Bob Calverley was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1967 and served for a year in the Vietnam War with the 187th Assault Helicopter Company in Tay Ninh. Calverley spent most of his tour in Vietnam as company clerk, but occasionally flew as a helicopter door gunner. After the war, he worked in journalism and public relations.
Purple Sunshine: Sex & Drugs, Rock & Roll, Peace & Love (Stone Thread Publishing, 416 pp., $6.95, Kindle) is a work of fiction but seems to be informed by the author’s familiarity with the sixties music scene and the sixties Vietnam War scene. Calverley presents the knowledge that comes from being an insider in both areas.
When Private Jimmy Hayes, a talented guitarist and a band leader back home, gets off the Boeing 707 in Vietnam he comments on the heat and humidity, and “then the smell hit.” He goes through the Repo Depo and is assigned to the 99th Assault Helicopter Company in the fictional Nui Binh, where he soon encounters the smell of shit burning.
Nui Binh is “probably not far from the Tay Ninh Base Camp where the 187th was stationed,” we are told. Jimmy should be assigned as a prop and rotor repair specialist, but that does not happen as damaged parts are thrown away and replaced with new ones, so he becomes a door gunner.
Our hero has left behind his pregnant fifteen-year old girlfriend, Gloria, known as Sunshine. She is being pursued by the Mafia, her wicked stepfather who abused her, and by the police who connect her to a murder she did not commit. She is also musically talented and writes and sings and plays guitar wherever she can. Much is made of how talented and physically lovely she is. The book’s cover shows us her attributes.
The ARVN are presented as “cowardly bastards,” but the South Vietnamese Rangers receive high praise. The book presents Jimmy’s wartime experiences and Sunshine’s adventures at home in alternate chapters. They both have it rough, with Sunshine sleeping in steam tunnels, cadging food, and playing for her supper on street corners, and Jimmy dealing with war-zone dangers. This is effective in showing the war at home counter-pointed with the war in Vietnam.
Calverley “tried to make these events and all of the settings in my story as realistic as possible,” he says. He gets high marks for that, and also for being a gifted storyteller.
Jimmy happens to be in-country for Tet 1968. I was anticipating that time to approach, as I figured there would be lots of action. I was not disappointed. A VC assault on the bunker that houses Jimmy and some malcontent friends is excitingly rendered.
Because of the alternating chapters, home and war, this is not the usual infantry novel, for which I am grateful. The home-front chapters are every bit as interesting and exciting as the war chapters are, and there is plenty of violence in both. There are believable villains in both places, too, and a novel like this benefits from having bad guys.
The author makes the point that the bad guys he portrays in Vietnam are not based on the men with whom he served. He has high praise for American officers, non-commissioned officers, and enlisted men.
This novel does not disappoint in touching bases with the familiar motifs of in-country Vietnam War novels. John Wayne, “We Gotta Get Out of This Place,” Agent Orange, baby killers—all that stuff and more is worked into the novel deftly and in a manner that enriches it.
If you are in the mood to read a novel of the late sixties that gives equal time to the home front and to the Vietnam War—and has a lot of violence and even some sex—this might be the book for you. It is well-written and well edited and moves right along.
I liked it so much that I read it on my Kindle in one sitting.
The author’s website is http://bobcalverley.com