Eating With Veterans by Michael Lund

Michael Lund served in the U. S. Army as a correspondent in Vietnam, 1970-71. He is the author of a memoir, Route 66 to Vietnam: A Draftee’s Story, and a book of short stories, How Not to Tell a War Story.  Lund’s latest book is Eating With Veterans (BeachHouse Books, 268 pp., $16.95, paper; $3.99, Kindle), a book of twenty serious short stories.

Lundh, a life member of Vietnam Veterans of America, holds a PhD in literature from Emory University, so I expected his stories to be literate and well-written. I was not disappointed.

Most of the characters in these fine stories are aging veterans, mostly of the Vietnam War. Often these veterans and their companions are eating, drinking, and talking. Occasionally a story will seem like a deliberate homage to Raymond Carver, for instance “The Soy Bean Field.”  I intend this as the highest of compliments.

Most of the stories communicate an atmosphere of social unease. Many take place, at least in part, in South Vietnam, and give us insights into the lives of soldiers who served there in communications. Some of the titles are: “The Rules of Engagement,” “Drugs Away,” “Blood Drive,” “The Death of Short-timer Sam,” and “Counterinsurgency. ”

Some of the stories that have non-military sounding titles are the ones that contain the most overt military scenes, for instance Lund’s Tet Offensive story, “Magician.”  We get a reference in that story to the school at Fort Benjamin Harrison, where the correspondent was trained—and where I was trained as a stenographer. I am always pleased when I read a book that deals with what the 80 to 90 percent of us did in Vietnam: not take part in combat. This is one of the best books yet that deals seriously with that aspect of our war.

Lund uses the phrase “rear echelon troops,” and the derogatory term “REMF” does not appear. It’s a term, by the way, that I never heard in Vietnam, but trip over endlessly in Vietnam War combat books, both novels and memoirs.

Lund does deal with some war-horse items such as Agent Orange, and he does have a story that mentions the oft-related tale of returning soldiers being spat upon and called baby killers. But he also includes  “Hadrian’s Wall,”  a rare story dealing with the Coast Guard’s role in the Vietnam War. Jimi Hendrix, one of my favorite Vietnam War era veterans, gets more than a mention—he gets an entire story, “Look Alike.”

Michael Lund

In “Camp Hoover” Lund captures an elusive feeling that I have tried to put into words, but failed to do so: how the past and the present can get intertwined and confused. It’s a great story and the saddest one in the book—perhaps one of the saddest stories I’ve ever read.

I highly recommend the stories in this book to all those drawn to serious writing about the Vietnam War and to seekers after the whole story—not just a narrow story told over and over again.

—David Willson

There and Back by Lisa A. Lark

Lisa A. Lark, the author of There and Back: The Vietnam War Through the Eyes of Those Who Lived It (M.T. Publishing Company, Inc., 136 pp., $39.95), also has written All They Left Behind: Legacies of the Men and Women on The Wall, which was published in 2012 in commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Lark is an English teacher at Edsel Ford High School in Dearborn, Michigan, and teaches writing at Henry Ford Community College. Her new commemorative book is dedicated to the 58,300 men and women who gave their lives in the Vietnam War. The contributors to There and Back include more than a hundred Vietnam veterans, along with members of the families of a dozen who did not make it home—families that donated their memories and photographs to this timeline of the war.

Beautifully designed and prepared, this coffee-table-sized book contains more than 300 photos, many in color. Through these photos and accounts the reader is guided through the day-to-day lives of veterans involved in nearly every aspect of the war from 1959-75.

The text contains three main sections:

“Getting There” takes the reader back to the first inkling that the draft board may be calling, or the decision to volunteer, and then what the journey was like once inducted into military service.

“Getting Through” covers being part of America’s involvement in the war.

“Getting Back” shares the memories of veterans as they marked the days off on their short-timer calendars awaiting the Freedom Bird flight back to The World.

