The Last Red-Line Brig  by Peter Carini

9781786292988

Peter Carini’s The Last Red-Line Brig (Austin Macauley, 320 pp., $25.95, hardcover; $16.95, paper; $4.41, Kindle) is a work of fiction that is based on a true story. Carini is a short story writer and English teacher in the San Francisco Bay area.

His novel’s hero, Joe Carini, is a youthful renegade, independent thinker, compassionate husband, and a corpsman in the U.S. Navy near the beginning of the Vietnam War. Never an ambitious man, but tended to do an honest day’s work while daydreaming. He had no interest in war or in learning military discipline.

He ends up in the Navy, assigned to a place known as the “red-line brig” among “hardened, unaccommodating Marines and even less friendly inmates.” The brig’s toughest area is called “dimrats,” and it is nothing short of a nauseating torture chamber.

Joe Carini struggles to conform to the standards of his assignment, but pisses off the Marines and his superior officers at every opportunity. This puts him in frequent danger of becoming an inmate in dimrats himself.

peter_carini

Peter Carini

The characters in this book have the sort of nicknames those of us who have read a lot of Vietnam War novels have become accustomed to:  Pvt. Unibrow, Sgt. Serious, and No Neck.

If you read this book attentively, you will learn the duties of an assignment to a Red-Line Brig, and books that treat military jobs seriously and thoroughly are rare. That makes this one a valuable resource for military scholars and students of incarceration during the Vietnam War.

I found the novel engrossing and hard to put down. It is well edited and well written and tells a good story. Agent Orange is mentioned in one paragraph and the long-term consequences of exposure to that dangerous toxin are emphasized.

Novels of wartime military incarceration are rare. This is one of the very best.

I highly recommend it.

—David Willson

Advertisements

Boots and the Law by Samuel T. Brick

9780595719181_p0_v1_s550x406

Samuel T. Brick is a lawyer. He tells the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth—”for the most part” and except for the names of the innocent and guilty—in Boots and the Law: A Story of Army JAG Service in Fort Polk and Vietnam (iUniverse, 244 pp. $26.95, hardcover; $16.95, paper).

The book’s subtitle explains its storyline, which is based on Brick’s experiences on active duty in the late 1960s. Brick fictionalizes his tale by giving everybody an alias—to protect those who went through the military judicial system. Samuel Brick becomes Gregg Thompson.

The Army permitted Thompson to finish law school and pass the Delaware bar exam before herding him through Basic and into AIT as an infantry draftee. The Pentagon then dragged him from the middle of Tigerland at Fort Polk, tested him, and promoted him from E2 to O3. When unexpectedly offered a commission to captain, Thompson barely managed to croak, “Let’s get on with it,” and a major immediately swore him in.

Like most JAG newbies, Thompson started his courtroom career on defense, something that tilts the scales of military justice in favor of prosecutors who theoretically have the more difficult job and require greater experience. That supposition brings us to what I liked most about the book, traits that from here on I will credit to Sam Brick, their practitioner.

40311316084_f0f66c1629_b

Over a century ago Georges Clemenceau said, “Military justice is to justice what military music is to music.” The quote’s subtext says, “It suffices to add ‘military’ to a word for it to lose its meaning.”

People cite Clemenceau’s idea to defame military justice, arguing that it provides officers with unquestionable authority to punish subordinates. Neither Brick nor I see it that way.

In Vietnam, Sam Brick defended, prosecuted, or sat as a judge in many types of cases: murder, desertion, rape, disobedience, armed robbery, black market activities, and various lesser crimes. Regardless of his role, he sought to see into the minds of defendants by investigating their histories in depth.

Generally, Brick uncovered evidence that showed defendants were immature men without a viable value system. The possibility of dying in the Vietnam War and their unwillingness to being there often overrode any other thoughts.

Pre-trial research guided lawyers in formulating a strategy for defending or prosecuting a case and determining appropriate punishment. In that regard, Brick carefully explains the pros and cons of military courts relative to a crime. Most of his JAG cohorts used the same approach.

The detail with which Brick explains trial and administrative procedures makes the book an outstanding read for anyone with even the slightest interest in justice. As he puts it: “Some of the sentences for serious crimes, usually more lenient than one would suspect, are a consequence of military juries weighing the need for discipline while bearing in mind the environment in which our men were thrust.”

