Taps on the Walls by John Borling

John Borling, the author of Taps on the Walls: Poems From the Hanoi Hilton (Master Wings/Pritzker Military Library, 176 pp., $19.95), is a retired Air Force Major General, an Air Force Academy graduate who spent 37 years in the Air Force. He was a POW in Vietnam for more than six-and-a-half years. 

The poetry in this book was composed during his captivity and was “mentally composed and memorized over the course of his imprisonment,”  Senator John McCain says in the book’s Foreward. Borling explains in his moving introduction that this poetry helped save him during his imprisonment. He was treated as a “war criminal” for many years, and communication was not allowed between prisoners, so they devised a tap code to use on the walls. Borling tapped his poems.

“Each man had to find his own way to use time,”  Borling says. His method was to “mentally create poetry.” 

Borling had had a “good dose of the liberal arts” at the Air Force Academy. He had always loved English literature and had acquired “a modest appreciation of poetic structure and pattern.” Those skills stood him in good stead during his long imprisonment in the Hanoi Hilton.

I’ve been highly interested in POW literature since it began coming out in the 1970’s because of my awareness that Richard “Skip” Brunhaver was imprisoned in the Hanoi Hilton. He and I grew up in Yakima, Washington, in the 1950’s only a few blocks apart, and he was only two years my elder. I’ve hoped for years that he would produce a book about his time in captivity. I’m beginning to think that will not happen, and am glad to have this book.

Very little of the poetry in this book is directly about the experience of being imprisoned in the Hanoi Hilton. This is not a criticism of the book. When I first held the book in my hand and examined the cover—which features a barred cell window surrounded by rusty eroding concrete walls—I imagined the book would contain poems and observations using the nicknames of the prison guards and describing how those guards chose to make the lives of the POWs miserable. There is none of that in this book. Most of the poems relate to flying and freedom, which makes perfect sense.

Gen. Borling

The book is arranged into four sections:  “Strapping on a Tailpipe,” “POW and Other Dark and Bitter Stuff,” “The Holidays and Hollow Days,” and “South East Asia Story.” All four sections contain worthy poems.

My favorite poem in the book, austere and powerful in its imagery, is “Beneath Thin Blanket.”  In it, Borling confronts his captivity head-on, expressing resolve in the face of horrifying circumstances. I’ll just quote a bit of it to give a sense of its power:

Sick lungs suck deep, asthmatic deep

It’s cold controlless shakes

Across the chamber

Beneath thin blanket.

 

This poem made me feel the cold, the isolation.

The tour de force poem of the book is a very long one in the “Southeast Asia Story” section. It’s not John Milton’s Paradise Lost, but it is almost as demanding of the reader in its use of special language and in its abstruse and arcane imagery and language. It will help if the reader is a flyer. A glossary of eight pages is provided at the end of the book, and I’m grateful for it, but it let me down a few times. I found myself wishing for footnotes. 

The author’s advice to read the poem aloud is useful since some of its meaning is made clearer by doing that. And, anyhow, poetry is best heard in the air, off the page—kind of like an airplane, no longer parked, but airborne.

I love how the poet uses and elevates real American speech to the realm of poetry. Such as: Me and my jalopy, drink our fill, bend your ear, high horse, hair shirt, hunky-dory, green stamps, max no-sweater, not too hairy, me and the horse I rode. Not to mention hundreds of other wonderful all-American references, including Johnny Cash’s great song in which his mother tells the kid not to take his guns to town.

Of course, the kid ignores his mother’s sage advice. All of us could have benefited from listening better to that mother. Johnny Cash, by the way, is another fine poet who served in the Air Force.

A few of the expressions remain mysteries to me—not a bad thing with poetry: multi-boobs, props to feather, pass was bunny, we’ll Aqua-Lung, some shoe clerks laughed and like a greased owl leaving. Wonderful expressions.  Borling’s genius with the language is in full play throughout this magnificent poem.

Borling provides the reader with a two-page Afterword in which he briefly talks about his trip to Vietnam with his wife in 2002 when he met General Vo Nguyen Giap, the famed North Vietnamese Army commander. They spoke French and General Giap “took my hand and together we walked into his conference room,” and they spent an hour together.

Borling describes “a strange warmth between them.” Perhaps that warmth came from their both being poets, rather than from their both being generals?

This is not the usual book of “poetry” by a Vietnam veteran. It is poetry, not doggerel. It challenges the reader and takes him to worlds that he has not inhabited or experienced, which is the goal of all fine poetry.

