365 and A Wake-Up by Frank Jolliff

Frank Jolliff’s 365 and a Wake-Up: My Year in Vietnam (Harmonie Park Press, 392 pp., $16.95, paper) is an honest, well-written, and well-organized memoir of his one year (from January 1967 to January 1968) in Vietnam as an Army medic. His point of view includes welcome introspection about whether or not what he did was worth doing, and his book held this reader’s interest throughout.

Jolliff (below) includes the most satisfying chapter I’ve ever read in a Vietnam War book, novel or memoir, about a spit-shined colonel who hovers overhead in his command copter urging the guys on the ground to move faster, faster, faster, but gets his just desserts.The colonel lands, walks a few feet on a rice paddy dike, and gets blown up.

I have been waiting for this scene for over 25 years of reading Viet Nam War books. Unfortunately, the colonel’s RTO also is blown up. John Wayne, leeches, booby traps, and Agent Orange all appear in this fine memoir by a draftee who was awarded a Silver Star for his heroism as a combat medic.

—David Willson

Beyond the Wall by Alivia Tagliaferri

Alivia Tagliaferri’s Beyond the Wall: The Journey Home ( Ironcutter Media, 314 pp., $18.95, paper) is a novel about the Vietnam War, and also a novel about survivor guilt and PTSD. The main character, Dennis Michaels, a Vietnam War Marine Corps veteran, volunteers at Walter Reed’s Mologne House to mentor Andrew Taylor, a veteran of the Iraq War who lost both legs to an IED near Fallujah.

Andy is at Walter Reed to be fitted for prostheses. Michaels was a Marine at Con Thien, and there are many scenes that revisit that muddy firebase and the siege that took place there.

The novel was mostly successful and worth reading, with the occasional clinker—for instance, the reference to “The Ballad of Ira Hayes” as being a Johnny Cash song. Cash is just one of dozens who recorded that tune. Peter LaFarge wrote it.

No other novel I have read so thoroughly explores the cost to Marines of the maxim to “Never leave anyone behind.”

The author’s (above) website is www.aliviatagliaferri.com

—David Willson

Letters from Nam by Fred Golin

Fred Golin tells his Vietnam War story in a unique way in Letters From Nam (48HrBooks, 54 pp., $14, paper): through a chronological series of reproduced letters he wrote from the time he began basic training in January of 1964 to the end of 1965 when he was about to end his tour in Vietnam and get out of the Army.

Golin, who was drafted into the Army, begins on January 25, 1964, with a letter to his family describing his flight from Dallas to Fort Polk for basic training. Next came MP AIT at Fort Gordon, then brief duty stops at Camp Roberts in California and Fort Lewis.

His letter of August 23, 1965, describes the troop ship ride across the Pacific on the USS Barrett with about 3,500 MPs, medics, and other support troops. The ship docked in Qui Nhon on September 1; Golin was sent to Dalat (above), the Central Highlands city founded by the French as a resort in 1897 due to its temperate climate, three weeks later. He was attached to the U.S. Army advisory mission that supported the South Vietnamese version of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point at Dalat.

Dalat, Golin wrote to his parents, “is cool, green and has old French hotels and houses. The streets are paved and have street lights, a three story farmers type market, sidewalks, nuclear power plant, a lake in the center of town with a massive hotel with ten foot high front doors.”

Golin is donating a percentage of the sales of this short book to VVA Chapter 218 in his hometown of Santa Barbara, California. For ordering info, write: PO Box 879, Solvang, CA 93464

—Marc Leepson

Short Changed by Eldson J. McGhee

Eldson McGhee volunteered for the draft not long after he graduated from high school in 1967. “I would serve my country, make my folks proud, and return home victorious,” McGhee says in his well-written, readable memoir, Short Changed: Memoir of an American Combat Veteran (Tree Hugger Publishing, 232 pp., $13.95, paper). “I’d then take advantage of my veterans’ educational benefits, go back to school, and become the lawyer I always wanted to be.”

It didn’t quite work out that way. McGhee did Basic at Fort Benning, then Infantry AIT at Fort Gordon, and arrived in Vietnam early in December of 1967. He was assigned to Company C, 3rd Battalion of the 173rd Airborne Brigade. McGhee saw more than his share of combat, was wounded, and then became addicted to heroin after being treated with morphine.

His homecoming was, to say the least, rocky. His drug use and psychological trauma led to a life of crime that culminated with incarceration. But this life story has a redemptive ending.

After McGhee was released from prison, he was treated for PTSD, and started his own business. He later went to work at the VA Hospital in Atlanta. In June of 2001 he founded Vietnam Veterans of America’s Chapter 883 in Atlanta.

Since then, he has served as the chapter’s president, and has worked tirelessly as a veterans’ advocate. In 2007, McGhee  received an Outstanding Georgia Citizen Award from the Georgia Secretary of State. Last year he was appointed Chair for Minority Affairs by the VVA Georgia State Council.

McGhee is donating ten percent of the profits from this exceptional book to Chapter 883. For more info, go to the book’s website.

—Marc Leepson

Facing the Wall by Mary S. King

Mary S. King does a very good job of describing what life has been like for her, for her husband Jim, and for their two sons as the family has faced his severe PTSD since he came home from a Marine tour of duty in Vietnam in 1969 in the revised and expanded second edition of Facing the Wall: A Mission: A Never-Ending Journey: PTSD Is a Family Issue (Xlibris, 159 pp., $29.99, hardcover; $19.99, paper).

For decades, Jim King suffered from debilitating nightmares and flashbacks. He could not work a normal job. He underwent treatment in VA hospitals; he had serious physical health problems. Mary King stuck by her husband and records what she and her family went through in her short, well-written book.

