Connect With VVA VVA on Facebook Faces of Agent Orange on Twitter VVA on YouTube
Find A Service Officer
vietnam veterans of america
vva logo

july/august 2007

red star bulletThe Veteran Departments : Featured Stories / President's Message / Veterans Against Drugs Task Force Report / Government Affairs Committee Report / IOM SHAD Study / Credentials Committee Report / AVVA Report / Homeless Veterans Task Force Report / PTSD/Substance Abuse Committee Report / Region 9 Report / Rules Committee Report / VVAF / Women Veterans Committee Report / Arts of War / Book Review / The Ding-A-Lings / Jersey Guys / Letters / The Locator / Membership Notes / Reunions / Taps /

2010: Jan/Feb
2009: Jan/Feb | mar/apr
| may/june | july/Aug | sept/oct | Nov/DeC
2008: Jan/Feb | mar/apr | may/june | july/Aug | sept/oct | Nov/DeC
2007: Jan/Feb | MAR/APR | MAY/JUNE | july/aug | SEPT/OCT | Nov/DeC
2006: July/Aug | SEPT/OCT | nov/dec

Books In review

Reviews by Marc Leepson
When the great journalist Wallace Terry died in May of 2003, VVA and Vietnam veterans lost a good friend. Wally, as everyone who knew him called him, covered the Vietnam War for Time magazine, and even though his journalism and teaching careers ranged far and wide after that, he had a special place in his heart (and his work) for the war and for its veterans. And, of course, he was the author of Bloods, the book about African-Americans and their service in the Vietnam War. Bloods was published in 1984 and still is in print, a remarkable feat.

When he died of a rare vascular disease at age 65, Wally Terry was working on a projected two-volume oral history of the experiences of African-American journalists, himself included. Terry’s widow, Janice, who had acted as his editorial assistant during their 40-year marriage, recovered the manuscript soon after his death. And, now with the help of Wally Terry’s close friend Zalin Grant, the book has been published. And that’s very good news.

Missing Pages: Black Journalists of Modern America: An Oral History (Carroll & Graf, 375 pp., $16.95, paper) does exactly what its subtitle indicates: Using the first-person stories of nineteen journalists whose experiences began in World War II and ran through the 1980s, Terry shines light on their working lives in the worlds of print and broadcast journalism. The book, Terry says in the introduction, helps “fill the missing pages in the history of modern American journalism” as it offers up “major events in American history as seen through the eyes of a special breed of professional observers.”

Many of those observers covered the Civil Rights movement, and several covered the Vietnam War. That includes the syndicated columnist Carl Rowan, Ethel Payne of the Chicago Defender, Tom Johnson of The New York Times, and CBS’s Ed Bradley. All tell their Vietnam War stories in the book.

The late Ed Bradley, who died last year of leukemia at age 65, witnessed a good deal of action late in the war in Vietnam and in Cambodia, and he conveys those experiences evocatively. Bradley tells of a harrowing incident in which he and his cameraman, Norman Lloyd, were peppered with shrapnel on Easter Sunday of 1973 while covering a firefight between the Khmer Rouge and Cambodian government forces. And he provides a clear picture of what it was like to be among the last Americans to leave Saigon two years later. Bradley witnessed the chaotic evacuation scene at the U.S. Embassy and was among those who escaped on one of the last helicopters from the building’s roof.

Wally Terry offers his own amazing Vietnam War story in the book’s final chapter, one that he related in these pages. It centers on a horrendous incident he and Grant were directly involved in in Saigon on May 5, 1968. It makes for riveting reading.

So do virtually all the other first-person stories here. Wally Terry knew how to do oral history and do it well. Janice Terry’s extensive endnotes complete the picture. My only regret is that Wally is no longer with us to celebrate the publication of his book.

I hereby nominate Rodney Falk, a featured character in the acclaimed Spanish novelist Javier Cercas’ The Speed of Light (Bloomsbury, 278 pp., $14.95, paper), for a spot in the Top Ten Most Clichéd Vietnam veteran characters in literature. Falk gets drafted, volunteers for action after his brother is killed in country, then gets swallowed up in more horrific battle action than a company of real infantrymen sweated through.

To wit: Falk and his buddies spend just about every day of their tours “squelching through rice paddies and scouring the jungle inch by inch, asphyxiated by the heat and humidity and mosquitoes, enduring biblical downpours, covered in mud up to their eyebrows, devoured by leeches, eating canned food, always sweating, exhausted, their bodies aching all over,” et cetera.