111111111111111111111111111

Sam Brick

Brick shows that not every offense went to trial. In-country transfers provided equally effective methods for changing behavior. Gen. Creighton Abrams himself once sent a popular but recalcitrant AFVN disc jockey “up north” to a little mountain just outside the A Shau Valley where the 101st Airborne Division could “teach him to soldier,” Brick writes.

During the early 1970s I found a similar degree of leniency among peers with whom I sat as a juror. I came to believe that being in a war expands one’s tolerance for lesser evils.

Brick wraps up several of his stories with twists. In summarizing one case, he says, “Nothing in this country is ever what it seems.” That conclusion fits just about every issue he writes about .

My verdict for Boots and the Law: Sam Brick is guilty of clearly explaining the fairness of military law during the Vietnam War.

Brick is a member of Vietnam Veterans of America,serves as VVA’s South Carolina State Council President, and took part in this year’s Leadership & Education Conference in Palm Springs. He retired as an Army reserve JAG colonel after working for CENTCOM during the Persian Gulf War.

I believe that he should write a sequel to show if the righteousness of military justice still prevails.

—Henry Zeybel

Virginity Lost in Vietnam by David Lange

vlv-book_cover

David Lange, the author of Virginity Lost in Vietnam (Act 3 Publishing, 460 pp., $34.25), has made a successful post-military career of wordsmithing. That fact is evidenced by his book’s dust-jacket accolades, comments, and author profile that  highlights his forty-year journalism career.

The book feels heavy on minutiae—both geographic and personal—of Lange’s early years in Ohio. He brings us meticulously from his birth to his arrival in-country, filling perhaps half the book. The same attention to detail continues throughout. The research is well done, and the book is great fodder for the hometown crowd, although is frequently a bit tedious for the casual reader.

Lange—a long-time member of Vietnam Veterans of America who has written widely about Vietnam War veterans’ issues—cites sources in the text for his frequent references, as well as for some quotes and additional material. This saves the reader the need to leaf back and forth to footnotes.

Lange’s experiences as a disbursement clerk with the Brown Water Navy in Vietnam in 1969-70 makes for interesting reading. He functioned in a necessary support role, getting troops paid. He filters his service story through the lens of current (2000-18) events and personalities, even more so than dealing with the folks who peopled the halls of power during his time in Vietnam. You could say this is an almost fifty-year-old story anchored in today’s headlines.

Dave Lange’s “virginity” on several levels is a theme throughout much of the book. And, yes, Lange loses it in Vietnam—on several levels.

This reviewer served in Vietnam a year earlier than Lange did. But he had me nodding affirmatively while reading some of his experiences, and he did a good job conveying the ambiance of his Vietnam War experience.

dave-highschool

Lange’s 1967 high school yearbook photo

Lange lets politics invade his stories too frequently, though, with unfortunate name-calling and invective. I expected better from a noted journalist.

Lange also writes about his deployments after coming home from Vietnam. This detracts somewhat from the book’s premise, but surely illustrates the formative aspects of his military service. In his post-military adventures Lange reboots Jack Kerouac’s On the Road with tales of hitchhiking here, there, and everywhere to visit and party with former shipmates. Liberal use of marijuana and alcohol lubricated those wanderings.

He completes this book with a rather detailed, German-rooted family history, as well as an extensive recitation of “WW II Winners and Losers” in the old-world geography his family called home.

Lange describes his Vietnam War story as a “coming of age memoir.” In that regard, he fulfills his mission.

His website is virginitylostinvietnam

—Tom Werzyn

The Guardians of the Night by David Keeton

66e65766bfb92d63273bc477f43e13d3-korean-war-vietnam

David Keeton’s The Guardians of the Night (227 pp. $25, paper) was written, Keeton says, “to honor the countless canines that have served alongside GIs over the years.”

Keeton was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1967. In Dalat during the 1968 Tet Offensive he served as a Sentry Dog Handler with the 18th Military Police Brigade. After his discharge, Keeton worked as a deputy sheriff and then became a schoolteacher. He has published four other books about dogs.

