The Official Voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress
July/August 2005
BOOKS IN REVIEW
 
 

The Latest From Wayne Karlin:
Movies, Past And Present
 

BY MARC LEEPSON

Wayne Karlin’s War Movies: Journeys to Vietnam: Scenes and Out-takes (Curbstone, 224 pp., $15, paper) is a one-of-a-kind look at the Vietnam War and Vietnam veterans. It is a superbly written, very readable memoir, full of insights. Karlin served as a Marine helicopter door gunner in Vietnam. Since then, the war has dominated his varied and excellent literary endeavors. The Vietnam War and its aftermath are important themes in five of his six novels; in his first memoir, Rumors and Stones; and in the collections of poetry and prose by Vietnam veterans and by Vietnam’s top writers that he has edited.

A professor of languages and literature at the College of Southern Maryland, Karlin returned to Vietnam in 1994 and has gone back virtually every year since. Two of those trips are at the heart of his new book, one in which he worked as an actor and technical adviser on a Vietnamese-Singaporean film about the American War, and the other in which he led a group of American college students making a documentary on the war. Karlin also melds his wartime memories into the narrative, along with fictionalized vignettes based on the movie and his conversations with Vietnamese who took part in the war. It all adds up to a worthy book full of splendid writing, strong opinions, and revealing insights.

NONFICTION IN BRIEF

Most of the remarkable Vietnam War photos and essays put together by Catherine Leroy in Under Fire: Great Photographers and Writers in Vietnam (Random House, 173 pp., $35) appeared in a series in this newspaper. In this unique book Leroy offers the reflections of veterans and journalists who have written about the war. That includes Tim O’Brien, Larry Heinemann, Philip Caputo, Jack Fuller, Wayne Karlin, Neil Sheehan, Joseph Galloway, and David Halberstam. Their prose goes with the work of some of the war’s top western photographers, including Larry Burrows, Tim Page, Henri Huet, Nick Ut, Dana Stone, and Dick Swenson.


Philip (A Rumor of War, et al.) Caputo’s 13 Seconds: Look Back at the Kent State Shootings (Chamberlain/Penguin, 208 pp., $19.95) is a skillful reconstruction of the events of May 4, 1970, when National Guard troops opened fire on Kent State University students during an antiwar rally, killing four and wounding nine. Caputo covered the aftermath of that story as a 28-year-old Chicago Tribune general assignment reporter, four years removed from his tour as a Marine lieutenant in the Vietnam War.

Caputo also has just written an excellent illustrated history of the Vietnam War aimed at young readers: 10,000 Days of Thunder (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 128 pp., $22.95). Caputo covers virtually every aspect of the war from an essay on communism to one on “Vietnam After the War” in concise chapters in this objectively written and reader-friendly volume.


In Launch the Intruders: A Naval Attack Squadron in the Vietnam War, 1972 (University Press of Kansas, 419 pp., $34.95), Penn State history professor Carol Reardon does a remarkable job chronicling one unit, the Navy’s Attack Squadron 75, aka VA-75, aka the “Sunday Punchers,” taking part in the 1972 Operation Linebacker bombing campaign. In this very detailed yet readable account, Reardon covers military matters as well as the personal stories of the men who flew their A-6 Intruders over North Vietnam from the U.S.S. Saratoga.


In the well-conceived and executed Waiting Wives: The Story of Schilling Manor, Home Front to the Vietnam War (Atria, 309 pp., $14, paper), Donna Moreau shines revealing light on a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War: a military post at the old Schilling Air Force Base in Kansas where “hat and glove military wives” lived while their husbands were off fighting in Vietnam.


Garnett “Bill” Bell, a longtime Vietnam War POW/MIA expert and activist, tells his story with writer George J. Veith in Leave No Man Behind: Bill Bell and the Search for American POW/MIAs from the Vietnam War (Goblin Fern, 474 pp., $24.95, paper). Bell has been involved with the issue since his first, 1965-66, Vietnam War tour with the Army’s 1/35th Battalion, 25th Infantry Division.