No matter where, when, or how one served during the Vietnam War, this book will surely evoke the reader’s own memories. For those who did not serve in that war, this compilation of veteran memories and quality photographs will paint a vivid picture of what that experience was like.

—James P. Coan

Good for One Ride by Gary McGinnis

Gary McGinnis served with the Army in Vietnam in 1968 as a Water Purification Specialist attached to an infantry unit. His novel, Good for One Ride (Editions Dedicaces, 120 pp., $16.50, paper; $8.25, Kindle), book deals with “the scourge of Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome Disorder that curses combat veterans forever.”

This book gets a lot done and covers a lot of territory in just under 120 pages. Army Private Theo Garrett is assigned to the 2nd Infantry Division, 2nd Engineers in water purification during the Tet Offensive. The novel begins and ends in Cold River, Vermont In between, we learn an awful lot about the role of the watermen, those water purification people, in Vietnam. We get a lot of information about the erdulator, a mechanical device that purified hundreds of gallons of water at water points. We encounter much stupid, ill-informed leadership on the officer level, often checked and balanced by responsible work by the sergeants, the men who really ran the war.

I got so much detailed information on how to purify water that I felt I could pass a test on the subject. Certainly, I gained a lot of respect for the work of the waterman in the Vietnam War.

Gary McGinnis

We learn about drug use in Vietnam, including “grass, heroin, alcohol, darfons and benoctals.” We learn more about shit burning. We get the eternal question, “How many more gallons of water do we have to purify before we go home?”

The role of water purifiers is referred to as mid-level combat, which I think is justified as these men often were at serious risk and did get shot at. And some of them died.

Readers looking to learn about aspects of the war that are seldom respected or even commented upon should read this book. I enjoyed it, and I read it in one sitting.

—David Willson

Unburied Treasure by Martin C. Coy

On page two of Martin C. Coy’s novel, Unburied Treasure (Xlibris, 156 pp., $29.99, hardcover; $19.99, paper; $3.99, Kindle), we meet an old man, Max. He lives in a retirement community and is taking a model-building class where he’s working on a model of a UH-1 helicopter.

“That’s how I got to work in Vietnam,” he says. The man he tells this to, Frank, replies: “They were our rides back to safety, too.”

So we have two aging Vietnam veterans in a retirement home. Where is this story going?  The book sort of goes around in a circle, encountering many and various characters of all sorts. All of them are connected by an amulet on a leather string, which is found by children who dig it up in the back of a cave.

The amulet is made of a broken piece of pottery, a shard, which possesses magic. There is an inscription on the shard that says in the ancient Delaware language: “I live in you.”

At the end of this book, the amulet has been returned to the cave where it is about to be dug up by four young exploring friends. “And the adventure goes on,” the author tells us.

This is a gentle, quietly metaphysical book that can be read in one sitting and that will resonate with many readers.

The author’s website is

Martin C. Coy

—David Willson

Now I Lay Me Down to Weep in the Valleys of My Mind by Richard Kraft

The Vietnam War veterans I admire most served as corpsmen and helicopter crewmen. I rate their duties as the riskiest. Therefore, Richard (Doc) Kraft’s Now I Lay Me Down to Weep in the Valleys of My Mind: The Life of a Navy Corpsman (CreateSpace, 220 pp., $14.95, paper) pleased me.

Kraft’s combat life began as a child abused by a merciless stepfather. Robbed of a boyhood, Kraft ran away from home at fifteen and worked his way through high school. In 1957, at the age of eighteen, he enlisted in the Navy and went on to serve twenty-two years on active duty.

Introspection and compassion are Kraft’s strongest attributes—and also his most powerful enemies. He clearly expresses the fear he felt about combat and his nagging concern over providing proper care for the wounded and dying.

The book is a collection of Doc Kraft’s prose and poetry. The poems parallel and re-emphasize the messages in the prose stories. At times, the prose takes on its own cadence and grows more emotion-laden than the accompanying poems.

