Where the Water Meets the Sand by Tyra Manning


Some people who never take part in a war still have trouble finding “home” again after the war is over. Having a spouse or family member go off to military service, even temporarily, can put undue stress on the children and spouses back home. Of course, many families are permanently broken by loved ones who never return home, either physically or mentally, from their time in service.

In Where the Water Meets the Sand (Greenleaf Book Group Press, 256 pp., $15.95, paper), Tyra Manning, the widow of an Air Force pilot, shares her personal struggle dealing with the loss of her husband and any semblance of her former family life when he was killed in action in Vietnam. Her memoir will resonate with anyone who has suffered through the loss of a loved one. It also will provide support for those who feel as if they are alone in their struggle to return to normal life.

Tyra Manning, who holds a doctorate in education administration, was a newlywed, twenty-something mother of a one-year old girl when her husband deployed. Already suffering from anxiety, depression, and substance abuse related to her father’s death, Manning collapsed entirely without the emotional support of her husband. She found herself unable to hold her family together in his absence, and dropped her daughter off with relatives to check herself into the Menninger Clinic, an upscale psychiatric hospital in Topeka, Kansas.

Much of the story revolves around Manning’s experiences at Menninger as she confronted, albeit shallowly, the enduring pain she’d suffered since losing her father, a wound aggravated by the sudden absence of her husband and the stress of not knowing when, or if, he would return. In the months of treatment that followed, Manning rediscovered confidence in herself with help from doctors and patients at Menninger.


Tyra Manning

Manning’s memoir brings attention to the often un-discussed psychological trauma that spouses and other family members of veterans endure, along with the depression and substance abuse that can lurk in the wake of a family member’s service.

Manning brings this up in a Q&A at the end of the book, saying, “Many of us discuss our own struggles and those of the ones we love in whispers, and we keep our illnesses secret, perpetuating the barrier to treatment.”
This is not a self-help book. But Where the Water Meets the Sand contributes to a growing body of Vietnam War literature that encourages discussion of mental health and substance abuse issues among those who’ve experienced—or know someone who has endured— similar struggles.

“The stigma and lack of empathy toward those who require treatment is still a gigantic hurdle,” Manning writes. That is exactly what her memoir attempts to resolve.

The author’s website is tyramanning.com

— James Schuessler

You Don’t Lose ‘Til You Quit Trying by Sammy Lee Davis and Caroline Lambert


The fight begins with a North Vietnamese Army mortar attack that detonates a makeshift ammo dump at Fire Support Base Cudgel. One round momentarily stuns PFC Sammy Lee Davis, one of forty-two U.S. Army artillerymen at the site. Then a bugle call signals a charge by hundreds of NVA soldiers.

Sammy Lee Davis, with Caroline Lambert, describes that scene to begin You Don’t Lose ‘Til You Quit Trying: Lessons on Adversity and Victory from a Vietnam Veteran and Medal of Honor Recipient  (Berkley, 275 pp.; $27 hardcover; $13.99, Kindle). Davis received the Medal of Honor for his actions that day. But the book recounts far more than that event.

Sammy Davis most definitely is his own man, fully cognizant of his capabilities. His greatest attributes are self-sufficiency and unselfish concern for others. His upbringing had role-model quality. His parents and two older brothers taught him how to take care of himself, traits he passed to two younger sisters and another brother. His mother repeatedly told him, “You don’t lose ’til you quit trying,” which she learned from her father.

Davis was precocious in dealing with everyday matters. He learned to drive at the age of five, and got his license at thirteen. At eight, he learned to handle firearms and hunt. He always had a job—as newsboy, a cook, a lumberjack., a powder monkey. When he enlisted in the Army at twenty in 1966, he followed a family tradition of military service that stretched back to the Spanish-American War.

At Cudgel, wounded by both enemy and friendly fire, Davis singlehandedly fought back with his rifle, a machinegun, and a howitzer. His actions stalled the NVA charge, then he crossed a canal under fire and rescued three wounded and stranded infantrymen.


Sammy Lee Davis 

His post-battle story follows a pattern that challenges reason. His injuries included kidney perforations and vertebra inflicted by flechettes that also shredded his lower back; a bullet in his leg; ribs separated from his sternum; shrapnel wounds and burns across his face, hands, and neck; and traumatic brain damage. Doctors treated Davis in Saigon and then shipped him to  Japan. He appeared destined for return to the United States. Instead, Davis persuaded Gen. William Westmoreland to allow him to return to his unit as soon as he could walk.

“I still don’t know how I managed to convince anyone to call the highest-ranking U.S. general in Vietnam,” Davis says.