James Landers, a Colorado State University journalism professor who served in Vietnam in 1968-70 with the U.S. Air Force, examines one important aspect of the news media’s role in the Vietnam War news magazines in his deeply researched, well written The Weekly War: Newsmagazines and Vietnam (University of Missouri, 298 pp., $34.95). Naval historian John Darrell Sherwood offers a look at the American air war in Vietnam, concentrating on the post-Tet years in Afterburner: Naval Aviators and the Vietnam War (New York University, 353 pp., $32.95).


John Sacret Young’s Remains: Non-Viewable (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 288 pp., $24) is a meditative memoir that centers on the death in Vietnam of his cousin Doug. Best known as the co-creator (with William Broyles) of the TV series China Beach, Young is a perceptive and creative writer, and this book is readable and engrossing, but it is extremely difficult to empathize with his dark story dominated by grief-filled passages on death, loss, disconnection, and broken relationships.


The former head of the Boston VA Medical Center’s psychiatric service unit, Theodore Nadelson’s posthumous book, Trained to Kill: Soldiers at War (Johns Hopkins University Press, 208 pp., $25), is a close examination of how civilians are turned into soldiers, and the emotional postwar consequences of having been involved in combat. Nadelson’s findings are based on the extensive work he did with Vietnam veterans suffering from PTSD.


Nancy Sherman’s Stoic Soldiers: The Ancient Philosophy Behind the Military Mind (Oxford University, 233 pp., $26) is a well-researched, in-depth treatise on the history of stoicism in the military. Sherman, who taught military ethics in a pioneering program at the U.S. Naval Academy, delves deeply into ancient Stoic theory and the moral and psychological aspects of stoicism among today’s military men and women, using several examples from the Vietnam War.


Little light has been shed on the deadliest sea disaster of the Vietnam War: the December 1969 sinking of the Merchant Marine vessel SS Badger State in the middle of the Pacific. Former Coast Guardsman William R. Benedetto remedies that situation with his deeply researched, readable Sailing Into the Abyss: A True Story of Extreme Heroism on the High Seas (Citadel, 254 pp., $23.95).


Andrew Carroll’s Behind the Lines (Scribner, 495 pp., $30) is a sterling collection of some 200 heretofore unpublished letters that Carroll gathered from the United States and 35 other nations dealing with wars from the American Revolution to today’s conflict in Iraq. Journalist Michael Sledge deals with the Vietnam War in his deeply researched, extremely detailed Soldier Dead: How We Recover, Identify, Bury, and Honor Our Military Fallen (Columbia University, 352 pp., $35), a history of how the American military has handled deaths on the battlefield since the Civil War.


James G. Blight and Janet M. Lang’s The Fog of War: Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara (Rowan & Littlefield, 304 pp., $55, hardcover; $17.95, paper) is a recapitulation of the former Defense Secretary’s self-aggrandizing performance in the Errol Morris documentary of the same name. The authors, advisers on the film, can’t say enough good things about McNamara, praising him for his “passionate concern for the human future” and his “hard work and courage.”


Osprey, a British publisher, specializes in concise, objectively written, well-illustrated looks at military topics. Osprey is offering seven Vietnam War paperback titles, available in this country from MBI Publishing: Vietnam Tracks: Armor In Battle, 1945-75 (196 pp., $24.95) and Vietnam Choppers: Helicopters in Battle (208 pp., $24.95), both by Simon Dunstan; Essential Histories: The Vietnam War, 1956-1975 (95 pp., $14.95) by Andrew Weist; Tet Offensive 1968: Turning Point in Vietnam (96 pp., $17.05) by James R. Arnold; Green Berets in Vietnam, 1957-73 (64 pp., $15.25) by Gordon Rottman; U.S. Marine Corps Tank Crewman, 1965-70 (64 pp., $16.95); and Vietnam Marines: 1965-73 (64 pp., $15.25) by Charles Melson. For more info, go to www.motorbooks.com