This style prevails in the Prologue in which Kraft labels his memoir as “a book of fiction” and delivers a grim lesson: “War is without morals, regardless of who is holding the weapon. The dying aspect is all that’s left for clarification. There can be no glory in dying for family and there can be no glory in dying for a war.”

Wounded twice in Vietnam, Kraft developed a front-line knowledge of death with the 2nd Battalion of the 9th Marines in Leatherneck Square.

A Navy Corpsman at work with U.S. Marines in the Vietnam War

In wrapping up his Vietnam War experience, Kraft presents one-page explanations of field gear, monsoons, sanitation, alcohol, combat patrols, helicopters, doctors, chaplains, and others. Although much of this can be found in many Vietnam War novels, memoirs, and history books, Kraft includes several short biographies that qualify as priceless reading.

Kraft—a member of Vietnam Veterans of America—retired from the Navy in 1979. He then endured bouts with leukemia (from Agent Orange exposure) and PTSD. The latter initially overwhelmed him in 1998, and he has never rid himself of the fear of not having done enough to keep others from dying or suffering pain. Kraft describes the effects of PTSD to a depth that is as enlightening as anything else I have read on the topic.

People who favor war over diplomacy should be required to read the PTSD portion of this book.

—Henry Zeybel

The Longest Rescue by Glenn Robins

The Longest Rescue: The Life and Legacy of Vietnam POW William A. Robinson, which came out in 2013, is now available in paperback (University Press of Kentucky, 296 pp., $19.95). In it, the historian Glenn Robins tells the story of Bill Robinson, the former crew chief on a USAF Vietnam War rescue helicopter, who wound up being the longest-held enlisted POW in U.S. military history.

Robins “brings a scholarly treatment to his subject’s time as a Vietnam War POW, as well as the rest of his life,” our reviewer John Mort wrote on these pages.

Robinson’s capture resulted in the iconic photo of him (on the cover). The photo of Robinson—who gave the Keynote Speech at Vietnam Veterans of America’s 2015 National Convention in July—and “the guerrilla girl” had great propaganda value for the North Vietnamese. The photo, however, was entirely staged and the girl knew no more about what was going on than Robinson did.

Robins, as Mort wrote, is “a thorough writer,” who tells “how Robinson and the young woman, Kim Lai, met again in 1995 when a Japanese documentary crew brought them together. They had a peaceful, cordial meeting, and it might even be said that they struck up a friendship.”

Glenn Robins, who is a history professor at Georgia Southwestern State University, also weaves in the stories of other Vietnam War POWs. He notes that Bill Robinson was well liked by the other prisoners. As Mort put it, Robinson “was cheerful, practical, and had a good sense of humor. A gifted mechanic, he kept things running. These characteristics would describe him in civilian life, too.”

—Marc Leepson

Kontum by Thomas P. McKenna

Retired Army Lt. Col. Thomas P. McKenna’s Kontum: The Battle to Save South Vietnam, which was published in 2011, is now out in paperback (University of Kentucky, 378 pp., $28). As we noted in our review four years ago, the book is a heavily researched, very detailed look at the 1972 North Vietnamese Army invasion of South Vietnam, better known as the Easter Offensive, which was designed to topple the South Vietnamese government and end the war.

The massive, three-pronged attack, aided by Soviet and Chinese weaponry, including tanks, came as the United States was rapidly withdrawing its combat troops under President Nixon’s Vietnamization plan. But tens of thousands of American troops, including South Vietnamese Army advisers such as McKenna, remained in Vietnam, and Nixon unhesitatingly unleashed American air power, including sustained B-52 bombing operations.

That onslaught overcame a less-than-stellar performance by many ARVN units, although the 23rd ARVN Infantry Division stood up well under 15-division NVA invasion. The ultimately successful defense of Kontum (and South Vietnam) was led by the legendary John Paul Vann, serving in a civilian capacity for the U.S. Foreign Service.

