disastrous effort to help persecuted writers. Throughout her journey Molly flashes back on Greene's books and letters, a good portion of which deal with Vietnam.

Lihn Dinh, the Saigon-born poet, made his literary mark in this country with Night Again (1996), a first-rate collection of Vietnamese fiction he edited. In Fake House: Stories (Seven Stories Press, 207 pp., $23.95) Linh Dinh offers 21 of his own short stories. His autobiographical fiction centers on life as an exile in the United States from 1975-96 and as a returned exile in his homeland since 1998. More than a few of these tales deal with drinking, drugging, and sexual matters. The language sometimes is crude. Many contain sharply drawn Vietnamese characters, both at home and abroad.

Michael Connelly is high on my list of genre writers. His specialty is the detective novel set in Los Angeles. That's what Connelly offers up deliciously well in A Darkness More Than Night (Little Brown, 418 pp., $25.95), his sixth intricately plotted novel featuring the troubled but heroic LAPD homicide detective Harry Bosch who served as a tunnel rat in Vietnam. Darkness is a highly entertaining tale in which our hero may have committed a series of murders. A young FBI agent works both with and against Bosch to get at the truth.

Douglas Valentine's well-told, intriguing TDY (Authors Choice, 129 pp., $10.95, paper) centers on an Air Force photojournalist who gets caught up in the American-led "Secret War" in Laos. David Oser's Paid in Full (Writer's Showcase, 233 pp., $14.95, paper) is a fast-paced tale of two MIAs: a father from WWII and a son from the Vietnam War. The father tries to find his son.

An MIA is at the center of Patrick Grady's Through the Picture Tube (Robert D. Reed, 143 pp., $21.95). Grady, who fled to Canada from a small Illinois town to avoid the draft, presents a "ruggedly handsome" main character who goes to Vietnam to determine the fate of a boyhood pal who took part in My Lai. The hero comes home and confronts a fictional William Calley ("William T. Crawley, Jr."), who promptly kills himself. Nothing much rings true in this artless, mercifully short book.

MEMOIRS IN BRIEF

Retired Army Col. Richard E. Mack's Memoir of a Cold War Soldier (Kent State University, 224 pp., $30.00) is a no-frills, by-the-numbers look at the author's military career, which began in World War II and ended with his retirement as a colonel in 1976. Mack served his country with honor in the Korean and Vietnam Wars.

In January 1964, midway through his first Vietnam tour as an ARVN adviser, Mack concluded that U.S. military intervention would be catastrophic. "It was becoming obvious to me," he says, "what we were involved in was a problem that only the Vietnamese could solve. I had become convinced that the United States should never think of committing ground forces to preserve a military dictatorship that had only limited popular support." Despite his serious reservations, Mack volunteered for a 1969-70 tour, during which he commanded a 4th Infantry Division battalion in the Central Highlands.

David Fitz-Enz did two tours in Vietnam as a photographer and saw much combat serving with the 173rd Airborne's 1/503 Parachute Regiment in 1965-66 and the 4th Infantry Division in 1969-70. Fitz-Enz's Vietnam stories are at the heart of his well-written memoir, Why A Soldier? A Signal Corpsman's Tour from Vietnam to the Moscow Hot Line (Ballantine, 404 pp., $6.99, paper).

Thomas A. Brewer tells his Vietnam War story well in Searching for the Good: A Young Man's Journey to War and Back (Quaise, 294 pp., $24.95). Brewer served as CO of Alpha Co., 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry, the "Wolfhounds," in 1967. Brewer's tour ended prematurely when he was severely wounded.

Les D. Brown tells his war story in There It Is: A Canadian in the Vietnam War (McClelland & Stewart, 232 pp., $25.95). While living in California, Brown, a citizen of Canada, got drafted. He wound up in Vietnam in 1969-70 as an infantryman with the First Infantry Division's 2nd of the 16th, the Ranger Battalion, and with the 101st Airborne's First Battalion, 506th Infantry.

Berneice Lanier's A Rooster at Tet (University Editions, 219 pp., $17.95) is a dialogue-filled memoir of the author's 1967-68 tour as a volunteer logistics specialist with the Army's 14th Inventory Control Center in Saigon. She was in Saigon when it was rocked by the 1968 Tet Offensive. Retired USMC Lt. Col. Gerald F. Kurth also was in Vietnam during Tet, serving as assistant S-3 Operations Officer with the 3rd Marine Division's 2nd Battalion, 26th Regiment. Kurth tells his Vietnam tale, which included surviving the four-month Siege at Khe Sanh, very effectively in Walk With Me: A Vietnam Experience (Leathers, 265 pp., $17).

John B. Givhan's autobiography, Rice and Cotton: South Vietnam and South Alabama (304 pp., $29.20, paper) centers on what happened to the former U.S. Army helicopter pilot on April 12, 1964. On that day Givhan was severely wounded when his CH-21-C Shawnee "flying banana" came under attack during a combat assault mission in the Delta. For ordering information, write: P.O. Box 120, Safford, AL 36773.

Donald F. Myers' detailed Your War, My War: A Marine in Vietnam (Pentland, 408 pp., $23.95, paper) is a well-written, combat-heavy memoir of the author's January 1967 to February 1969 tour with the Third Marine Division. Myers presents the book in the form of chronological journal-type entries. His tour ended when Myers received multiple wounds, including a bullet he took in his left eye.

NONFICTION IN BRIEF

Russell W. Glenn's Reading Athena's Dance Card: Men Against Fire in Vietnam (Naval Institute, 214 pp., $34.95) is an in-depth investigation of the combat performance of U.S. infantrymen in the Vietnam War. Glenn, a 1975 USMC grad and a Persian Gulf War veteran who has a Ph.D. in history, surveyed a group of First Cav veterans and active-duty officers. He concludes that the GIs in Vietnam were "well prepared" and that "few men hesitated to fire when duty called upon them." He also correctly identifies the state of Vietnam veterans' postwar readjustment. "The vast majority of Vietnam veterans," he notes, "are productive members of society."

In From Melos to My Lai: War and Survival (Routledge, 220 pp., $22.95), Lawrence A. Tritle looks at how societies as diverse as the ancient Greeks and the mid-20th century Americans waged wars and dealt with the social and cultural impact of those wars. Tritle is well qualified to take on this complex endeavor. He is a history professor at Loyola Marymount University who specializes in Greek history and served as an adviser on a U.S. Army Mobile Advisory Team in the Mekong Delta in 1970-71.

In LRRP Company Command: The Cav's LRP/Rangers in Vietnam, 1968-1969 (Ballantine, 273 pp., $6.99, paper) Kregg P.J. Jorgenson tells the personal war stories of the men of the First Cav's 1st of the 9th Cavalry on the ground in Vietnam. Jorgenson, who served as a pointman with that outfit, concentrates on the CO of E Company, Capt. George Paccerelli.

   

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