I highly recommend this book to those who are looking for a very different take on the POW experience. There is actually no universal POW experience, just as there is no universal Vietnam War experience: each is different.

The book’s web site is www.tapsonthewalls.com

—David Willson

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Remembrances of Wars Past edited by Henry F. Tonn

Henry F. Tonn is a semi-retired psychologist who lives in Wilmington, North Carolina. His Remembrances of Wars Past: A War Veterans Anthology (Fox Track, 216 pp., $24.95, hardcover; $17.95, paper), is a beautiful book with a classy cover designed by Kevin Morgan Watson. Looking at that cover, I had the thought, “A soldier in heaven.”  No doubt that is a result of my early Norwegian Lutheran origins. Valhalla, my Viking forbears called it. 

This anthology contains twenty-two pieces of prose and twenty-three of poetry. Tonn, the editor, tells us that this content covers “a wide variety of wars, with the Vietnam wars and the Iraq wars being most represented.”

The table of contents seems to divide the book into three sections: nonfiction, fiction, and poetry. However, the page numbers after the individual items indicate the pieces are scattered throughout the book.

As a reference librarian for over thirty years, I always look for order in an anthology. Can this one easily be used to answer a reference question?  Not really. Next I assumed that the pieces were grouped by war. There was no way to tell that from the table of contents, so I dipped into the book. I found no internal headings indicating which war attached to a piece. Titles sometimes contain a clue, such as “Bass Fishing on the Mekong” by Russell Reece. Without reading it, I surmised it was Vietnam War-related.

The second piece in the book is “Buchenwald Diary”  by Henry Tonn from the verbal history of Richard Daughtry. Does Tonn mean oral history? I believe so. I guessed that this piece related to World War II.  Each piece is labeled at the top of its first page as fiction or nonfiction. The poetry selections are not labeled.

I went through the book item by item, trying to figure out which wars were represented, how well-represented they were, and what American wars were not represented. It was a hard and unnecessary slog. The editor should have done this job for the reader, my reference librarian-self kept telling me.

Henry Tonn

I noticed while doing my war tally that Tonn, perhaps a nonmilitary fellow, had his name on several pieces. There were no poems with his name attached to them. Tonn’s photo on the back cover shows us an older man, perhaps a member of the “Greatest Generation,” or an elderly member of the Vietnam War Generation who had other priorities during the war than serving in the military. Good for him.

As for the subtitle, “A War Veterans Anthology,” I noticed that there is no apostrophe in “Veterans.” Does that mean that the editor is a war veteran who put this book together? Does it mean that all those authors included are war veterans? I read the authors’ biographies at the back of the book and discovered that many authors are military veterans and many are not. So it’s not really clear what the subtitle means.

I was bemused to find that Henry Tonn’s name was listed as co-author on a piece entitled, “A Veteran’s Interview Concerning Agent Orange.” This was a piece I was familiar with. It is an interview between Robert McGowan and Steve Hussy of Meridian Star Press. Rob McGowan had sent me this piece when it came out as I also had an Agent Orange-related cancer. McGowan has since died of cancer so I can’t discuss with him what we think of how Tonn treated or rewrote this interview.

Rob McGowan

Even in this edited and rewritten version, Rob McGowan’s powerful words brought tears to my eyes as though he’d spoken to me from his grave. I miss my friend every day, and I appreciate that Tonn included this interview, as well as Rob McGowan’s great short story, “The Two Things I Wanted.”

In the final analysis, all anthologies must be judged by the quality of the writing in the book, and whether it  reaches the stated goals of the editor. Tonn writes: “There was a bias toward well-written pieces dealing with some aspect of armed conflict heretofore under-reported.” These pieces are well-written. The “heretofore unreported” dimension is harder to measure.

Tonn promises the reader that the forty-five pieces cover “a wide variety of wars, with the Vietnam and Iraq wars being most represented.” That statement is half right.  By my count, of the forty-five pieces in the book, twenty-four are clearly focused on the Vietnam War or Iraq.

The next largest group, unsurprisingly, is about World War II. Ten of those. Three deal with America’s Civil War. There’s one Sarajevo story.  One Afghanistan poem. One piece about a war between Brazil and Colombia by Spencer Carvalho that knocked my socks off. One piece dealing with Zapata. That leaves a few pieces I couldn’t connect to a particular war. 

