Le Havre: A Riveting Expose For Our World Today by Pierre Gerard

Pierre Gerard’s Le Havre: A Riveting Expose For Our World Today: The French Resistance in World War II: A Historical War Romance Novel (Merriam Press, 286 pp., $18.95) has been published posthumously. A Vietnam veteran, Pierre Gerard served in the U.S. Army in Soc Trang during his 1967-68 tour of duty.

His family has a distinguished military history. Gerard was raised an Air Force brat by his Strategic Air Command pilot father and French mother, a native of Le Havre. Those facts enrich his writing.

This historical novel follows dual protagonists, Ti-Jean Campion and Marie-Claude Le Goff, life-long citizens of the French seaport Le Havre, which was occupied from 1940-45 by the Germans during World War II. At the start of the war, French citizens in this idyllic seaside city had fresh memories of the defeat of Germany in World War I.

“The lifestyle of Le Havre’s local population, for the most part, remained the same,” Gerard writes. “Ration cards, breadlines, and the Marche’ noir, or black market, were thus far not harsh realities of life.” They reasoned “maybe the Germans were not so bad. Maybe we could live in peace with them during the occupation of the city.”

Things soon changed. The two young protagonists are consumed with their love for each other—and with preserving free France, along with fellow Resistance fighters, Les Chevalier du Normandy. They often meet at Le Chat Noir,The Black Cat, planning strategy and sipping espresso and in their more-secluded safe house away from Gestapo prying eyes.

This suspense-filled story alternates between 1999 and the years of occupation with vivid descriptions of Le Havre in war and peace. Such as: “Ti-Jean continued to walk toward the end of the walkway. The sun began to show through the puffy, white clouds turning the brown sandy beach into an artist’s palette of oranges, reds, and blues mixed with the rainbow of colors of the latest designer swimwear.”
And: ” The two lovers gradually drifted off to a dreamless sleep, leaving the phantasmagoric world they existed in behind for a better place without threat or harm. Marie-Claude closed her eyes tightly and tenderly touched her lover’s face with her graceful fingers.”

The German invaders ruthlessly took homes and food and any creature comforts they desired from the citizens of Le Havre. German officer, sipping brandy and looking out the bay window at a beautiful villa shouted at his aide, ” I want that villa by the end of the cliff to be appropriated: evict the family living there.”

The German Navy moved a U-Boat into the city harbor and covered it with camouflage, protecting it from possible deconstruction by allied bombers. The Resistance had to find out what surprise the U-Boat Captain was planning. The fate of the harbor city of Le Havre— and perhaps all of Europe—hinged on the what lay hidden in the hold of the German U-Boat.

This novel is magnificent and tragic. Ce roman est magnifique et tragique.

—Curt Nelson

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U.S. Army Psychiatry in the Vietnam War by Norman M. Camp

Very few aspects of the American war in Vietnam have not come under the microscope in books, magazine articles, scholarly journals, blog posts—or any other medium. One part of the war that has seen little light in the last four decades, though, is the U.S. military’s on-the-ground psychiatric treatment of the troops.

That situation has been rectified, though, with retired Army Col. Norman M. Camp’s  U.S. Army Psychiatry in the Vietnam War: New Challenges in Extended Counterinsurgency Warfare (Bordon Institute, Department of the Army, 558 pp., $75). This book is no less than the exhaustive, definitive look at that part of the war put together by Dr. Camp, a psychiatrist who served as the CO of the 98th Neuropsychiatric Detachment in Vietnam in 1970-71.

As Dr. Camp shows, the military did a decent job of providing psychological help for the troops in the field. The Army alone sent 135 psychiatrists to the war zone. But as the war dragged on and morale and discipline plunged, too many troops suffered psychiatric and behavioral problems.

As Dr. Camp puts it in the book—the first official history of Army psychiatric and behavior problems in Vietnam—“The U.S. military ultimately sustained a debilitating psychosocial crisis in Vietnam that, in addition to its humanitarian costs, jeopardized combat readiness.”

Dr. Norman Camp, MD

This worthy book is a long, detailed history of military psychiatry in the Vietnam War. In it, Dr. Camp uses many sources, including the words of psychiatrists themselves, his own experiences, official records, and the testimony of other mental health personnel who served in the war.