McKenna in Vietnam in 1971 with an enemy RPG warhead

McKenna, who was severely wounded near the end of the offensive, served under Vann (the subject of Neil Sheehan’s classic A Bright, Shining Lie), and offers an insightful picture of the colorful, contradictory ex-military man in action. McKenna also adds his own story into the mix, doing an effective job melding it into the bigger picture.

The book received the William E. Colby Award in 2013.

—Marc Leepson

D.A.S.P.O. by Ronald B. Fenster and Jerold A. Greenfield

Ronald B. Fenster and Jerold A. Greenfield’s D.A.S.P.O.: An Unhinged Novel of Vietnam (Creative Book Publishers International, 360 pp., $14.95, paper), we are told, is “the M*A*S*H* if the Vietnam War.”  We also are told that the book was “based on the adventurous tour of duty of Lt. Ronald B. Fenster.”  D.A.S.P.O. stands for Department of the Army Special Photographic Office.

This is a book of fiction. “The historical facts and dates relating to the events of that war are accurate,” the authors say, “but some characters are compilations of people who served in D.A.S.P.O. units in the time and place described.”  So what we have is a historical novel.

It begins on June 17, 1970, in Saigon. The main character is Lt. Leon Foster, a director and film maker. We soon learn a lot about films shot in Vietnam during the war. That includes “Genital Warts and You” and a three-part film about the challenges faced at the largest and biggest mortuary on the planet, at Tan Son Nhut.

I used to eat lunch with the guys who worked there. Due to the aroma that clung to them, there was always space at their lunch table. Less romantic subjects also were filmed, including “The Hazards of Vehicle Operation.”


Ron Fenster

In the section of the book about the mortuary, we hear the old legend about aluminum coffins full of dope being sent home to America by the crooked folks who had access to them. One of the subplots deals with the attempt of the military to stem the flood of heroin into the country. Another motif that recurs in Vietnam War books—the idea that LSD was used in Vietnam to soften the enemy—shows up when an enemy colonel gets that treatment with the usual results.

For readers interested in helicopter warfare in Vietnam, there is a lot of that in this book, too. The helicopters on the cover made that promise and it was kept by the authors.

The reader encounters references to the song “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” and to Agent Orange, which the troops are told is harmless, “aiding greatly in our war effort.”  The cultural differences about public urination are noted. Old John  Wayne movies get credit for their importance in American culture.

Jerry Greenfield

The main point I got from this phantasmagorical novel is that “maybe half the people in the Army are either doing drugs, selling drugs, recovering from drugs, thinking about drugs, stealing drugs, or some damn thing.”

The novel makes the point that in 1965 (the year I was drafted) “the military didn’t even have a single jail in Vietnam. Nobody was committing crimes and those that did were shipped to Okinawa for court-martial.”

When I got to Vietnam, things had changed, but the war portrayed in this novel—the war of the early ‘70’s—was one I did not see.  I highly recommend this novel for its picture of how it was in the American war’s last years for D.A.S.P.O. and other related Army groups, the so-called “other” war in Vietnam.

For more info, go to

—David Willson

Darker Than Dark by John Admire

Retired Marine Corps Major Gen. John Admire in his novel, Darker Than Dark (Yorkshire Publishing, 412 pp., $19.95, paper; $7.99, Kindle), wanted to pay special tribute to the men with whom he served in Vietnam in 1966 and 1967. He more than accomplished his mission by creating four main characters to tell the story of courage and compassion of young Marines in the Vietnam War. In this book we see the darkest side of war, and hear the thoughts and discussions that took place away from the battlefield.

These young Marines formed a very effective fire team, but they also formed a family that shared suffering, support, and good-natured bantering. Thanks to Admire’s writing skill, I could sense the fear of ambushes and nightly patrols. The heat, the cold, and seemingly constant rain were almost palpable on the pages. At one place, I found myself blinking to clear my eyes in the dark jungle. Only a man who had been there could bring such realism to the page.

