The Private War of Corporal Henson by E. Michael Helms

No information is given about the author in E. Michael Helms’ The Private War of Corporal Henson (Stairway Press, 267 pp., $17.95, paper), except that he wrote the war memoir, The Proud Bastards.  The Acknowledgments section gives a “thank you” to “the members of my combat veterans counseling group,” so it would not be presumptuous to assume that Helms fought in the Vietnam War. Helms ends the acknowledgments with the words “Semper Fidelis,” a good indication that he served in the U.S. Marine Corps.

The first page of this novel is akin to a checklist of every bitter cliché encountered in many novels and memoirs written by Vietnam War veterans. To wit: There was no parade when the book’s protagonist came home from the war on a “freedom bird.”  And that he was fearful of encountering “hostile demonstrators.” And that there was no grateful nation thanking him for his service.

E. Michael Helms

Seventeen years after his war, the title character Nathan Henson joins a support group of Vietnam veterans to try to deal with his PTSD.  “In a series of gut-wrenching sessions, he faces the ghosts of his past,” Helms writes, “and shares the struggles of others as they confront and relive horrors and dark secrets kept locked inside.”

This is a worthy novel about a Vietnam veterans rap group. I cannot judge how accurate the book is about how the group functions because as a former Vietnam War REMF, I have never been allowed to be part of one. But I’ve read books dealing with this concept, and this one seems to measure up to what’s been written in the earlier volumes.

I recommend this book to those who want to read more about this special experience. There is much powerful emotion displayed in the sessions portrayed here, and there is some hope for healing.

The author’s web site is www.emichaelhelms.com

—David Willson