J. Robert DiFulgo served in the United States Navy for three years, including two tours of duty in Da Nang during the Vietnam War. He taught government and politics in the Fairfax County Schools, Virginia, for thirty years.
I love the cover of his novel, The Invisible Moon (Athena Press, 216 pp., $17.95, paper). It features a stylized pagoda with the moon sitting on top of it. Beneath the title appears to be a close-up photo of names on The Wall in Washington. In the lower right corner, ghostly outlined figures of Vietnamese in VC garb, including the conical hats, skulk toward weeds.
Even with a magnifier I could not spot any weapons. The names of the honored dead are printed over the scene of the creeping Viet Cong.
The second-to-last chapter takes place at Arlington National Cemetery in 1993. It is a short trip to the final chapter set at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The main character, Bryan Ruocco, visits The Wall with the son of his best friend in Vietnam, Gregory T. Seaton, who did not return alive.
The book begins August 1991. Bryan is a Vietnam veteran who has experienced PTSD for twenty years. He’s seen many doctors but gotten no relief. He’s experiencing “flashbacks, nightmares or dreams and emotional stress.” He’s emotionally numb. We are told that ”no particular drug has emerged as a definitive treatment for PTSD.”
When he is getting ready to leave for Vietnam, his uncle says, “Bryan, I’m glad you are going to help stop that plague of Commies in Vietnam.” This is Bryan’s mindset, too. When he first sees Southeast Asia, he felt “like Columbus or Magellan and gasped with fervor.”
DiFulgo’s prose can be a challenge for those who have skepticism about life. For example: “Her shoulder-length blonde hair moved as rhythmically as delicate branches of a willow and her sky-blue eyes glistened from Greg’s very presence.”
About one-third of the way into the book, the reader is told the reasons for Bryan’s PTSD. He is brutally raped on board ship by four sailors. The rape is made possible by the failure of his best buddy, Greg, to keep his word to watch out for him. This rape scene is graphically described and is not easy reading. Nor was it meant to be. Bryans’ brutal attackers refer to him as “sea-pussy.”
This complex book includes a beautiful Eurasian woman, Tuyet du Mont, who falls in love with Greg but who must stay true to her anti-colonial beliefs, which involve being a Viet Cong operative. Or as Tuyet says, “I had a revolution to help carry out.”
Greg loves Tuyet, too, but as he explains to Bryan, “Tuyet has always understood my feelings for you. She has known from the beginning that I’m capable of loving both men and women.”
It is at that point that I became certain that this Vietnam War novel had become that rarest of items, one that has a homosexual theme. It turns out, though that this book is more like other Vietnam War novels than it is different.
Bryan and Greg are in Da Nang on January 27, 1968, so we get a first-person view of the Tet Offensive and are given much background on the celebration of the Tet holiday. The depiction of the Tet Offensive is gritty, believable, and one of the great strengths of this novel.
“I’m beginning to wonder if we should be in this damned country,” Greg says. A few pages later we are told, “The news from the Stars and Stripes seems to indicate that the tide of war is turning in our favor. The Communists seem to be beaten at last.”
Antiwar protesters are described as “untidy people” with long hair and beads who call returning Vietnam vets baby killers and spit at Marines. We even get to see, briefly, Bryan’s old girlfriend spitting on a Marine.
I recommend this novel to those who are seeking fictional, but accurate, depictions of gay men in the military during the Vietnam War. It has strong characters and tells a gripping story.