A Battalion of Angels by Mike Burns

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Mike Burns’ A Battalion of Angels (Mira Digital Publications, 131 pp., $12.99, paper) is an anthology of the stories of thirteen Vietnam War veterans centering on how their lives were saved in combat through Divine Intervention. These essays vividly describe helicopters flying into hot landing zones, dropping in combat units and evacuating casualties; soldiers patrolling in thick jungles that hide snipers and booby traps; and Marines walking into enemy ambushes. These are tales of how premonitions, early detections of attack, and last-minute battle plan revisions spared lives.

William Whitmore is the subject of the first chapter. More than half way through his tour of duty with the 101st Airborne the Bronze Star recipient was in an intense firefight. “While firing and moving, Bill felt a hand on his back that pushed him hard to the ground,” Burns writes. “To this day, Bill considers the hand and push as divine intervention, or more precisely, the hand of God”

This brief volume is well organized with chapter titles bearing the veteran’s name and time of service in-country, including evidence of the influence of a deity or a surrogate. In addition, there are remarkable battlefield accounts uniquely recording actions that are historically valuable alongside personal paths leading to the spiritual encounter.

Readers may identify with dates and locations as I did with the entry submitted by Raymond Jobin. His Vietnam War service dates correspond to my own, August 1969 to August 1970.  We had the same Commanding General, Maj. Gen. John A.B. Dillard.

Jobin was offered a position on Gen. Dillard’s staff, but was uncharacteristically uncertain about whether to accept it. Perhaps God influenced his late-night decision to turn down the offer. Seven months later Gen. Dillard and nine staff members died when their chopper was shot down.

The final story introduces Navy Corpsman Kurt Turner, who served on the hospital ship U.S.S. Repose in the South China Sea. Turner and other Corpsmen typically carried wounded Marines from helicopters to triage, placing each patient on a gurney. One time this routine duty was nearly deadly. A Marine on the gurney had a live grenade hidden in a gauze leg bandage. When the grenade was safely removed Turner looked for an ambulator Marine who spotted the live explosive and told the Corpsmen about it. But that Marine was no where to be found.

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“Kurt is very comfortable in his belief that the Marine was actually a guardian angel, whose name in life was James E. Williams, Jr.,” Burns writes.

I strongly recommend A Battalion of Angels. Mike Burns made contact with ten of the thirteen veterans in the book through the free ads he placed in the “Locator” column in The VVA Veteran magazine. Because of that he is donating some of the book’s profits to Vietnam Veterans of America.

—Curt Nelson

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