Orange Socks and Other Colorful Tales by J.S. Lamb

Jim Lamb served in Vietnam in the Navy, stationed in Da Nang. He arrived in-country in the Spring of 1970, “after the Tet Offensive, but well before the Fall of Saigon,” as Lamb puts it in his memoir, Orange Socks and Other Colorful Tales: How I Survived in Vietnam and Kept My Sense of Humor (Amazon Digital Services, 77 pp., $4.99, Kindle).

Lamb says that it is a matter of record that he served eleven months in Vietnam during the war, but he really only spent seven months in-country as he was on rotation from his home base in Atsugi, Japan. His squadron was VQ-1, a reconnaissance outfit: “Big planes. Long flights. Secret missions.”

This short book contains many interesting and mild little tales of his naval service. I enjoyed them, especially because the book is well-written and well-edited.

Lamb begins with a chapter called “Welcome to the War,” and then gives us a chapter about a rocket attack on Da Nang, where they were fairly common. He tells us about boot camp at Great Lakes and about his six months at Aviation Electronics School at the Memphis Naval Station. He regales us with stories of his time as a troubleshooter at Corpus Christi, and about guarding the squadron of Stoofs. I won’t explain Stoofs, as Lamb does a better job of that than I could do.

I encourage everyone curious about what it was like to be in the Navy in Da Nang during this period of the Vietnam War to read this little book. Lamb writes elegantly and modestly of his experiences and manages to make the wearing of orange socks a heroic—as well as an amusing—escapade.

The author’s website is www.jslstories.com

—David Willson

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The Making and Un-making of a Marine by Larry Winters

Psychodrama provided the major impetus for Larry Winters’ recovery from PTSD. In The Making and Un-making of a Marine: One Man’s Struggle for Forgiveness (Millrock Writers Collective, 322 pp., $14.77, hardcover; $9.99, Kindle), Winters tells his life story, which was filled with anguish that began in childhood and continued into mid-life.

Winters’ father beat him repeatedly and, at times, unmercifully. Upon graduating from high school in 1967, Winters enlisted in the Marine Corps. “The way I saw it,” he says, “what could the Marines do that the old man hadn’t already done?”

His training at Parris Island answered that question. Many authors have described the punishing teaching methods used by boot camp instructors, but Winters offers a darker level of their physical cruelty than I had ever read.

After AIT and metalsmith training, Winters spent nearly two years stateside in a Marine Air Wing before sailing to Vietnam on the U.S.S. New Orleans. Exposure to the negative feelings of Vietnam returnees at home disillusioned him about the war’s purpose. He decided to go AWOL, but a traffic accident ended the attempt.

At Phu Bai and Marble Mountain, Winters joined what he calls the “dissident element.” He worked as a sheet metal repairman, spent three months on guard duty as punishment for the wrong attitude and misbehavior, and ended his tour as a CH-53 door gunner. He felt shame and guilt for serving in a war he did not believe in.

Discharged upon his return home, he married his high school sweetheart. Their happy marriage failed under the pressure of Winters’ difficulties with running his own business and failing to bond with a son his wife and he had carefully and lovingly planned for. He felt rejected in all relationships: parents, wife, child, and employees. Divorced, he drifted from place to place and job to job.

The book’s final section follows Winters (above) through his psychological rebirth. After he found Psychodrama, overcoming shame and guilt became his primary pursuit. Although taxing, the dynamic process of Psychodrama sessions shattered the emotional shield surrounding his PTSD.

The sessions fascinated me because of what they forced Winters to reveal. Part of his rehabilitation included a fatiguing trip to Vietnam where his travel group of veterans confronted and reconciled with NVA generals and foot soldiers. Eventually, Winters solved his own problems, and went on become a mental health counselor.

Originally published in 2007, the current book is a second edition. In a follow-on book, Live the Dream: No More Excuses, Winters explains his hard-learned strategies to gain financial freedom while maintaining balance between family, friends, and faith.

The author’s website is www.makingandunmaking.com

—Henry Zeybel

God Help Me! Cause No One Else Will by Clyde Hoch

Clyde Hoch, a former U.S. Marine Sergeant and a member of Vietnam.Veterans of America, has written six books. His latest is God Help Me! Cause No One Else Will (CreateSpace, 34 pp., $5.38).

This self-help tract is dedicated to veterans with Traumatic Brain Injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. In a perfect world, this informative work would be in the hands of every Vietnam veteran, military family member, and every professional working with returned veterans and active-duty personnel.

Hoch, who volunteered for duty in a tank battalion, arrived in Vietnam during the 1968 Tet offensive. “I was an old guy,” he writes. “I was around 21 years old. Most of the guys were 18 or 19. They would come to me for advice about everything. I didn’t know much more than they did. At times I felt like a father and priest to these guys.”

