Jim Maher is a U. S. Navy veteran who served for a few months in Da Nang during the Vietnam War. His book, All Would be Heroes (Tate, 146 pp., $12.99, paper; $10.99, e book ), we’re told, “is a work of his mind, dreams, and what if’s, plus excerpts from stories he heard.” Maher also wrote a book called Leaders, Losers and Lessons.
This small book is presented as a series of short stories, each of which features a main character who seems to be disconnected from the main character in the other stories. Then they link up near the end of this book in action and theme.
We first meet Tom, a whining, complaining coward who never shuts up. He’s trained as an Army postal clerk and stationed near Da Nang.
Next we meet Ned, who joined ROTC and wants to be a wealthy broker when he grows up. He was trained for Naval Intelligence and stationed near Phu Bai. He did courier duty, and is shot down with a satchel full of secret documents, which he carefully hides. Then we meet Ben, a hospital corpsman in Da Nang assigned to a Seabees unit.
Throughout the book the author does not waste false respect for the enemy. One chapter is entitled “Viet Cong Scum.” Agent Orange is acknowledged and the VA is criticized for failing to help veterans with PTSD. The book has a frequent sardonic edge. Maher writes, for instance that the mother of a fallen soldier is “given his medals in a beautiful wooden case.”
In the end, more medals are handed out and whiners show some heroism. Tom, the malingerer, “was now popular in his hometown because of his heroics in Vietnam, so he didn’t have a problem getting dates and spending a lot of time in bars,” Maher writes. “People enjoyed buying him drinks and sharing their pot with him. He was getting drunk and high on a nightly basis, and life for Tom was good.”
After getting drunk and high one night, Tom tries to cross some railroad tracks. He “failed to see the freight train backing slowly. The train’s wheel crushed him, killing Tom instantly.” Just desserts, I say. No happy endings.
I highly recommend this book to overly optimistic high school seniors who think that being an American hero is all roses.