An Associate Clinical Professor in the Psychiatry Department at the Medical College of Virginia, Norman Camp also offers a concise history of America’s participation in the Vietnam War, emphasizing the psychosocial impact of the war during its early and later stages.

—Marc Leepson

Content With My Wages by Gregory H. Murry

A Bill Mauldin Second World War cartoon has Willie telling Joe: “You’ll get over it, Joe. Oncet I was gonna write a book exposin’ the army after th’ war myself.”

Retired Army Master Sergeant Gregory H. Murry must have recognized a challenge, along with the humor, in the cartoon because he includes it in Content With My Wages: A Sergeant’s Story: Book I—Vietnam (No End to Publishing, 355 pp.; $20, paper; $15.00 Kindle), his memoir and cleverly constructed analysis of military leaders of the 1960s.

A 1st Infantry Division grunt during his 1966-67 Vietnam War tour of duty, Murry intersperses his life story with history lessons. Having served in Germany prior to going to Vietnam, he is worldly to military ways, but also is honest enough to reveal his moments of naivety. Although parts of the book sound familiar, Murry delivers something original even in oft-told tales such as the rigors of being an FNG.

The Big Red One’s basic assignment was road clearance, but its commanders preferred search and destroy missions. They aimed to win a war of attrition through the use of superior firepower. To them, American soldiers basically were bait to attract large numbers of VC into range to be shelled and bombed.

“We made a company sized combat air-assault and walked around through the bush looking for Charlie,” Murry says, a sentence that perfectly summarizes his first three months with the division. “I spent the night of my 21st birthday on ambush patrol, and I remember being pretty proud of myself for living so long.”

Basically, Murry’s company of the Big Red One’s 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment searched until they were ambushed. Taking part in a continuous string of operations—Attleboro, Healdsburg, Santa Cruz, and others—he describes near misses and many casualties from booby traps and friendly fire. Mainly the infantrymen found and destroyed tons of rice and other VC supplies. After seven months, Murry fought in his “first serious combat” at the Battle of Ap Gu, which he describes as “one of the most lopsided victories” of the war.

After living in the bush for more than two months, Murry’s battalion received its commander’s praise for breaking “the USARV record for continuous time in the field,” a commendation received with muttered curses from the men. The next time he spoke to his men, the commander told them of another record: “This battalion has the highest venereal disease rate in the entire 1st Infantry Division.”

After a moment of dead quiet, the men broke out in cheers and laughter. This time the colonel ended up cursing them out. Dichotomies such as these typify relationships between enlisted men and officers throughout the book.

Murry’s accounts of two battles should be mandatory reading for all infantrymen. The first—the Battle of Bong Trang—took place shortly before he arrived in-country. He explains that by discouraging candor, commanders turned a loss into a media victory. Murry compares what had been accepted as the final word at the time with the latest information based on new interviews, previously overlooked after action reports, and additional information he uncovered.

Murry took part in the second battle—Xom Bo II during Operation Billings. From a forty-two man platoon, he was one of only eight fit for duty after the fight. He analytically reconstructs the battle and determines that, despite heavy losses, commanders ignored findings that dictated changes in tactics.

Confession in the form of telling the truth is the bedrock of Murry’s intellect. He concludes that the military leaders in Vietnam were hampered by Second World War thinking because the highest-ranking officers had gained their combat or staff experience in that war. They expected prolonged battles, whereas NVA leaders chose to hit and run.

Greg Murry back in the day

Murry cites a post-war confession from Big Red One commander, Gen. William E. DePuy: “I was surprised about the difficulty we had in finding the VC.” And: “They controlled the battle better.” And: “They were the ones who usually decided whether or not there would be a fight.”

DuPuy’ successor Gen. John H. Hay, Jr. worried that “as our leaders rotate, our battle-won wisdom shrinks.” He solved the problem by simply re-emphasizing search and destroy tactics.

A long Appendix titled “Stilwell, DePuy, and the Vietnam War” closes the book. In it, Murry traces the career intersections of Richard Stilwell and DePuy with that of William Westmoreland. The facts are fascinating. The three generals strongly advocated attrition strategy and search and destroy tactics.

DePuy in particular must “take as much responsibility for losing the war as anyone,” Murry says. After the war, under the aegis of Army Chief of Staff Westmoreland, the careers of Stilwell and DuPuy flourished. While reading all of this, one can almost hear Murry scratching his head in wonderment.