Fourth Uncle in the Mountain: A Memoir of a Barefoot Doctor in Vietnam (St. Martin’s, 352 pp., $25.95) is the evocative story of a Vietnamese folk hero and his adopted son. The book, written by the son, Quang Van Nguyen (with Majorie Pivar), deals in large part with the American War and provides a point of view of folks living in a small village near the Cambodian border that is not often available on these shores. Nguyen Phu Duc, who served as a high-ranking foreign affairs official in the South Vietnamese government, offers his insights into the Johnson and Nixon administrations’ Vietnam War diplomacy in The Viet-Nam Peace Negotiations: Saigon’s Side of the Story (Dalley Book Service, 462 pp., $25.95, paper). For more info, go to www.dalleybookservice.com


Johnny Mayo’s Buck’s Heroes (Wentworth, $28.95, hardcover; $16.95, paper) is a moving tribute to the dogs that served in the Vietnam War. The book tells in words and drawings (by Tonia Marynell) of the day that Mayo, who served with the
173rd Airborne’s 39th Scout Dog Platoon in 1970-71, spent with his dog Buck at The Wall in 2000. For more info, go to www.BucksHeroes.com


In paper: Zalin Grant’s groundbreaking Over the Beach: The Air War in Vietnam (Norton, 311 pp., $14.95), first published in 1986; Robert Dallek’s Lyndon B. Johnson: Portrait of a President (Oxford University Press, 396 pp., $16.95), a one- volume abridgement of Dallek’s excellent two-volume biography; Ron Kovic’s famous memoir, Born on the Fourth of July (Akashic, 216 pp., $14.95); Howard R. Simpson’s acclaimed Dien Bien Phu: The Epic Battle America Forgot (Potomac Books, 193 pp., $8.95); and the fifth edition of Military Leadership: In Pursuit of Excellence (Westview, 184 pp., $24), edited by Robert L. Taylor and William Rosenbach.

FICTION IN BRIEF

Dave King’s compelling The Ha-Ha (Little Brown, 340 pp., $23.95) has at its heart a Vietnam veteran badly damaged physically and mentally by the war. But main character Howie Kapostash—who cannot talk, can barely write, and who suffers from emotional demons—is far from being a one-dimensional, damaged-goods Nam vet. Howie is clever, kind, and resourceful, and although far from perfect, emerges as a hero of sorts in this well-crafted literary endeavor.

Phillip Jennings’s Nam-A-Rama (Forge, 332 pp., $24.95) is an offbeat, often- surreal look at the Vietnam War through the eyes of two really strange characters, Marine LT Jack Armstrong and his buddy Gearheardt. Jennings served as a Marine helicopter pilot in Vietnam and also as an Air America pilot in Laos.

John Burdett’s second detective thriller featuring half-American (his father was a Nam war GI) Royal Thai police detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep, Bangkok Tattoo (Knopf, 302 pp., $24), is another compulsively readable adventure through Thai society and culture. Sonchai’s father, whom he’s never met, has a cameo, cyberspace role in the story.

Lizzie’s War (HarperSanFrancisco, 369 pp., $24.95) is an unadorned look at the daily life of the title character and her husband by accomplished novelist Tim Farrington. The time frame is 1967-68; Lizzie is Liz O’Reilly, the mother of four kids and wife of Marine Capt. Mike O’Reilly, who is in Vietnam. Farrington deftly shifts the action from the home front to the war zone and handles the in-country scenes quite realistically. S. Glenn Wakefield’s Take No Prisoners (1st Books, 444 pp., $23, hardcover; $16, paper) is a smoothly written, dialogue-heavy novel that tells the story of Green Beret secret ops in Vietnam and Laos from 1961-64. The author served as a Special Forces adviser in Vietnam and Laos. Former Vietnam War Navy Corpsman D.S. Lliteras has just written The Silence of John (Hampton Roads, 236 pp., $19.95), the latest in
his acclaimed series of religiously themed novels.