Davis returned to Saigon for rehabilitation and eventually to his unit at Tan Tru, where he completed his recovery. He fought in Cholon during the 1968 Tet Offensive. In March of that year he finished his tour of day.

His return to the United States included a band of hippies accosting him and two traveling companions at the airport in San Francisco with acts of disrespect beyond anything I knew. The confrontation introduced Davis to the fringes of the antiwar movement.

During his last eighteen months on active duty, Davis often was assigned to speak publicly on behalf of the Army. He experienced more disrespectful treatment. After his discharge and up to today, Davis has continued to make public appearances and speak to “whoever will listen,” including veterans, soldiers, business people, and schoolchildren. His goal in life is to be “a good man.” His speeches emphasize duty, honor, and country. He tolerates protesting war but not the warrior.

Medical problems have plagued Davis since his discharge. Agent Orange damaged his body in ways that required many operations. He also suffered from post-traumatic stress with nightmares and flashbacks. For years, he slept only in two-hour increments.


Sammy Davis receiving the Medal of Honor from President Johnson in November 1968

Beyond describing the events in his life, Sammy Lee Davis also provides an insightful picture of what it is like to receive a Medal of Honor. The award brings a high degree of recognition and privilege. But, of course, the act that qualifies a person for the medal also elevates that person far above average. I was unaware of several of the well-deserved benefits MOH recipients receive.

“The Medal of Honor changed my life in ways I never expected. Wearing it comes with duties and obligations,” Davis says, “honoring what it represents and refraining from anything that would tarnish what it stands for.”

—Henry Zeybel






Landing Zone by Carlos L. Arce



Landing Zone is the title of an illustrated serial novel about the Vietnam War by Carlos Arce, a disabled veteran who served in the war from 1969-70 with an Airborne Ranger Special Operations Unit of the First Cavalry Division. Landing Zone: The Beginning (HEDSA Publishing, $2.99, Kindle) is Arce’s first book on the war in Vietnam. He tells his story with words, photos, maps, and diagrams.

Arce’s choice to use an augmented text results in the clearest introduction to the life of a soldier in Vietnam that has yet been published. This volume is a tiny piece of the total story. We follow Pvt. Vida from the time he receives his orders to report to the Oakland Army Base on July 20, 1969. His alarm clock wakes him up at 5:00 a.m.

On page 95, we leave Pvt. Vida behind until we get the next volume in this novel.  Chapter 8, “The American Killing Machine,” involves the private getting in-country training in how to kill people. He is yelled at by Master Sgt. Scalia. To wit: “You are here to kill gooks. You are not here to feel sorry for anyone. Never mind what anyone tells you; you are not here to pacify people. You must understand you are here to kill, to kill—you are here to kill.”

So the novel goes. I enjoyed much of it. The illustrations eliminate all confusion about what a flak jacket looks like. We also are shown illustrations of American soldiers receiving “paid manual sexual favors.” We are told that girls were kept in closed, prison-like conditions. “The operations belonged to warlord Vietnamese generals and were run by iron-fisted Mama Sangs; they operated inside American military bases, as American slave brothels.”

My tour of duty took place too early to witness that, I guess. Certainly the scene that Arce describes is not what I saw when I was in Vietnam.


The author

Acre also describes a war zone in which dope is easily available everywhere and most guys are using it. American fire power gets a lot of respect. Daisy cutters and Rome Plows seem to make it more than likely we will win the war against a corrupt people who lack our resources. Baby Killers are mentioned.

For those who wish to read a detailed, illustrated novel of the war, I suspect that no author will top this series in those respects, once all seven books are available.

Readers who are obsessed with commas and semicolons being used correctly will be bothered. But are there many folks like that even left in this modern world?

—David Willson

Mary, the First Catholic Priest by Elizabeth Jean Murrow



Reading Elizabeth Jean Murrow’s Mary, the First Catholic Priest: Confessions of a Catholic Woman (CreateSpace, 249 pp., $12.50, paper; $7.99, Kindle) is little bit like reluctantly sitting with your Aunt Agnes at a large family gathering, and then realizing she has led a fascinating life.

Murrow’s book is both autobiography and polemic. As a child growing up in Colorado, she and two of her brothers suffered terrible beatings by her father. Although Murrow exhibits no self-pity, the experience helped propel her into lifelong advocacy for the protection of children. That, coupled with her devout Catholicism, also made her push for the reform of the priesthood. She demands zero tolerance of pedophiles, and links that tolerance to the fact that the Catholic priesthood is an all-boys club.

If the priesthood included women, she argues, the abuse of children would have been rooted out long ago. Further, Murrow says, an all-male priesthood keeps the Catholic Church reactive, conservative, and overly protective of its perquisites.