Falk (of course) takes part in a My-Lai-like massacre (uncreatively called “My Khe”) and later is a willing member of a renegade platoon (uncreatively called Tiger Force) that goes on a long, violent rampage, committing “innumerable barbarities” against innocent civilians over a period of months. Of course, Rodney loses his mind over there and comes home an emotional basket case. You can predict his ultimate postwar fate.

I also nominate Cercas, who evidently based this book on experiences he had teaching Spanish lit at the University of Illinois in the eighties, as the biggest stereotyper of Vietnam veterans since David Morrell, the creator of the despicable cartoon character, John Rambo. Cercas has this, among other things, to say about those of us who served in that war. “Some” of us “were delinquents,” others were “unfortunates,” and “the immense majority” were “uneducated workers.” That’s just for starters.

Here’s Cercas describing the postwar fate of Falk’s Tiger Force comrades: Some “were begging on the streets,” others “languished in jail; others spent long periods in psychiatric hospitals; only a few had managed to stay afloat and were leading normal lives, at least apparently normal.” As with all clichés, there are hints of the truth in there. But wrenched out of context, Cercas presents the stereotype as the norm, further perpetuating the myth of the pathetic, screwed-up Vietnam veteran.

Blame it perhaps on the translator, but this book which tells the story of a Spanish novelist (and one-time colleague of Falk) whose life is ruined by success, but the writing is awkward at times and the book contains silly inaccuracies, including Cercas referring to the VA as the “Veterans’ Association,” and the VFW as “the Association of Veterans of Foreign Wars.” The entire effort is alien and alienating.

If you want a fully rounded, realistic portrayal of a Vietnam veteran, check out Harry Bosch, the former tunnel rat who is the flawed but principled hero of a dozen best-selling detective novels dating back to the early nineties written by Michael Connelly. Connelly’s latest terrific Bosch book, The Overlook (Little Brown, 225 pp., $21.99), is like its predecessors: a cleverly told, extremely readable tale. It differs slightly from the other Bosch books, though, in that it originated as a 16-part serial in The New York Times Magazine and that it takes place in a very short 12-hour period.

Connelly is at his best. The story begins, as most Bosch tales do, with a murder in L.A. that Bosch is called out to investigate. Bosch promptly gets enmeshed in a territorial battle with the FBI because the murder has serious terrorism implications. As the tale gets more complicated, Bosch gets into his usual deep kim chi with his superiors and with the feds. Along the way, he has a gripping two-page flashback to a particular tunnel rat mission.

It all feels real, primarily because Bosch is so well sketched. He has a temper; he is set in his ways; he has made some big mistakes in his life; he is emotionally scarred by a hardscrabble childhood and a rough tour in Vietnam. But he is very smart, is an ace detective, has learned (by and large) from his experiences, and he is dedicated to bringing murderers to justice. Plus, he doesn’t take any crap from anyone. Oh and he’s usually right about everything. That’s the kind of fictional Vietnam veteran we need more of.

You can count on a photography-heavy book published by the National Geographic Society to be filled with great images and illuminating text. Where Valor Rests: Arlington National Cemetery (192 pp., $30) is a commemorative book that offers dozens of evocative images of the iconic national cemetery on the grounds of Robert E. Lee’s old plantation across the Potomac from Washington, D.C. The book contains 175 images of gravestones, memorials, the amphitheater, and other structures at Arlington, as well as portraits of the people who work there, the military men and women who are on duty there, visitors, and mourners at military funerals.

There is an excellent introduction by Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist and author Rick Atkinson on the history of the cemetery, complete with fascinating old photos. The book’s new photos—the work of more than a dozen Washington photographers, including several active-duty military folks—are interspersed with a half-dozen essays. National Geographic is giving 5,000 copies of the book to families of newly interred military personnel. Each book given to the families also will include a DVD of National Geographic’s one-hour television special on the cemetery.

Just about all of the memorials showcased in Larry Bond and F-Stop Fitzgerald’s coffee-table book, The Mighty Fallen: Our Nation’s Greatest War Memorials (Smithsonian/Collins, 144 pp., $29.95), actually are dedicated to veterans, rather than wars, and several are in Canada. Author Bond and photographer Fitzgerald include first-rate color photos and brief comments about four Vietnam veterans memorials: the 82nd Airborne Memorial at Fort Bragg, the North Carolina Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Raleigh, The Wall in Washington, and the nearby Vietnam Women’s Memorial.

Every man who was of draft age during the Vietnam War does not have to be reminded that one almost surefire way out of going to the war zone was to join the National Guard if you could get in. Only those with luck or with connections succeeded in getting into the Guard during the Vietnam War era. You won’t find those facts in Michael D. Doubler and John W. Listman, Jr.’s The National Guard: An Illustrated History of America’s Citizen-Soldiers (Potomac Books, 224 pp., $19.95, paper), which provides a concise history, with plenty of illustrations, of National Guard activities going back to before the Revolutionary War.

