Kamikaze Peacocks & Oink by Peter J. Fournier

Peter J. Fournier’s cryptically titled memoir, Kamikaze Peacocks & Oink: Coming of Age in an Unfunny War (Raja and Associates, 256 pp., $21.94), covers the author’s four years in the Army, 1964 to 1968, including his two-year (1965-67) tour of duty in Vietnam, during which he worked mostly as a French linguist.

The book is organized into short, interesting, well-written chapters in which Fournier (below) tells the reader how he arrived in Vietnam as a Spec5 and left after two years as a Captain in the Intelligence Corps.

Fournier’s book is a delightful personal tale filled with humor and insight into how the Army works. It also shows great compassion for the Vietnamese people who Fournier had access to because of the fluent Vietnamese he learned at the National Cryptologic School at Fort Meade, Maryland.

If you are going to begin reading Vietnam War memoirs, this would be a good place to start.

The author’s website is www.kamikazepeacocks.com

—David Willson

The Ensign Locker by John Zerr

The Ensign Locker by John Zerr, (iUniverse, 436 pp., $33.95, hardcover; $23.95, paper) is a first novel about a junior ensign, Jon Zachery, on board the destroyer USS Manfred in 1966 off the coast of Vietnam, as well as on the Saigon River.

This naval novel reminded me more than a little of the classic, The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk, as the USS Manfred also has a skipper who seems dangerously paranoid and suspicious of his crew and their actions. The Ensign Locker is an engrossing, well-plotted, and well-written novel of life aboard a destroyer during the Vietnam War, and I cannot think of another that deals with this material as successfully and entertainingly.The author (above) had a thirty-six year Navy career, during which he served two tours on destroyers and flew 330 combat missions over Vietnam. The author’s blog is authorjohnzerr.wordpress.com/

—David Willson

Quiet As They Come by Angie Chau

In Quiet As They Come  (Ig Publishing, 200 pp., $15.95, paper), Angie Chau makes her Vietnamese characters come alive in all eleven brilliant stories. I shed tears for the pain in each story, especially when a well-meaning, hardworking Vietnamese got brutalized or crushed by the weight of pursuing the American Dream.

Every Vietnam veteran should read this beautiful and brutal collection of stories about the struggles of Vietnamese in America—folks we called Boat People, the people some of us called “gooks” or worse when we were stomping our big American feet on them and their culture during the American War in Vietnam where we were assigned to win their hearts and minds while we were stopping the spread of communism.

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

—David Willson

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