Content With My Wages is a young grunt’s view of the Vietnam War as refracted years later through the eyes of a scholar with deep-seated morality.Greg Murry provides hundreds of end notes, an extensive bibliography, and ten pages of photographs.

This is the first of a project trilogy. Book II will cover his role in the war on drugs. Book III will deal with his military activities in Afghanistan.

—Henry Zeybel

Shell Shock by Steve Stahl

Former UCLA and Stanford University psychiatry professor Stephen Stahl is an expert on PTSD. The hero of his novel, Shell Shock (Harley House Press, 448 pp., $17.95, paper; $5.99, Kindle), Dr. Gus Conrad, discover a covert “diabolical” military faction called The Patrons of Perseus, which was “formed during the First World War to celebrate heroism and eliminate cowardice.” The novel deals with Conrad’s attempt to fight the evil Patrons.

Blurbs compare this novel—a thriller—to those of David Balacci, Stephen Hunter, Dan Brown, and Lee Child. Having read thrillers by all of those authors, I agree. A book of this sort needs diabolical bad guys, and there are plenty.

Shell Shock covers events going back a century. World War I gets most of the attention, but recent wars also are given their due, including the Vietnam War. We get Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen as characters, with long conversations between them and a fictional character. I enjoyed reading those bits quite a lot. These conversations are set in remote Scotland at Craiglockhart, where the men were taken after being diagnosed with shell shock, the WWI term for what is known today as post-traumatic stress disorder.

Steve Stahl

We read justifications of why shell shock, battle fatigue (the World War II term), and PTSD have been demonized by the military. It’s because, Stahl writes, they are “diverting resources for weapons to psychiatric care and pensions for those injured with PTSD by these wars.”

We’re told that a ploy of claiming the men had “pre-existing moral deficiencies” would discredit these men and save a lot of money.

There’s a lot of serious stuff going on in this thriller. But there also is plenty of action to hold the interest of a reader. I recommend it to those who want to read a thriller dealing in a serious way with PTSD. The author’s website is http://stevestahl.com

—David Willson

One Day as a Lion by Ronnie D. Foster

Ronnie D. Foster has written a thoroughly researched and most interesting book, One Day as a Lion: True Stories of the Vietnam War Heroes from Collin County, Texas ( Entry Way Publishing, 242 pp., $16.95, paper; $6.99, Kindle). The title is taken from an ancient Tibetan proverb: “It is better to have lived one day as a lion than to have lived ten thousand years as a sheep.”

The author grew up in McKinney, Texas, just north of Dallas. He served twenty months in Vietnam with the U. S. Marine Corps. Like many Vietnam veterans, after he came home Foster tried without much success to suppress his thoughts about friends who gave up all of their tomorrows in the war zone.

Some three decades years later, he was in his hometown speaking with some other veterans when the discussion turned to the Vietnam War. Foster was dismayed to learn that those veterans did not remember his friend from high school, Bill Bryan, who received the Navy Cross for his heroism at Khe Sanh during the battle for Hill 861 North in 1968. That was Foster’s motivation to tell the story of every Collin County veteran who did not return from Vietnam.

Foster’s book covers all twenty-one Collin County servicemen: thirteen from Army, seven USMC, and one Navy man. One of the men, Army 1st Lt. Russell A. Steindam, received the Medal of Honor for sacrificing his own life by falling on an enemy grenade to save his comrades. Other combat awards received by members of the group include a Navy Cross, three Silver Stars, a Distinguished Flying Cross, and six Bronze Stars. Eighteen received Purple Heart Medals (the other three died from non-combat related causes).

Collin County, Texas, Medal of Honor recipient Russell Steindam (1946-1970)

A prodigious amount of research went into ensuring the accuracy of each veteran’s story. The author and his two research assistants relied upon sources such as The Virtual Wall website; official After-Action Reports; high school yearbooks; letters mailed home; newspaper articles; medal citations, personal interviews with battle survivors and family members; and condolence letters from commanding officers.

That research paid dividends: All the Collin County veterans Foster writes about become real humans, not just statistics.

One Day as a Lion was awarded the Silver Trophy as a finalist at the 2009 North Texas Book Festival. In this reviewer’s opinion, it should have been awarded the Gold.This gem of a book is a must read.