Tonn tell us that over a period of three months he received 500 submissions. He says that the high volume of submissions provoked him to “a full-blown panic attack.” I pondered whether this anthology covers “a wide variety of wars.”  I took down from my reference shelf Alan Axelrod’s America’s Wars:  A Wiley Desk Reference.

The cover blurb says it includes “lively narrative histories of more than 100 North American wars, skirmishes, and military expeditions.” That puts things in perspective. Thirty-seven of the pieces in Tonn’s book deal with four of America’s wars. The others deal with one war each or generic war or anonymous war. 

Tonn could only publish from what he was sent. He promises that the forty-five pieces cover “a wide variety of wars, with the Vietnam and Iraq wars being most represented.” That is half right.

Tonn could only publish from what he was sent. But I wonder why there wasn’t even one piece dealing with the Korean War, the American Revolution, all of our Indian wars, World War I, or the Spanish American War and America’s many other imperialist conflicts.  I only bring up these other American wars to question Tonn’s claim of covering “a wide variety of wars.” The variety is not wide. If he had included the Peach War, Shay’s Rebellion, and the War of 1812, that would have been “wide.” 

Overall, the quality of writing is high in these pieces. “Insanity is Contagious” is a brilliant piece by Kristin Aguilar. Byron Barton’s story, “Checkpoint,” had me on the edge of my seat. Carvalho’s “One Bullet” made me want to read an entire book by him. His voice and his story were extraordinary. Diane Judge’s two poems made me want to read an entire book of her fine work. One of Judge’s poems (“Faith”) deals with Agent Orange and says more about that subject than some three hundred page books I have read.

The stories by Robert McGowan and Susan O’Neill are brilliant. Please buy their books to get more. As fine as the stories they wrote that are included in this book, they have other stories that are even better.

Horace Coleman

Disclaimer: Rob McGowan and Sue O’Neill are friends. Horace Coleman is also a friend. His poem “That Saigon Night” is great, but it is just a taste of his fine work. Please buy and read Coleman’s book In the Grass, one of the best books of poetry dealing with the Vietnam War. It was published by Burning Cities Press, a short-lived house that published some of the best Vietnam War literature, both prose and poetry.

I’ll leave the rest of the prose and poetry for you to discover on your own. It is all worthy of your attention and discovery. I have done my part to lead you to it.  Now drink, please.

The best purpose this anthology can serve is to motivate people to do what they can to end war. Another useful purpose would be to motivate readers to buy books by those authors in the book who have books and who are worthy of more attention—writers who have risked much for the experience they write from.

If you have the stomach to read more about a few of America’s wars and the butcher’s bill for them buy Henry Tonn’s book and read it and give it as a gift to anyone you know who is gung-ho to join up and march off to yet another new American war.

One more disclaimer: Rob McGowan emailed me asking me to submit some pieces for consideration for inclusion in Tonn’s proposed anthology. I sent him some. He emailed back and expressed interest in one. We back and forthed about it  for a few weeks, and got into a couple of wrangles. He had ideas for “punching up” my story to make it funnier. I told him I didn’t want my story to be any funnier than it was already.

We also got into a wrangle about my biographical piece that mentioned my authorship of REMF Diary and The REMF Returns. Tonn said that he didn’t know what “REMF” meant and that readers would not know and that my information on that would not be included. I told him that was my brand, what I was mostly known for. At that point I told Tonn that we were done and that was that.

Now the anthology is out. Rob McGowan is dead. Sue O’Neill and I are still on the right side of the grass.  Rob and Sue each have a piece in the book, and Rob also has that odd transmogrified AO interview in there. I’m reviewing Tonn’s anthology, and doing my best to give him and his book a fair shake. The Great Karmic Wheel rolls on. Life is sweet.

The author’s website is http://henrytonn.com

—David Willson

Red, White & Blues by L. V. Sage

There is no biographical information in Red, White & Blues by L. V. Sage (Outskirts Press, 760 pp., $24.95, paper) on the author except for the fact that she lives in Southern California. The novel’s cover blurb tells us that it is about “America & the Vietnam War, free love & drug use, and the brotherhood of an outlaw motorcycle club.” Sage also tell us that she has “great respect” for “the Ojibwe People and all those who served in the Vietnam War.” 

This is a giant of a novel, the size of books that Thomas Wolfe wrote.  Modern life dictates that novels of this length are seldom written and even more seldom read or finished. 

