I had to really dig to figure out if An American Soldier in Vietnam (Page Publishing, 202 pp., $14.95, paper) was a memoir or a novel. In the Afterward, author Steven Alexander tells us that the book is a “fictionalized story based on my life experience.”
Alexander goes on to say didn’t keep a “dairy” in Vietnam, so he couldn’t write a memoir. I think he means a “diary.” He further confesses that he “embellished some of the battle scenes.” His afterward goes on to rant about the “hatred and disgust” Vietnam veterans received when they returned from the war. I have read this in many books by Vietnam veterans, which makes me feel special as I never encountered any hatred or disgust.
After his Afterward, Alexander presents a section called “Four Interesting Myths vs. the Facts About the Vietnam War.” He tells us that “America did not lose the war. South Vietnam lost the war.” That seems like a quibble to me, but I know it does not to Alexander. He also states that America has only gone to war to fight evil, and that America has never gone to war for territory or earthly goods.
The main character in this short novel is Ray Anderson. We meet him on the first page on the day after Thanksgiving 1968 in Chu Lai at the headquarters of the Americal Division. Our hero gets on a C-130 to fly to Duc Pho, headquarters of the 11th Light Infantry.
The first dramatic incident involves Anderson being treated “with disgust and rudeness” by an overweight, sloppy, rear echelon soldier, a supply sergeant who had “been with local prostitutes” and carried venereal diseases that couldn’t be cured. This scared Anderson “half to death” even though his morals prevented him from consorting with prostitutes. He seems to think this REMF might somehow transmit a disease to him through osmosis. I served in the rear in Vietnam, and even though I was very thin and not sloppy, I am thin-skinned about this portrayal of a REMF.
The cover blurb tells us that “Anderson embarked upon a new life, one in which he must fight to preserve the freedom of world, by attempting to stop the tyrannical aggression the North Vietnamese inflict upon its Southern brothers and sisters.” That is one explanation of what we were doing in Vietnam.
Anderson is a member of a 105 mm howitzer crew in Vietnam. Alexander does a fine job describing what that consisted of. Anderson spends a lot of time giving soldiers haircuts due to his barbering skills. He is rewarded by having electricity installed in his living quarters. He almost gets a job at China Beach as a lifeguard, but his captain refuses to sign the order.This results in much bitterness. Due to a ruptured ear drum, he gets a better deal than many draftees. He could have been a rifleman in the infantry. Light artillery is a big step up from that.
Anderson gets through his tour of duty by keeping a Bible close and by not using foul language. The only bad word I remember encountering in this book is his reference to “shit burning.” Many of the usual things and people are name checked: Bob Hope, John Wayne, Donut Dollies, Jane Fonda, fragging, Agent Orange, rats, C-4 for cooking, baby killer, being spat upon, marijuana (smoked only by REMF’s).
Anderson and the author, Alexander, came home from the war very angry, and the author seems angry still. One of his favorite interests, he tell us, is “intense patriotism.” The author states that he thinks that all peace demonstrators were “cowards and communist sympathizers and are traitors to our country.”
Strong words. If you agree with these sentiments, this book might be the one for you.