Readers of The Book of Joel, Book II (iUniverse, 320 pp., $15.95, paper) will appreciate Joel Russell’s recall of his coming of age in Ohio, his enlistment in the Marines, and his Vietnam War service as a member of a mortar squad in a weapons platoon—despite the fact that he “was never trained for mortars.”
Russell’s MOS was in “Rockets, 105’s, Demolitions, or explosives,” he tells us. After he received that specialized training, he writes, I “realized that I was actually going to go to Vietnam. I don’t remember signing up to go to Vietnam! What did I get myself into?”
Russell recounts his first patrol as a groundpounder at Marble Mountain with the Third Marines in 1967, as well as his pact with the almighty. “God, if you can get me out of here, I’ll live for you the rest of my life.” That was a reasonable covenant to make considering Russell went through his tour of duty during the war’s deadliest year, 1968.
Russell’s best writing in the book consists of his depictions of Marine Boot Camp, combat on “Foxtrot Ridge”, Khe Sanh, and at Dong Ha near the DMZ. It is all, told with horror, humiliation, and humor. War veterans will surely identify and appreciate the writing here, including this observation: “By this time I was the gunner of the mortar team. Due to process of elimination, I had been promoted. I tried not to get too close to people, because it was really hard to put some one you cared about into a body bag.”
Russell’s description from atop Foxtrot Ridge includes this passage: “It was better than the Fourth of July as the Napalm would light up a whole jungle. The little bombs looked like grappling hooks and packed a wallop that I’ll never forget. I am thankful to the Lord our God that the enemy never had the planes and technology to use on us that we used on them.”
Russell rotated home on December 31, 1968, and was presented with a choice to make: re-enlist as a sergeant or accept an eleven-month early out. He opted out of the Marine Corps, and re-entered life as a civilian in June of 1969.
His description of the next two decades of his life may require patience and understanding. Russell writes about moving many times, marriage, entrepreneurial failures and successes, making good on his war-time promise to God by “accepting Jesus,” and dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder and being bipolar. Some fellow Marines helped him to come to grips with his Vietnam War service.
This may not be the conclusion of this engaging story if the author achieves his goal of seeing this volume became a screenplay and then go up on the silver screen.