Shattered Dreams by Phil Spencer

Phil Spencer arrived in Vietnam on October 7, 1967. He was assigned to the First Signal Brigade and spent his tour of duty in Vietnam doing work he had been trained for: climbing poles and installing communication lines. On  December 4, he was assigned to Company A of the 160th Signal Group in the 40th Signal Battalion. Spencer spent most of his first Vietnam War tour in the Mekong Delta, but was also in Saigon during Tet 1968.

He was released from active duty after five years, two months and twenty-two days in the Army. Twenty-one days after his discharge, he was hired by AT&T as a pole lineman in Midland, Michigan. He put in thirty-eight years before he retired.

All of this makes Phil Spencer seem like a totally solid citizen, but the narrative of drunkenness and bad behavior he describes in Shattered Dreams: An Alcoholic’s Journey (WestBow Press, 264 pp., $35.95, hardcover; $19.95, paper) tells us otherwise. As Spencer puts it: “I drank to deaden the pain and the rage inside of me even though at the time I didn’t realize that was what I was doing.”

Spencer’s book is about the “stupid things people do when they drink.”  It is a stunning collection of many of those things.

Shattered Dreams contains many of the same rants I have read again and again in memoirs by Vietnam veterans. Our military had one hand tied behind its back. “We lost Vietnam because of stupid politicians.”  Just them?  What about the stupid military leaders?  What about the corruption and the military industrial complex?

The author covers his second tour of duty in just a couple of pages, which leaves a lot of room for him to cite more stupid things he did while drunk.  He complains about the Hollywood stereotype of Vietnam veterans as “being drug-crazed baby killers.” He has a valid point there.

Phil Spencer

My favorite comment is this one: “I think of Charles DeGaulle in the same way I think of Jane Fonda, and that makes them both bottom feeders.” Later Spencer says that he went to see the movie, “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They,” a film I think he admires, but he does not mention that Jane Fonda is in the movie.

“Even though I have written about Vietnam, it is only with regard to the insanity of my drinking and not about my combat experience,” Spencer says. He goes on to say that he has been told by the VA that he has PTSD. We are told that this is not a religious book, but that it is interesting how God puts things together. “This is a project the Lord has wanted me to do for some time.”

I recommend this book to those who want to see that a man can pull himself together after decades of abusing alcohol and using rage as a way of dealing with life. I am impressed with the formidable work record Spencer amassed and with the book that has resulted from his having heard God’s plan for him.

—David Willson

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