The story begins in 1964. It goes on for thirteen chapters until it ends with a chapter entitled “1977.” The novel thoroughly immerses us in the hippie scene of free love and abundant drug use in San Francisco and full tribute is paid to the music of the time. I could almost hear Jimi and Janis coming out of the pages. 

Woven throughout is the Vietnam War and the outlaw biker brotherhood. First, we are introduced to the young men and the women who love them, and then the men are drafted or join the Marines. 

There is a strong back-and-forth movement between Vietnam and The World to show us what the women left behind are doing. Mostly they are smoking dope, having sex, and raising vegetables on farms out in the country. There is much talk of groovy everything: vibes, cosmic energy, the Karmic Wheel of Life, Tarot cards, and every other sort of 1960’s bullshit—all of it delivered pitch perfect by the author who truly knows that scene from the inside out, as do I from my own immersion in it.

While their women (or “ladies” in sixties parlance) are doing the aforementioned, the men are being shot to shit in Vietnam. One of the characters is stationed in the rear for a while, then gets sent out into the bush.

Much of the Vietnam War action is believably portrayed, but some false notes are struck. I strongly suspect that the author did not serve in the military in Vietnam.

On the other hand, Sage presents a great wealth of strong, well-portrayed woman characters in this book. More than once a female character says that women are the stronger sex.

The few small things that Sage gets wrong about the Vietnam War are the things I’ve seen many times over the years that seem to be beyond the understanding of folks without military experience. One is the author’s confusion about who is called “sir” and who is not. Sergeants are not called “sir.” Sergeants in my experience in the Army took umbrage at being called sir, and would say, “Don’t call me ‘sir,’ I work for a living.” Sometimes in the context of the rigid hierarchy of training camp sergeants were called “sir,” but not in Vietnam, not in my experience. Also: A lieutenant would not have been accused of throwing his stripes around. Not in the Vietnam War I took part in.

The author

Sage asks us to “Please excuse any mistakes that were made, they were not intentional.” I don’t excuse, but I do forgive the mistakes. I hope the author forgives my nit-picking.  When this author completes her next book, I would be honored to read it with an eye to alerting her to such mistakes.

Make no mistake about it, this unsung book is a giant accomplishment. L.V. Sage brings to life a huge multiracial cast of characters who are skillfully individualized. Also, the Zeitgeist of the time is fully captured.

We get a huge, living tableau of realistic, flesh-and-blood characters whom this reader grew to know, love, root for, and feel terrible about when they were wounded, bled, and died. The author presents us with lives in America that are rarely seen in serious fiction, and these lives are portrayed in an evenhanded, non-judgmental, non-sensational manner.

I was sorry when the book ended, even though the weight of it made my arms ache. The high quality of the printing. editing, and typography made it a pleasure to read. Usually my destroyed eyes require the use of a lighted magnifier to read any book, but I was able to read this one unaided, which was also a pleasure.

I could nitpick further about some of the details of how Vietnam War arcana were presented, such as “Puff,” and “Spooky,” but will leave that for other critics.

However, I can’t let alone the claim that “In January, President Jimmy Carter had granted an unconditional pardon to Vietnam draft dodgers and deserters.” Deserters were not pardoned. Many of the deserters had already served some time in Vietnam and did not want to go back, often for valid reasons. But Carter ignored them and only pardoned men who had dodged the draft by not registering or by fleeing the country, mainly to Canada.

This huge book gives attention to most of the usual Vietnam War concerns we see in novels and memoirs. That includes John Wayne, ham and mothers, R&R,  REMF’s, and baby killers, as well as the oft-used phrases:  “There it is” and  “Don’t mean nuthin’.”

As the author says about a Fourth of July celebration (but which applies to every page of this book): “All in all, a good mix to keep things lively and interesting.”

I highly recommend this book to readers in search of a book that extols and makes believable the healing force of being a member of an outlaw biker club. I look forward eagerly to the 800-page sequel that the author promises us.

The author’s blog is http://lvsage.com/?tag=red-white-blues

—David Willson

Pirate Alley by Stephen Coonts

Stephen Coonts burst on the techno-thriller scene in 1986 with Flight of the Intruder, a Vietnam War fly boy tale starring Jack Grafton, a young Navy A-6 (Intruder) pilot. Coonts—not surprisingly—flew A-6’s off the USS Enterprise during the later years of the Vietnam War. After getting out of the Navy in 1977, he went to law school and was a practicing attorney in Colorado when he wrote Intruder.