The Guardians of the Night begins with a history of war dogs, including no less than Rin Tin Tin. The bulk of the book is devoted to stories of war dogs and their handlers in the Vietnam War. The final chapters cover 911 search and rescue dogs and war dogs in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I saw some of these dogs in Vietnam, but had never given them much thought. Learning how they served and the many lives they saved has given me a new and very respectful understanding of their capabilities and their value in warzones.

The pages of this book are loaded with pictures, poems, stories, and interviews.  More than a hundred and fifty dogs and their handlers in Vietnam are highlighted, along with many more from other eras.

I found this book to be somewhat primitively put together in that most pages are physically cut and pasted, and there are editorial errors of all types throughout.

However, I also found this book to be captivating and a pleasure to read, so I give it a thumbs up. For ordering info, write to 402 Division St., Union City, MI 40904

— Bob Wartman

Why? By P.J. Dodge

41gsn6tvudl-_sx331_bo1204203200_

P.J. Dodge lives in Jacksonville, Florida, with her husband. Her father was a disabled veteran who has spent much of his life fighting for his veterans benefits and for the compensation he felt he had coming to him. Her veteran husband was diagnosed with cancer and with PTSD, and also has tried to receive veterans benefits and appropriate compensation. He continues to fight for his benefits today and the government continues to deny his compensation claims.

Dodge wrote Why? (Page Publishing, 245 pp., $14.95, paper; $9.99, Kindle) when she realized that her father’s and husband’s problems with the VA were “not isolated instances but experiences many of our Veterans continually faced.”

Why?, a novel, is heavily based on the real-life experiences of the author, her husband, and her father. It is meant, she writes, to bring to light “the plight of so many that will not speak out but are fighting for medical, psychological, and monetary help.”

The novel starts off with a sentence that sets the tone for the entire book: “When Raoul showed up at the VA for his appointment to try to fast-track his benefits request, he knew deep down in his heart it was a lost cause.”

The band of veterans who make up the main crew of this novel seem mostly to have been Rangers, Green Berets, SEAL,s and members of other elite military units. No clerks and jerks allowed.

The story line, in a nutshell, consists of setting up a new My Lai massacre, but this time a massacre aimed at eliminating those who run the VA. Why? Because those VA people are  responsible for siphoning off funds intended for needy veterans and using those funds for their own lives as fat cats, driving big flashy cars, wearing three-piece suits, and eating expensive meals at the taxpayers’ expense.

The message of the book is that “our enemy is the VA.” The level of animosity toward the VA is high and is unremitting. Shooting VA doctors is mentioned as though it is a reasonable thing to do. “John Wayne and the Calvary” are mentioned as co-conspirators, and that is how “cavalry” is spelled in the book.

I gave up counting the mentions of beer and Jim Beam consumed in the course of this story line. Food and drink dominate this narrative, but not to the extent that firearms do, such as “two M79 grenade launchers and a .50 cal. Machine gun.”

veterans-benefits-2The heart of the bitterness of this book is that those of us who went to war “to keep their precious offspring out of danger” came back and were made to feel like second-class citizens and were attacked.

Those who need a book that preaches this message should get this one.

Those who have received good care at the VA—and I am quick to say that I have—would do well to steer clear.

—David Willson

1968 by Richard Vinen

“The single most important cause of change in the tone of politics in the 1960s was the Vietnam War,” Richard Vinen writes in 1968: Radical Protest and Its Enemies (HarperCollins, 464 pp., $29.95). The war, he writes, “seemed to focus and incarnate all the other conflicts—about race, imperialism, militarism and capitalism.”

The book came out in July, a half-century after the cataclysmic year that saw the Tet Offensive, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, and the election of Richard Nixon.

Vinen examines the twelve months of 1968 primarily in the context of the years just before and after, what he calls “the long ’68,” and he focuses on the West. “My version of ’68,” he writes, “involves affluent countries in which radical protest came up against elected governments.”

A professor at King’s College London and a recipient of Britain’s Wolfson History Prize, the author distills an extraordinary amount of information into about 340 pages of jargon-free text. He takes a thematic, rather than a linear, approach. So while the book can profitably be read straight through, it may be more valuable as a reference work.