Doubler, a retired Army colonel, and Listman, a retired Army warrant officer who served as a medic in Vietnam, include a brief section on the Vietnam War, in which they provide the following facts: Although President Johnson refused to call up the National Guard and Reserves when he drastically escalated the war in 1965, some 6,000 Army National Guardsmen volunteered to serve in Vietnam and 23
of them were killed in action. Johnson was forced to call some 24,500 National Guardsmen and reservists to active duty in April of 1968 in the aftermath of the Tet Offensive. Thirty-one units served on Army posts around the world for extended periods of time; eight of those units went to Vietnam, including Company D (Ranger) of the 151st Infantry from Indiana, the only Guard combat unit sent to the war.

As for the Air Force National Guard, the authors note that several units flew aero-medical evac flights from Vietnam beginning in August 1965 and that volunteer crews flew Christmas gifts and mail into the combat zone. Later in the war, from May 1968 to April 1969, four fighter Air National Guard squadrons were deployed to Vietnam. They flew some 30,000 sorties. Seven AFNG pilots and one intelligence office were killed, and three were MIA.

Washington Post military reporter Steve Vogel’s The Pentagon: The Untold Story of the Wartime Race to Build the Pentagon and to Restore It Sixty Years Later (Random House, 626 pp., $32.95) is an engagingly written anecdotal history of the Pentagon—the building, not the Department of Defense as an institution. That’s why his one chapter about the Vietnam War is made up primarily of a long, journalistic account of the huge October 1967 antiwar demonstration that took place there; a recounting of Robert S. McNamara’s last day on the job, on February 29, 1968; and the details of the May 19, 1972, bombing of a toilet in a Pentagon women’s restroom by antiwar radicals.

Jeff Lee Manthos’s Steel Beach: My Life as a Naval Aircrewman, 1972-1976 (Inkwater Press, 310 pp., $17.95, paper) is a smooth memoir of the author’s military experiences, which began when he joined the Navy in September of 1972 after getting the worst possible draft number, one. His tour of duty included serving as a crewman aboard Sikorsky SH-3 Sea King helicopters in various parts of the globe, including in the South China Sea in Vietnamese coastal waters in 1973 and 1974. The book’s title comes from what sailors called the flight deck of aircraft carriers.

David L. Schalk’s intriguing War and the Ivory Tower: Algeria and Vietnam, first published in 1991, is now out in a new paperback edition (University of Nebraska Press, 258 pp., $19.95). The book looks closely at intellectuals’ reactions to both of those controversial wars, and the new edition contains a preface by noted Vietnam War scholar George Herring, the author of, among other books, America’s Longest War, and a new introduction by the author, an emeritus history professor at Vassar College.

The title of noted Cornell University historian Walter LaFeber’s The Deadly Bet: LBJ, Vietnam and the 1968 Election (Rowman & Littlefield, 240 pp., $24.95) refers to what the author calls “a life-or-death bet” made by Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon “that Americans could fight a long war against a determined foe, and at the same time, maintain order and protect constitutional rights in their own society.” All three presidents, LaFeber maintains, lost the bet, and none more than LBJ, who bore the brunt of the blame for the social upheavals of the late sixties, and paid for his mistakes by bowing out of the 1968 presidential race. The book is well written, well researched, and well argued. One nitpick: LaFeber refers to South Vietnamese communist forces in 1968 as the “Viet Minh.”

Clinical psychotherapist Ed Tick’s War and the Soul: Healing Our Nation’s Veterans from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (Quest Books, 305 pp., $19.95, paper) is a distillation of the author’s work with Vietnam War and other veterans over the last three decades. In it, Tick uses case studies to illustrate his theory of the importance of how deep-rooted psychological and spiritual issues influence the cause and treatment of PTSD. This is a valuable addition to the literature of war mental trauma and how to come to grips with it.

Michelle D. Sherman and DeAnne M. Sherman’s Finding My Way: A Teen’s Guide To Living with a Parent Who Has Experienced Trauma (Seeds of Hope Books, 130 pp., $20, paper) is a practical and helpful guidebook for sons and daughters of a parent with PTSD. Michelle Sherman is a clinical psychologist who directs the Mental Health Program at the Oklahoma City VA Medical Center.

clothing donations button

Altarum Banner Ad




vva logo small©2006 - 2013, Vietnam Veterans of America. All Rights Reserved. 8719 Colesville Road, Suite 100, Silver Spring, MD 20910
Report Website Errors Here | Advertise