R. Lawson served in Vietnam as a flight surgeon in the USAF, but “only experienced a fraction of what the real fighters did,” he says. Lawson thought about the war for almost fifty years before he decided to write Recall: A Fictional Account based on Four True-life Heroes in the Vietnam Conflict (R. Lawson, 467 pp., paper).
The story Lawson tells is not about him; it’s about his characters. He served, they fought. He flew in and out of the battleground, never got shot down, and was mostly involved in air evacuations.
This “fictional historical narrative” is a story about four guys who played on a championship football team in the 1950s. They end up in Vietnam in very different roles, and their paths cross repeatedly at dramatic moments in Zelig-like fashion. Credibility is tested, but readers must suspend disbelief to enjoy novels of this sort.
The author uses the roles of his four young characters to show what snake-eaters, pilots, and CIA and government employees did in the Vietnam War and how they did it. The snake-eater becomes disillusioned and turns to drugs, as a user and as a seller.
The novel focusses on hippies and antiwar movements and their connection to communists. At no point does the author acknowledge that many American veterans came home from the war in Vietnam and became involved in the antiwar movement. A lot also is made of the poor treatment of returning veterans by hippies. Characters talk about returning to a world gone mad.
One of the them, Johansson, seems modeled on John Rambo; he is even said to resemble a Native American in his bearing and coloring. That’s fine with me, but then one of his high school friends says of Johansson’s marksmanship that he “never saw anyone go through so many clips with such accuracy, called the guy a friggin’ Rambo.” That’s going too far, because Rambo wasn’t created until decades later.
Baby killing gets some discussion and the war is labelled a “quagmire.” The Tet Offensive is called a huge military victory for the United States, but a loss due to the coverage of the news media who were totally antiwar. That’s the only way, according to the author that the U.S. could lose to “a ragtag army” such as we were fighting. He writes: “No way would their superior military lose to this ragtag guerrilla army. No way!”
The novel works well as a saga of interwoven stories of these high school football chums who end up in Vietnam. But how realistic is this and how likely it would be to happen? I took my own high school football team as an example and examined it, player by player. Not one player went to Vietnam or served in the military in a wartime situation. This was the class of 1960.
I guess that was an unfair thing to do. On the other hand, it’s true.