Beyond the United States, Vinen concentrates on three countries: France, West German, and Britain. France experienced  intense activity—worker strikes and student demonstrations—in May 1968 in Paris. In West Germany, the “number of the most committed radicals was relatively small,” he writes, and “terrorism took its most extreme form.” In Britain, 1970s radicalization “extended beyond the campus [to] political violence in Northern Ireland.”

Richard Vinen

Vinen examines phenomena that, in addition to the Vietnam War, influenced “the long ’68,” such as economic growth, the increase in the number of college and university students, and the Civil Rights movement. Throughout, he substitutes complexities for clichéd dichotomies—young/old, new/traditional, outsiders/authority—and shares many intriguing details, among them:

  • “The largest live audience that John F. Kennedy ever addressed was not in Washington or Berlin but in Berkeley, California, and Berkeley illustrated the hopes that many placed in America during the early 1960s.”
  • “Many who had been radicalized in the late 1960s or ’70s turned to writing works that were inspired by American crime fiction. Most famously, Stieg Larsson, the Swedish creator of the Millennium series, had been a very young ’68er, campaigning against the Vietnam War when he was 14 and joining a Trotskyist movement six years later.”
  • “Some American women who opposed the war made much of their status as mothers. Not all feminists felt comfortable with this. Betty Friedan said: ‘I don’t think the fact that milk once flowed in my breasts is the reason I am against the war.’ A group of anti-war feminists staged a ceremony to bury ‘traditional motherhood’ at Arlington National Cemetery.”

–Angus Paul

The 31st Infantry Regiment by The Members of the 31st Infantry Regiment Association

Stories are the way people pass knowledge from one generation to another.

The late Karl H. Lowe, with help from James B. Simms and Grady A. Smith, has passed down a century of military stories in The 31st Infantry Regiment: A History of “America’s Foreign Legion” in Peace and War (McFarland, 519 pp. $45, paper). The three men were career soldiers who served in the 31st Infantry Regiment. They know combat.

As the unit’s Regimental Historian for twenty years, Karl Lowe recorded the 31st from its activation in the Philippines in 1916 through the Vietnam War. In this book James Simms expands on the unit’s action in Vietnam, and Grady Smith reports on activities in Iraq and Afghanistan. An excellent selection of photographs from archives and personal sources supplements their writing.

The Regiment’s first battle took place during a deployment to Siberia in 1919 after Bolsheviks captured five American enlisted men following the Russian Revolution. That far north adventure earned the unit the nickname “The Polar Bear Regiment.” World War I had ended in Europe in 1918, but skirmishes between Russian, European, Asian, and American military forces continued in Siberia until 1920. Lowe’s account of the scale of interaction north of Vladivostok provided a new history lesson for me.

The same holds true for the Regiment’s deployment to Shanghai when that city became an International Settlement in 1932. This time the Americans stood aside with the British while Chinese and Japanese troops battled on the city’s fringes.

The entire book is a history lesson. Lowe writes about old encounters as if they had happened yesterday. Simms and Smith have a similar talent. Their stories tie troops, regardless of rank, to situations so that a reader fully understands what occurred and why. Best of all, the authors provide a feel for the moods of the troops and organizations.

Stationed in Manila from 1932-41, the undermanned and poorly equipped 31st Regiment followed a slow motion pace of activity, culminating in a series of ignored war alerts in November of 1941.

A few weeks later, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.

The remainder of the book focuses on the 31st Regiment in combat: in the Philippines, Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Afghanistan, and Iraq. The authors recreate battle scenes with great authenticity. Extensive chapter notes support their work. Many of the Regiment’s war stories have become high points in U.S. military history and the authors do justice to them.

31st Infantry Regiment troops in Vietnam in 1970

The Vietnam War is reported in two sections: 4th Battalion (1967-71) and 6th Battalion (1967-70). The latter includes operations in Cambodia. Again the reporting is personalized and describes actions and attitudes of individual infantrymen.

The book’s closing pages pay tribute to 31st Infantry Regiment troops killed in action in all wars.

The authors’ combat expertise, their fluid writing style, and the depth of their reporting make The 31st Infantry Regiment a worthwhile reading experience.

The book tells it like it was.

—Henry Zeybel