Hoch’s value as leader and counselor easily could have qualified him to be a Drill.Sergeant or an officer candidate were it not for a land mine explosion. Because of the resultant Traumatic Brain Injury and difficulties with memory Hoch opted to end his career as a Marine .

His return to life as a civilian came before there was widespread recognition of PTSD as a war-related affliction. “There was no.such thing as PTSD or TBI,” he writes. “I became very aggressive with people, especially my wife. I took much out on her and my children. I regret all, but can’t do anything about it now. My attitude was very hard for all of us. I set up an appointment with the VA to.see if anyone could help me.”

Hoch filed PTSD and Agent Orange VA claims. “The service officer filed all of these forms,” he writes. “All came back rejected.” Further appeals were dismissed by doctors and lawyers.

Finally, after more than twenty years, Hoch began to offer advice and assistance to other veterans, something reminiscent of his relationship with his fellow tankers back in 1968.

In this book he provides important contact information for those in need.

“Do Not Give Up,” Hoch advises. “When I feel myself getting angry at a situation or person, I have learned to.walk away. I will.go outside. If I am where there are lots of people I observe them. I will wonder about their lives. Everyone you see is fighting something. If all else fails and you feel all alone and feel no one cares, contact me. I will do what I can for you.”

You can contact Clyde Hoch through his website, www.clydehoch.com

—Curt Nelson

hochclyde@yahoo.com.

My Brother’s Keeper by Rodwick Padilla


Rodwick Padilla is a Marine Corps veteran who served a 1966-67 Vietnam War tour of duty. He tells us that his brother, Ronald M. Padilla, came home from Vietnam after six months “in a green Zip up bag.”  Rodwick Padilla,  a member of Vietnam Veterans America, was nineteen when he volunteered to go to Vietnam “to avenge his [brother’s] death.”

My Brother’s Keeper: Poems of the Vietnam War (America Star Books, 84 pp., $17.95, paper; $7.99, Kindle) is made up of “the raw war poems of Vietnam Marine Cpl. Rod Padilla,” we are told. “They are a spontaneous outpouring of his battlefield experience years after the event. The voice is authentic. The poems are unedited.”

Honesty is the best policy my mother always told me. Given his publisher’s disclaimer, it would be churlish of me to take Padilla to task for his poems not being well-edited or proofread. However, the lack of editing still bothered me. Maybe it’s because I am a guy with a degree in English writing from the University of Washington and I have no experience as a Marine—two things that made it difficult for me to fully appreciate Padilla’s rawness and honesty.

I’ll quote a tiny bit of one of the long poem, “Between the Cracks,” to give a sense of how the poems are written:

I had a feeling that Ski had been shot

If you guest where, you would be right

Yea, where the sun don’t shine

Yes, right up his be-hind

Most of the poems in this short book are in rhyme or verse of a sort, and Padilla keeps them simple. We encounter K-bars, poisonous snakes, punji pits, John Wayne, and baby killers.  Also what he calls “Sea Rations.” Padilla refers to the AR-15 as a little plastic toy. He says we weren’t defeated in this war, if you call it a war.

We are told that the author has spent time in a penitentiary, but no details are given. We are also told that he was abandoned as a baby by his mother. He uses the expression “pineapple” to refer to himself, as he is from Hawaii. He also uses the term “little grass shack,” which I’ve heard in songs.  

The book is a physically beautiful one, with a great illustration of Padilla on the cover, his sweet, innocent Hawaiian face in a half-smile. He looks a little bit Vietnamese. There are lots of tiny black and white photos in the middle of the book showing him in-country.  

Marines “drop like flies” when “the shit hits the fan” in this little book. So if these expressions don’t bother you, and you don’t mind struggling through the un-proofread lines, this book of Marine Corps verse may appeal to you.

 It is a lovely book to look at.  

—David Willson

Three Days Past Yesterday by Doris I. “Lucki” Allen

Doris I. “Lucki” Allen’s Three Days Past Yesterday: A Black Woman’s Journey Through Incredibility (CreateSpace, 72 pp., $10, paper) lives up to its subtitle: It tells the story of an incredible journey by a black woman in the United States Army. There are passages worthy of note and respect in every chapter and in every poem. This is an honest and clear presentation of Allen’s three tours in the Vietnam War and her ongoing struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Allen, a member of Vietnam Veterans of America, writes that her three Bronze Stars and other career honors in no way make her a hero, nor do they ameliorate her PTSD symptoms. “‘Why are you laughing Lucki?’, they ask me. My reply, ‘I’m laughing just to keep from crying.’ Will this feeling of helplessness ever go away? I’m still stuck in Vietnam.”

Allen’s prose and poetry are filled with examples of how she was changed by the Vietnam War. For example: “I still can’t understand why people kill people to show people that killing people is wrong.”