This story contains more than action-packed scenes. The fire team holds bunker talks on a regular basis to discuss the war and events back home. Through these chats, we get a much clearer picture of what was on the minds of the Marines as they tried to make sense of a limited war.  One PFC says it best:  “It seems we gotta use enough power to make the NVA know we’re serious, but not so much power that the war goes too serious on us.”

Admire begins each chapter with a quote from one of the main characters. I found the quotes worthy of being placed in a separate addendum to the book. They keep the reader in touch with the thoughts of the men, and—amazingly—they also ring true about today’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I was impressed at the complexity and strategy involved in routine patrols and ambushes. A corporal would call the men together after an action and discuss what went right and what went wrong. To a battlefield veteran, this may have been normal procedure, but this noncombatant gained greater respect and appreciation for the Marines.

John Admire

The team operates in several areas near the DMZ, taking part in, among other fights, the Battle for Con Thien (the “Hill of Angels”). The story climaxes with the intense fighting for the hills surrounding Khe Sanh. Along the way the reader is exposed to firefights, river crossings, and deaths by friendly fire.

Admire includes the severe problems with the introduction of the M-16 rifle. It malfunctioned so easily and so often the men would look for AK-47s on the bodies of killed NVA soldiers to use.

The description of fighting at Khe Sanh was the most vivid this reader has ever seen in print. The horrors and heroism seemed unending. If the author wanted his readers to understand the sacrifices of men at war, he clearly succeeded.

To bring this book to its conclusion, Admire gathers the main characters in a reunion thirty years later. They still don’t understand everything that happened in Vietnam, nor why the American people turned against the war. But they still believe freedom is worth fighting for—and sometimes is the only way to keep it.

Thank you, John Admire, for this great read.

For more info, go to

—Joseph Reitz

Windfalling by Paul J. Nyerick

Paul Nyerick served in Vietnam as a Marine Corps forward observer. He began writing poetry with his multiple sclerosis support group. Windfalling (Outskirts Press, 302 pp., $17.95, paper; $2.99, Kindle) is an action adventure novel which pulls from Nyerick’s imagination and from flashbacks to his experiences in the Vietnam War and firefighting in California.

The book starts off with a bang. By page ten there’s been“a plane crash, a wildland fire, a mine collapse, “ex-KGB thugs with automatic weapons.”  And a poisonous snake.

In almost every way, Windfalling reminds me of dozens of boys’ adventure books I read in the 1950s. All the main characters are larger than life, and they have amazing talents with language, derring-do and technology, both ancient and modern. There’s even a larger-than-life dog hero, a malamute named Nakai.

A book like this has to have a bad guy who is worth doing battle with, and it does: Harlan Diamond, a megalomaniac billionaire who wants to be immortal and take over the world.  He makes Daddy Warbucks seem a piker. Diamond was a Marine company commander in 1969 Vietnam. Two other main characters were in his company, and were screwed over by him.

“Jerry, E. D. and a couple of Marine Corps buddies who fought together in Vietnam, along with two renowned anthropologists, scramble across southern California and Baja, Mexico,” Nyerick tells us, “searching for an Aztec Pyramid and the Crown of Knowledge.” They get some serious help from a 500-year-old Spanish priest, Father Diego Della Vega.

Paul Nyerick

At one point a character states, “This place reminded me of a Tarzan movie.” I’d just been thinking that myself. The whole book, in fact. reminds me of a Tarzan movie.

Late in the book I read: “This trip has been filled with unfathomable mysteries none of us could possibly explain.”  No kidding.

The main event the book leads us to is the total eclipse of the sun. What happens to the evil Harlan Diamond.? Does he get his just desserts?  “The Crown of Knowledge has its ways to get even,” Nyerick writes. “He needs to marinate in that cosmic stew for a while longer.”

Readers looking for a book in which there is a lot of Vietnam War action, along with a lot of mind-blowing action adventure, should read Windfalling. There is not another quite like it.

—David Willson