The rest is techno-thriller history as Intruder hit the best-seller lists, Coonts began spinning out more of the same. He soon gave up the law for full-time thriller writing. Seventeen of his novels have been New York Times best-sellers. It’s likely that his just-released latest book, Pirate Alley (St. Martin’s, 320 pp., $26.99) will be the eighteenth.

Coonts

This one co-stars Tommy Carmellini, a CIA operative, and Grafton, who is now the “head of Middle Eastern covert ops for the CIA.” It’s a present-day thriller that involves Somali pirates, American hostages, Al Quaeda, Navy SEALS, and the very real potential for bloodshed on a wide scale.

The author’s website is www.coonts.com

—Marc Leepson

The Cochabamba Conspiracy by Brinn Colenda

VVA member Brinn Colenda is a graduate of the U. S. Air Force Academy and a retired lieutenant colonel. He served in Southeast Asia and other places around the world in flying and staff positions. Colenda’s The Cochabamba Conspiracy (Xlibris, 248 pp., $31.99 hardcover; $21.99, paper) is a military action thriller based on his own “real life experiences as an Air Force pilot from Viet Nam to Bolivia,” says the back cover blurb. We also are told that the book is “a compelling novel of foreign intrigue, part of a trilogy that leaves the reader hungry for more.”

I started reading this book with hopes of an escapist reading experience. It starts off in Godhra, India, in 1995 during an outbreak of a plague called Yersinia pestis. We are told that this plague was caused by a smirking Russian scientist, Dr. Nikolai Yazov, who seems to be a stock Cold War evil-doer, the mad scientist who seeks to destabilize democratic India through bacterial warfare.

Dr. Yazov is worried that the “glory days” of Russian science might soon come to an end. With that end would come the loss of his dacha and other perquisites of the elite. The doctor decides to decamp for the safety of Cuba where, he believes, he’ll be appreciated by Fidel Castro.

In Chapter One, we are introduced to Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Callahan at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona.  LTC Callahan, Colenda writes, “squinted,” was mildly euphoric, and has a lithe body. Colenda pays this sort of detailed attention to his characters throughout this thriller. I find these sorts of details an impediment in enjoying a thriller, but many readers may not be so thin-skinned.

Callahan and his tall, beautiful, blonde wife Colleen are the heroes of this book; they can just about do it all. They are brave under fire; they can out-drive, out-fly, and out-fight all the villains Colenda throws at them.

The chief strength of this thriller is the group of villains. There is the aforementioned mad scientist, along with a renegade Army colonel and a beautiful, rose-loving Mata Hari mole in the U. S. State Department. I’m not giving anything away when I say that our heroes are the winners in this first book of a series, as there would be no Book II if Tom and Colleen had died in an air explosion or in a fiery car crash.

Brinn Colenda

They have many near misses with death, but triumph in the end. Along the way, the book is a wild ride of encounters with biological warfare, drug dealers, corrupt military in South American countries, terrorism, and torture.

There are many mentions of the Vietnam War throughout this book, mostly neutral or positive. There is, though, a bad Army Colonel, who is a Vietnam veteran who hid from the enemy in the war zone, and later lied about his bravery there. Colenda also takes a swipe at Swarthmore College, referring to it as “Joseph Stalin U” for its professors’ Marxist tendencies. The author also praises Arnold Beichman of the Hoover Institution for what he has addressed in his work as “radical entente.”  We are told that the radicals of the sixties and seventies now have gray hair, but they are still mean and are hatching narco-terrorist conspiracies. The message: Be afraid; be very, very afraid.

Am I hungry for more of this author’s books about the Callahans?  “Hungry” is a strong word. I am curious how he is going to have the Callahans involved in more adventures of this sort, given that they will soon be the parents of two small children and that Tom’s new job seems to be the sort that will keep him chained to a desk.

I’ve learned from my reading of the Tarzan series that an author who uses coincidence as a major plot device—as both Burroughs and Colenda do—is not going to allow such impediments to stop him from propelling heroes more adventures if there is the hope that people will be interested in reading another one.

I hope that what I have said enables you to decide if it is the book for you. I read it to the very end—to find out what happened to the Callahans. That is a recommendation of a sort.

