Proud to Be, edited by Susan Swartwout

Proud to Be: Writing by American Warriors, Vol. 2  (Southeast Missouri State University Press, 320 pp., $15, paper) is the second volume of essays, short stories, interviews, poems and photographs by veterans, active-duty military personnel, and their families edited by Susan Swartwout. As with the first volume, which was published in 2013, this book is a co-production of the SE Missouri State University Press, the Missouri Humanities Council, and the Warriors Arts Alliance.

I was a reference librarian for more than thirty years, and I view this anthology as a reference book that is very hard to use. I expended a lot of time trying to figure out the organization of this book, but I failed to find one. The book seems random to me: an interesting jumble of writing about several of America’s wars: World War II, the Vietnam War, and our wars in the Middle East, including in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

Some authors are represented by more than one piece, but are not grouped together. The book has no index to enable a curious reader to locate stories by a particular author, or pieces dealing with a particular war. To find all the entries dealing with the Vietnam War, my area of focus, I had to read the entire book, page by page. That was instructive, but very time consuming. 

There are several of those new-fangled stories that are well written and engrossing and emotionally involving and then quit right before the main conflict is resolved so the reader never knows what happened and remains forever annoyed at being left hanging.  A superb example is “Acts of Contribution” by Kathleen Toomey. I was not surprised when I read her biography and discovered that she has been published  “in a number of literary journals.”  

On the other hand, there are several stories of the classic sort, such as “Escort” by Jarrod L. Taylor. His is the best in the book—everything a reader hopes for in a fine story. I’d love to read an entire book by Taylor. He knows how to say a lot with a few words and to fully enable the reader to visualize scenes. 

“The Colonel’s Brain” by William Childress is another story that is worth the price of the anthology.  “Making Jello” by Marcia Upchurch is a short story that packs a wallop—a must-read story.

I read John Mort’s story, “Pitchblend,” first, as I am a big fan of his work. I was not disappointed. I found a lot to identify with in that story.  

There is poetry in the book, too. It’s hit and miss, but I loved the poem by Fred Rosenblum so much that I immediately ordered two copies of his book, Hollow Tin Jingles. It is a great-looking volume, and I am sure I will love it. It is a limited printing, so order your copies fast before they are gone.  

There are also many photographs in this anthology, and I am sure they are fine ones, but the reproduction is so bad that it is impossible to tell. Nevertheless, I highly recommend purchasing this large book that is chock full of great stuff to read. There is enough good stuff that you can skip over the dull, offensive, or just-plain-crazy material.  

I wish I’d skipped over the rant that suggests that Jane Fonda was a traitor who should be put in a tiger cage and tortured. Jane Fonda was the most popular pinup in Vietnam in 1968-69 due to her poster from Barbarella. Read “Hanoi Jane” for a full explication of why some Vietnam veterans vilify Jane Fonda, but don’t have a single bad word for LBJ, Nixon, McNamara, or Westmoreland, the people responsible for the war and millions of war casualties. 

—David Willson

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