The author’s website is www.ronniefoster.com

—James Coan

Season of Mists by G. Lowell Tollefson

Lowell Tollefson spent his youth in Southeast Asia and East Asia, an experience that informs his depiction of the regions and its people. Tollefson, a former college philosophy professor, is the author of a book of poetry, Vietnam War Elegy, and a collection of essays, What is War? He served as a United States Marine during the Vietnam War.

His latest book, Season of Mists (LLT Press, 90 pp., $5.50, paper; $0.99, Kindle), is a short novel written from the enemy’s perspective. The main character is a Vietnamese peasant who joins the Viet Cong. His name is Nguyen Duc Thuy. This book is over hardly before it has begun. I would have liked it to have been twice as long.

We are told that the Viet Cong seek to “make the great American military machine feel the weight of its over encumbrance.” Certainly the stripped-down fighting methods of the VC, who traveled fast and light, were in serious contrast to the Americans who oftentimes moved around the war zone with all the stealth of a marching band.

The novel is long enough to communicate that the main character’s love of family and land give him the strength and will to persist until the cursed foreigners have withdrawn. We see the horrifying suffering that peasants endured during the war. We also see why America with all its might failed to affect the hearts of the Vietnamese people to give up on their goal—to get their country back from the latest in a series of what they saw as invaders.

G. Lowell Tollefson

I highly recommend this novel—especially to those who have tired of reading American novels and memoirs that contend that we didn’t lose that war against little Vietnamese people who lived in rude huts and used animals to farm rather than tractors. When high technology is launched against low technology, high technology is in serious peril.

The Viet Cong had millions of acres of free bamboo to build bridges. Those bridges cost us millions to bomb to oblivion. But oblivion only lasted a few hours, and the bridges were back in place.

The American war in Vietnam is a textbook example of how a war can be lost if political and military leaders fail to understand the enemy. Read this book to find out what the enemy was like on the ground. Tollefson does an amazing job of getting into the minds and hearts of the enemy and making them human.

—David Willson

The Sorceress of Menlo Park by Richard Sloan

Richard Sloan served in the Marine Corps from 1966-69, including a 1967-68 tour of duty in the Vietnam War. In his novel, The Sorceress of Menlo Park (Amazon Digital Services, 398 pp., $5.99, Kindle), the title character’s father is a captain in the Marine Corps who was stationed near Oakland doing intelligence debriefings of returning personnel from Vietnam shortly after his own tour ended.

The plot centers around the title character, Joanne, whose high school history teacher pale when the Vietnam War was mentioned in history class, and did not permit her to do a history project on the war. Joanne was conceived when her father met up with her mother in Hawaii on R&R. She is a genius who is considered to be “a barbarian invading the fortress” by the establishment, as she is developing a microchip to be inserted into the brain to cure a neuro-muscular disease called Nivlem’s Syndrome.

Joanne also is a marketing genius who has fashioned herself into “a Big Breasted Bad Girl” whose images sell millions of dollars worth of clothes and perfume. But she also has an impeccable record of helping the downtrodden, including veterans with PTSD. She works with them in clay therapy at the VA Hospital in Menlo Park.

The villain in this novel, the Reverend Turner Byrne, uses Joanne’s near-naked marketing ploys as weapons against her. She warns the Reverend Byrne that she is a confirmed Lutheran and a goddess who can spit fire at those who dare to go against her. She accomplishes the fire spitting through muscle control.

There are many references to the Vietnam War throughout this novel, which sometimes reads like a term paper for a high-level graduate course in business. Twice a particularly loathsome minor character spits out the epithet “baby killer” when Vietnam veterans are a topic. I believe is it is she who also says: “Every Vietnam veteran is a psychotic.”

There’s a visit to the Wall in Washington, and there’s a long speech in which Joanne’s father: “The irony is that while the country called on us to defend it, those who did answer that call were the ones scorned and treated with contempt for that very reason.”

This reader asked himself how a 23-year-old woman who is happy with the image of herself as a “Big Breasted Bad Girl” and serves cookies to wounded veterans can subject herself to a ranting Reverend Byrne. Especially when she is a goddess who can spit fire. It seems unlikely.

But I’ll leave it to other readers to decide.

—David Willson