“I have the benefit of being allowed into a small window and seeing through a Nam vet’s eyes and hearing in [his] own words about the anxiety and spiritual wounding of PTSD,” she writes.

—Marc Leepson

Road of 10,000 Pains by Otto J. Lehrack

Retired Marine Lieutenant Colonel Otto J. Lehrack, who served two Vietnam war tours, does a first-rate job in his book, Road of 10,000 Pains: The Destruction of the 2nd NVA Division  by the U.S. Marines, 1967 (Zenith, 306 pp., $30), of describing the vicious fighting that went on in the Que Son Valley from April to November 1967 between the 1st Marine Division and the 2nd NVA Division.

The author weaves together the stories of individual Marines and NVA troops (he interviewed 150 of them for the book) with official records and unit histories to tell the story well. He makes a strong case for recognizing the service of the Americans who fought under extremely difficult conditions for months on end in a relatively unknown campaign.

Those men, Lehrack says, “endured as much hardship and horror and fought as valiantly as their forebears did at Belleau Wood, Iwo Jima or the Chosin Reservoir. America owes them a debt that can never be repaid.”

Lehrack (above), who began his 24-year Marine career as an enlisted man, was the CO of India Co., 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines during his first Vietnam tour, and the Operations Officer of the 1st Radio Battalion during his second.

—Marc Leepson

Naked in Da Nang by Mike Jackson and Tara Dixon-Engel

Retired USAF Lt. Col. Mike Jackson’s Vietnam War story, Naked in Da Nang: A Forward Air Controller In Vietnam, written with Tara Dixon-Engel and first published in 2004, is now out in paperback (Zenith, 303 pp., $17.99).

Jackson, the former executive director of the National Aviation Hall of Fame, flew 210 Vietnam War FAC combat missions during his eventful 1971-72 tour. Among other things, he took part in the fight against the NVA during the 1972 Easter Offensive and was part of the FAC team in the later-famous BAT-21 rescue mission.

Jackson and Dixon-Engel (a journalist and former college instructor) tell his story well, including the combat action and more than a few off-beat incidents, such as the one that provided the book’s title. Frank Borman provides a brief foreword.

—Marc Leepson

Point of Aim by Jay Taylor

Jay Taylor’s Point of Aim, Point of Impact (AuthorHouse,194 pp., $14.90, hardcover; $9.90, paper) is a well-done, no-frills memoir that focuses on the author’s tour of duty in Vietnam as a Marine Corps Scout Sniper.

Taylor, who grew up in Albuquerque, joined the Marines in September of 1967 on his 18th birthday. By May of 1968, he was in Vietnam, where he served for thirteen months with several different companies in the 7th Marine Regiment. His book evokes his tour of duty well, with a bare minimum of reconstructed quotes—a good thing.

Taylor also describes his emotional re-adjustment problems after coming home from Vietnam. “Going from a highly respected member of an elite unit in Vietnam back to a nineteen-year-old kid at home, with nothing in common with friends he had left behind, was a very difficult transition,” he says. Taylor (below) suffered through nightmares, a fear of crowds, and “a very bad and unpredictable temper that got worse as time went on.”
He had a rocky marriage that ended in divorce, and turned to drinking and destructive behavior. But by 1972, Taylor straightened himself out, remarried, had two sons, and went on to work as a construction project superintendent for thirty years. He and his wife today manage their own thoroughbred racehorse farm.

The book’s website is http://pointofaimvietnam.com/

—Marc Leepson

A Small Hotel by Robert Olen Butler

Robert Olen Butler (below), best known for A Good Scent From a Strange Mountain, his 1993 Pulitzer-Prize winning collection of short stories, has been turning out first-rate fiction for three decades. Butler served in Army intelligence in Vietnam, and used the war as the centerpiece of much of his early fiction. That includes the haunting Good Scent—which tells the first-person stories of fifteen Vietnamese emigrants to southern Louisiana, as well as his first published novel, The Alleys of Eden (1981).

The Vietnam War and its legacy also were themes in Butler’s novel, On Distant Ground (1985), The Deuce (1989), They Whisper (1994), and The Deep Green Sea (1998).

Butler’s new book, A Small Hotel,  has nothing whatsoever to do with the Vietnam War, Vietnamese expatriates, American veterans, or the war’s legacy. Butler’s subject here is the unraveling marriage of a 40-something couple.  It’s often an unhappy, unpleasant tale. But in Robert Olen Butler’s capable hands it is an intriguing and often beautifully told one.

—Marc Leepson

And My Mother Danced with Chesty Puller by Bruce Hoffman

Bruce Hoffman joined the Marine Corps during his senior year in high school in 1964. That summer, after graduating, he went through boot camp at Parris Island. Then came infantry training and more training at the Marine Corps Air Station at Beaufort, South Carolina, and the Aviation Operations School at Cherry Point, North Carolina. Early in December 1965, Hoffman was on his way to Vietnam.

He didn’t stay long. An orders mix-up sent him to Okinawa, and Hoffman spent the next year bouncing between Oki and Vietnam. He went back to Vietnam in July of 1967 and served with MAG-16 at Marble Mountain and later as a helicopter doorgunner.

In his well-written memoir, And My Mother Danced With Chesty Puller: Adventures of a Marine in the Rear, To Combat in Vietnam (iUniverse, 156 pp., $25.95, hardcover; $15.95, paper), Hoffman (below) concentrates on details of his four years in the Marine Corps and two tours in Vietnam. The title refers to the fact that the author’s father served under legendary Marine Corps Gen. Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller in the Pacific during World War II, and his mother danced with the general at a 1st Marine Division reunion several years after the war.

The author’s website is http://www.mymarineyears.com/

—Marc Leepson