This concise compendium illustrates that Allen’s ability to handle life in a combat zone and deal with her post-war emotional problems are due in great measure to the support she had from her parents growing up. “I knew that I was unique,” she writes. “Mom and Dad saw to that. Mom assured me that no matter what risks I took in life she and Dad would always be there to help guide me. And so it goes—I have never been ordinary.”

Keeping her parents’ encouraging words in mind as she served in Vietnam War from 1967-70 helped Allen (in Vietnam in the photo below) through many tough times. However, while seeking the safety of bunkers during rocket attacks she found other sources of security. As she writes: “Between God and my bottle of Crown Royal, I knew I could make it through each day.”

Despite the brevity of this work, much wisdom is revealed. It’s akin to what might be found in a cleric’s daily breviary. In this case, the book provides veterans with valuable methods of managing some of combat’s unresolved remnants.

I plan on keeping this book within reach at my desk and I recommend it to any veteran.

Since April is National Poetry Month, here is Allen’s poem, “Help”:

Little girl–war

All she knew was the word Help…

Didn’t know what help

She wanted cause she couldn’t explain what

Help she needed.

So the medic came and asked

” What’s the matter?”

All she could say was “I don’t know”

—Curt Nelson

Fear Was My Only Weapon by Dennis Papp

Neil Simon’s Biloxi Blues tells a comedic World War II barracks story about a twenty-year-old draftee who learns to cope with a diverse assortment of soldiers during basic training while enduring the wrath a bullying superior.

J. Dennis Papp updates the theme in Fear Was My Only Weapon: Can a Personnel Clerk Maintain His Sanity and Survive Vietnam When He’s Forbidden to Have Any Bullets for His M16? (CreateSpace, 233 pp., $8.96 paper; $2.99, Kindle). Papp’s story takes place at Bear Cat outside of Long Thanh in Vietnam during the first nine months of 1968. Married and twenty-three years old, Papp had been cruising through administrative duty at Fort Sill when he received orders for Nam with only nine months of service remaining.

Papp joined Personnel Actions Team 4 at Bear Cat. He still had a lot to learn, and his bosses picked on him. His friends were the usual supportive suspects: Clyde, Smiles, Numbers,The Face, Boomerang, and Incoming. Papp’s nickname was Pinky. Naturally, each name had a story behind it. Bear Cat went untouched during the Tet Offensive.

Papp and his buddies solved administrative problems, went on R&Rs (Papp took three), and roamed the base (below), which had tents, a mess hall, a PX, and a barber shop. While bonding, they cracked old jokes that still bring smiles and they drank as if tomorrow didn’t exist.

His Top Sergeant chose Papp to be his whipping boy. The abuse culminated with an Article 15 for Papp that carried a fine, plus a fourteen-day restriction with laborious extra duty. Papp’s only revenge was to out-shout the Top during a Red Alert without suffering consequences.Papp describes a lifetime-quota of mental turmoil over the possibility of not making it home. But the life-ending threats he experienced were mainly in his mind until late in his tour. Then he went to Dong Tam as part of an advance party. There, “the days were physically draining; the nights, emotionally so,” Papp writes. He mixed concrete all day and went through Red Alerts at night.

The book’s title is based on the fact that Papp had no infantry training; therefore, on his first guard duty in Nam, he was not permitted to lock and load a bullet into the chamber of his rifle. Thereafter, an “impotent” M16 became his trademark.

Papp is a witty writer. But he might reconsider his style. He doesn’t need to explain how to button each button when a character puts on a shirt. And when it comes to dialogue, every comment doesn’t merit a response.

—Henry Zeybel

Who Cares? I Do by Jack Moser

Jack Moser entered the Navy in 1958. He served as an intelligence officer in the Vietnam War, and holds a doctorate in psychology.

A few of the poems in Who Cares? I Do: Poems  (Fithian Press, 128 pp., $14, paper) deal with the Vietnam War:  “Kill Everything That Moves,” “My Queen of Vietnam,” and “The Phu Qui Island Chorus.”  Lots of the poems deal with God and Ireland. I’ll quote from “Kill Everything That Moves” to provide a sense of the book.

It is thirty-eight years since the Vietnam War ended.

The sordid stories of American atrocities

Are just starting to raise their bloody heads.

We now know that U.S. military forces

Killed millions of innocent civilians in cold blood

We were all so obsessed with the “body count”

That everyone we killed was the enemy

From the one-month old baby

To the ninety-year-old man planting rice,

The orders were clear, “Kill everything that moves”

That meant everything:

Women

Children

Water buffalo

Americans “killing millions of innocent civilians in cold blood”? This is not the war that I knew in Vietnam—and it is nothing close to the truth. Even books that claim that Americans committed unending atrocities in the Vietnam War, such as Nick Turse’s deeply flawed Kill Everything That Moves (2013), don’t come close to contending that we killed millions of innocents in cold blood.

This book of poetry is not for me, but perhaps it might be for you.

—David Willson