Death of a Green Soldier by Michael Wright

Michael Wright’s Death of a Green Soldier (WestBow Press, 374 pp., $24.95) is a work of religious fiction. Wright, the cover blurb notes, “has worked as a teacher, youth pastor and therapist for adjudicated youth.”  We are also told that he and his wife “live and attend church in the Midwest.”

Wright has based this novel on his own true story of military service during the Cold War,as well as his drug addiction,and subsequent redemption. The main character, Mark Welch, shares his initials. Welch joins the Army in the 1970s, ends up in Germany, and swiftly falls into bad company.

By page three the issue of Christian faith and spirituality begins to dominate the narrative. By the end of the first chapter, Mark Welch has started to be a heavy drug user, smoking bowl after bowl of hash with his roommate, Kurt.  By the end of chapter three, his life has become all about drug use. He has a warehouse job, endlessly organizing and arranging materials on shelves. We are never told exactly what these materials are.

Mark becomes a full-fledged drug user by the end of chapter four. His drugs of choice are hashish, cocaine, LSD, and speed.  He soon becomes a full-time drug dealer. “Getting caught,” he thinks, is “just a matter of time.”

Jimmy Jones, a CID agent, goes undercover to try to catch the drug dealers. But that ends when Jones goes flying off the roof of a tall building. Mark later jumps into a deep hole while stoned and seriously sprains both ankles. This injury gives him a lot of time to contemplate his life. He thinks about his violent father and brother and dwells on the image of a demon who has been visiting him.

This novel was an eye-opener for me. I spent twenty-one months in the Army in 1966-67 and served in Vietnam, but I never used drugs and never saw any drug use. In the Army life in Germany presented by Wright, drug use is common and the main character is a serious drug user. This becomes known to the Army, but does not result in the sort of treatment he would have gotten in Vietnam—that is, a court martial and bad time in the stockade.

Because of his drug use, Mark is dismissed from the Army, but in a special program, and receives an honorable discharge. He returns to the small Michigan village where his aunt lives with his younger brother. There he gets a second chance.

I paid special attention to the mentions of the Vietnam War in this book. There were several, including a mention of the movie Green Berets, but World War II got a lot more ink. Welch comments in passing that he had a cousin who had served in Vietnam. He also talks about his treatment by Army lifers. He says they were cleaning house of drug users because of how the Vietnam War went.

That’s a cryptic thought, but I guess I get it. He tells his aunt that the Army has too many troops in Europe due to the withdrawal from Vietnam, which is why they sent him home early. A sweet lady, she pretends to buy the story.

This is the first religious novel I have read dealing with the American Army in Europe in the 1970s. It is an Army I would want no part of. I was amazed how the author combined the spiritual search of Mark Welch with his heavy drug use, often on the same page.

Welch uses hash from the beginning of the book until near the end when he leaves Germany, and he never breaks with his drug-using companions. The moral judgments I expected never happened.

I highly recommend this book to those who are curious about Wright’s view of army service in Germany in the 1970s.

—David Willson