Nonetheless, Murrow remained a devout Catholic—a “cafeteria Catholic,” as she puts it—and entered the novitiate of the Sisters of Mercy in 1961 after studying nursing at Mercy Hospital in Denver. While she found life in the convent rewarding, Murrow left in 1966—partly, she explains, due to Pope John XXIII’s call for the Catholic Church to be in the world, not apart from it.


Betty Murrow

She exchanged her nun’s habit for the uniform of the U.S. Navy. Murrow volunteered to serve in Vietnam, where she worked on the hospital ship, the U.S.S. Sanctuary, as it shuttled between Danang and the DMZ, caring for wounded American troops, as well as for Vietnamese people in need of medical attention.

After the war, she taught nursing at Clemson, and traveled a lot before finally settling in West Virginia.

Betty Murrow has led a remarkable life. But like the tale told by dear Aunt Agnes, her book needs some judicious editing. Sometimes her tangents are frustrating, and sometimes it’s clear Murrow is not addressing the reader, but her daughter or her family at large. The casual reader too often is left in the position of unwitting eavesdropper.

—Michael Keating

The Trion Syndrome by Tom Glenn



Tom Glenn spent thirteen years shuttling between the U. S. and Vietnam as an undercover NSA employee working on covert signals intelligence assignments before being rescued under fire when the North Vietnamese took Saigon in May of 1975.  We reviewed his book, Friendly Casualties, a Vietnam War novel-in-stories, on these pages last year.

The Trion Syndrome (Apprentice House, 306 pp., $15.99, paper) is dedicated to “all combatants who suffered damage to their souls while serving this country.” Glenn describes the book as “at once a domestic novel of marital infidelity, angsty teen-agers, and job strife, and a disturbing psychological study of long-held and barely repressed trauma.”  A close reading of the novel justifies that claim.

The protagonist, Dave Bell, shares many similarities with the author. He’s a Thomas Mann scholar who has returned from Vietnam, and is tormented by nightly dreams. He’s functioning, but damaged. He was changed in Vietnam, and not in a good way.

This novel is written in an experimental style, which involves switching from first person to third person when the author deems it necessary. The book is a beautifully written and edited literary novel.  Readers will do better with it, though, if they have read and understood the novels of Thomas Mann and have taken a few years of German. I’ve done those things and I still found the novel a struggle.


Tom Glenn

Here’s a brief quote illustrating the challenges in this novel: “He recognized Harry’s writing style—his use of ‘in order to’ and the past progressive and his tendency to string present participle clauses at the end of sentences.”

This sort of stuff can be fun for a Thomas Mann expert, but for normal mortals, not so much. The book does connect with the Vietnam War, to an illusive incident in Long Dinh, but most Vietnam veterans readers will find this book a difficult puzzle.

I recommend it only to die-hard Mann fans.

The author’s website is the-trion-syndrome.com

—David Willson

Losing the Will to Live by Arnie Burzynski


Rising above depression, personal tragedy, and alcoholism is central to Arnie Burzynski in his book, Losing the Will to Live: Why?!! (Xlibris, 145 pp., $29.99, hardcover; $19.99, paper; $3.99, Kindle), but it is not directly related to his Vietnam War service.

Burzynski devotes the first chapter to his father’s service in the Korean War. In the next chapter he enumerates the ever-present  tragedies he lives with daily, making  his psychological treatment in a VA Hospital in Minnesota necessary after his hardship discharge from the Navy in 1975. He married  in 1977 but the  marriage failed.

In February 2006, Burzynski writes, “I went to see the doctor and I was diagnosed as depressed.” That summer he began drinking. “I remember at work, I was asking an older man, he was 74 at the time, ‘What happens when you lose the will to live?’ There was no answer.” This stayed with Burzynski “a long time,” and perhaps led to his trying to find the answer for himself.

In 2008 Burzynski started his treatment at the VA, and he started keeping a journal. He includes transcripts of his counseling sessions in this book. Burzynski records his lapses into drinking, attributing them to events such as his father’s death or partying with friends with drinking problems.

His journal describes his impending divorce and the difficulty he has had finding and keeping meaningful work. He keeps his Alcoholics Anonymous and VA appointments but has continuous trouble with friends taking advantage of his good nature. VA psychological testing discovered that he “carried around the burden of many family conflicts, suicidal attempts, and losses for many years, trying to maintain his emotional center and keep himself together.”

Burzynski occasionally begged people to end his life out of frustration but with the help of counseling from a VA priest, his veterans disability benefits being approved, and maintaining his sobriety, he rose above a troubled life, completing his valuable self-help project.

His artwork on the cover illustrates the climb from depression’s depths to regaining his will to live.

The author’s website is www.arnieburzynski.com

—Curt Nelson