You won’t read about any firefights in Pat Capainolo’s Vietnam War memoir, The Lighter Side of Vietnam (CreateSpace, 166 pp., $14.95, paper), and you won’t find any gore or PTSD. Capianolo mainly recounts stories and antics of friends and (personal) enemies in a book in which even harrowing situations are told with a light touch.
Capainolo has an excellent memory for detail. He recalls many instances of kindness in others rather than meanness, although meanness was there, which makes the book true to his memory. A lot of times it is a dance around and through regulations, relations, and events of all kinds.
The author was first stationed at Cam Ranh Bay with the 165th Transportation Co. He was a good trooper, winning praise from his fellow soldiers and from NCOs and officers. His job was driving a Lighter Amphibious Resupply Cargo Five Ton vehicle, a LARC, and Capainolo had great fun with it. He later drove a Jeep in Thailand.
When he arrived in Vietnam Capainolo had some preconceived notions, which he willingly admits, and which he pushed aside. He was a bit worried about the aggressive sound of the speech and the seeming sternness of the South Korean troops he served with. But he came to understand those demeanors as cultural affectations and not a personal judgement about him. He later made friends with many Koreans.
One recurring character in this book is a psychotic soldier who hated the author for no reason. It seems that every time Capainolo thought he was rid of this man, he found the guy living in the same hootch. One night Bates, the crazy one, came after Capainolo with his fists. But Capainolo was a light sleeper, and jumped up and hit Bates a few times before before he was restrained.
Capainolo writes of men who thought of themselves as tough, and he writes of men who really were tough but who also were down to earth, regular soldiers whom he admired. One supposed tough guy from Brooklyn urinated in his bed when artillery was booming in the distance.
Another seemingly tough guy wanted a ride on a LARC but once water began running over the sides of the vehicle he started yelling at Capainolo to turn around and take him back to the beach. When the screaming didn’t work, he tried threatening, which also did not work. Then he began whimpering.
“No one took his tough guy seriously again,” Capainolo notes.
The book is filled with many similar stories, all told without rancor, bitterness, or nostalgia. All of them also deal with both the silliness and seriousness of Army rules and regulation in the Vietnam War.