Never Too Late by Ralph T. Jones

COver333333333333333333How does one classify a book that begins with an author’s note that says: “The events I have written about of my tours are those I have control of and may not be in the order they happened. My mind is full of many partial and unclear actions, some still may only be cruel images of my imagination”?

That’s what Ralph T. Jones writes in Never Too Late (Red Feather Publishing, 401 pp., paper). Jones, a VVA life member, also says that he chose to use nicknames or fictional names for the people in the book. The protagonist is seventeen-year-old Tim. With his mother’s consent, Tim joins the Army, trains as an infantryman, and arrives in Phouc Vinh, South Vietnam, in October 1965.

Jones takes the reader on a step-by-step journey of Tim’s experiences. It includes firefights, search-and-destroy sweeps, the death of a best friend, and bouts of drunkenness. Along the way, the reader sees the death of Tim’s youth and the birth of his disillusionment. All of this leaves him torn between fear and love of combat.

Tim returns to the United States, marries, and becomes a father. But he cannot find meaning for his existence. He rejoins the Army and in 1970 returns to Vietnam as a UH-1H crew chief and gunner. Tim’s two Vietnam tours fill the first half of the book.

The book’s second half describes Tim’s post-war life. Intent on making a career of the Army, Tim suffers a catastrophic car wreck. He spends much of three years in the hospital, which leads to his involuntary retirement. Left in  a state of physical and psychological pain, the rage within him builds up so much that he turns into a truly hateful man.

From this point, Jones takes the reader on a second journey that follows Tim through a battle to regain his humanity. This journey is as equally enlightening as the first.

Jones tells Tim’s story in a sort of chronological shorthand: Dense but brief paragraphs with few transitions comprise each chapter. At times, the book reads like a movie script. Jones first published Never Too Late in 1990, and this edition is a revision of the original.

—Henry Zeybel