VERY BRIEF
Due to space limitations and the large number of newly published books we want you to know about, what follows is a very brief listing of worthy titles dealing with the Vietnam War and Vietnam veterans:

Aftermath: A Song for Tyrone (Monument Press, 151 pp., $30.99), a collection of Vietnam War poems by Doug Todd, who served with the 1st Battalion, 9th Marines.

Dragoons: C Troop, 1/1 Armored Cavalry, Vietnam, 1967-1972 (Author House, 199 pp., $13.50, paper), true stories put together by Grant Coble of his former unit.

A Voice from the Vietnam War (Greenwood, 216 pp., $35), Russell Coward’s memoir of his 1969-70 tour as an Air Force enlisted man teaching English to ARVN officers.

Whispering Death (iUniverse, 341 pp., $24.95, paper), Robert Curry’s memoir of his 1969-70 tour flying more than 250 missions in the OV-1 Mohawk in Vietnam and Laos.

Of Their Own Accord (Writers’ Collective, 296 pp., $24.95, hardcover; $16.95, paper), Gary Dolan’s Vietnam War novel based on his experiences during his 1970 tour as an Airborne Ranger with Co. C of the 75th Infantry Regiment.

An American Veteran (Red Feather Publishing, 256 pp., $18.50), by VVA life member and former Marine C.M. Hayden, chronicling his Vietnam War tour and his postwar experiences. More info at www.redfeatherpublishing.com

Tempered Steel: The Three Wars of Triple Air Force Cross Winner Jim Kasler (Potomac Books, 271 pp., $27.95), in which authors (and USAF Vietnam veterans) Perry D. Luckett and Charles L. Byler tell Kasler’s story, including his time as a POW in the Hanoi Hilton.

No Kids, No Money, and a Chevy: A Politically Incorrect Memoir (Xlibris, 499 pp., $32.46), a memoir by Chuck Mansfield concentrating on his 1968-69 tour as a platoon commander with the 3rd Marine Division’s HQ Battalion Communications Co.

Remembering Willie, and All the Others (NSL Publishing, 48 pp., $7, paper), former 25th Infantry Division LT Dennis Maulsby’s collection of Vietnam War-inspired poetry.

The Return (GMA Publishing, 143 pp., $16, paper), a novel revolving around a WWII veteran, by VVA Life Member George F. McCarthy.

Journey Into Darkness: A Tunnel Rat’s Story (St. John’s Press, 158 pp., $13.95, paper), VVA member Stephen “Shorty” Menendez’s fictionalized memoir of his 1969-70 Vietnam tour with the Army’s 25th Infantry Division’s C Company, 3rd Battalion, 22nd Infantry.

REMF “War Stories”: 17th CAG, Nha Trang, Vietnam, 1969 (316 pp., $15.98, paper), Dean O. Muehlberg’s war memoir of his time at the 17th Combat Aviation Group. For info, go to www.lulu.com

The Torch (Trafford, 351 pp., $25.95), a Vietnam War novel by VVA member James Oliveri based on his experiences with an Army advisory team.

The Greatest Generation of Silver Wings (The Memorial Press, 258 pp., $25), VVA Life Member Don Ward’s tribute to WWII pilots and airmen who flew B-17s, B- 24s, and P-1s. For more info, go to www.mpress.addr.com/s_wings.html

Nam Sense (Casemate, 288 pp., $32.95), Arthur Wiknik Jr.’s memoir of his 1969-70 Vietnam War tour as a 101st Airborne Division squad leader with A Co., 2nd Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment.

Not Enough Tears (AuthorHouse, 251 pp., $14.95, paper), a memoir of Dave Wright’s tour of duty with the 1st Infantry Division’s A Co., 1st Battalion, 26th Regiment and his difficult readjustment after coming home. 

 

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