The author’s website is www.brinncolenda.com

—David Willson

Humping Heavy by Philip Duncan Hoffmann

HH cover
When they passed out MOS’s, Philip Duncan Hoffmann inexplicably drew a slot in Arizona where, as an 05-B2H, he taught radio procedure. It was a great life, but some months later, 
just as inexplicably, the Army sent him to Vietnam. Hoffmann’s Humping Heavy: A Vietnam Memoir (CreateSpace, 230 pp., $12.99, paper) is the record of how he coped.

Pretty typically, it turns out—and very well. Outraged and afraid, Hoffmann screamed all the way to the bush trying to impress various commanders that he was a trained radio operator. But in the boonies, Hoffmann couldn’t cut it.

His first no-nonsense captain gave him a shot at becoming a company RTO, displacing a battle-seasoned soldier who’d worked his way up from squad-level. Hoffmann didn’t understand the pace of combat operations, and was badly out of shape from those halcyon days in Arizona. Soon enough, he was bounced down to squad level.

But he got in shape, proved capable in firefights, and finally worked his way back to base camp, and a relatively cushy rear job. This all occurred in 1968 and 1969, when the 1st Cav, Hoffmann’s outfit, left I Corps for III Corps—an important juncture in the war.

The historical background information Hoffmann includes in the book is accurate and impressive. His details are impressive, too, considering how much time has passed. He spent hours of research at the National Archives in Maryland to help reconstruct it all. His book is clearly a labor of love.

It’s well written, too, except for the occasional literary flourish (his lamentable try at dialogue in a Western). Hoffmann does settle a few grudges, and the reader could perhaps have done without his account of his R & R in Taipei.

Even Taipei, however, attests to Hoffmann’s scrupulous honesty. He’s written an honest, straightforward memoir.

—John Mort

Vietnam—the Teenage Wasteland: A Hippie in a War Zone by Tom Martiniano

If you have ever read the Tarzan stories of Edgar Rice Burroughs, you must have run onto the standard criticism that Burroughs placed tigers in Africa, when in fact they live—the few that remain—in India and Southeast Asia. Similarly, Tom Martiniano places chimpanzees and orangutans in his old AO of northwest South Vietnam. Chimpanzees come from Central Africa; orangutans from Indonesia. Martiniano probably saw monkeys, but they would have been macaques or gibbons.

Does this matter? Well, it’s a clue to the accuracy of his memoir, Vietnam—The Teenage Wasteland: A Hippie in a War Zone (CreateSpace, 338 pp, $14.99, paper), which turns out, like the title, to be all over the place. It’s in three parts: “Questions and Answers,” “The Tour,” and a short afterward entitled “Are We There Yet?”

“Questions and Answers” is a sort of a “What did you do in the war, Daddy?” treatise dealing with such topics as Vietnam weather, army weaponry, and the terrain. It’s discursive and anecdotal.

“The Tour,” however, is well-written. Its backbone is a gripping account of a prolonged Americal Division (Martiniano’s outfit) battle near LZ Professional against a well-trained NVA force numbering perhaps 5,000. LZ Pro sat in a place the American soldiers came to call “Death Valley,” while the NVA holed up in a mountain fastness nestled against Laos. This was in 1969.

Tom Martiniano

Martiniano refurbished a junk .50 Caliber with a bit of emery cloth, and began firing out some two miles at an NVA rocket launching site. It took him a while to get the range, and the enemy began, too, to get its range on Martiniano, so the battle became a race against time. It’s a great story, but then you think about those chimpanzees and orangutans. Not that the story is a fabrication, but over time perhaps it became stylized.

In what became the Americal’s historic battle, Martiniano, now Captain Kern Dunegan’s RTO, found himself caught in a crossfire,and he had to get out a call for help. He raised his radio with its high antenna, called in support, then hurried to a wounded soldier’s side to administer morphine.

Maybe so. Captain Dunegan received the Medal of Honor for his astounding efforts. As Martiniano tells it, he was Dunegan’s second-in-command, often running the company as a Spec 4. And he seemed to regard himself as an officer, constantly upbraiding lieutenants, captains less valorous than Dunagan, and colonels. Martiniano portrays himself as quite the hero, though, to be fair, he’s capable of screw-ups.

Part I can be skipped, Part III, dealing with Martiniano’s adjustments to the real world, you will have heard before, but Part II, “The Tour,” is an amazing story. Martiniano gets high marks for moxie, but he was certainly in the thick of it.

Buy the book. Decide for yourself.

—John Mort