Rebecca Benson’s War by Patti Rudin Albaugh

Rebecca Benson’s War (Rudin Press, 300 pp. $10.95, paper; $5.99, Kindle) by Patti Rudin Albaugh is a beautifully written novel about a young woman dealing with the Vietnam War and patriotism, told through the prism of her husband’s death during the early years of that war.

The book’s opening paragraph is a stunner that takes us back to 1943. “On a blood-soaked French battlefield under a gun-metal gray sky, a forgotten arm with a magic tattoo lay in the mud. The tattoo would never again comfort a little girl back in Ohio, but it would haunt the woman she became,” Albaugh writes about her protagonist, Rebecca Benson, who grows up thinking that wars “put daddies to sleep.”

In July 1965 a mailman walks along Elm Street in an all-American town, a street that includes “the no-flag house.” It’s the house where Rebecca Benson lives with her husband, Adam, a police officer who served in the Korean War. He has a scar on his back that he won’t explain and refuses to go along with his wife’s desire to have children. A dutiful wife, the highlight of Rebecca Benson’s day is when her husband comes home from work.

One of those days Adam breaks the news that he is joining the Marine Corps to be an adviser to the South Vietnamese in what he tells Rebecca will be a one-year re-enlistment. Having lost her father in World War II, Rebecca hates the idea but can’t deny that he has “soldier eyes.” In addition to that, she’s beginning to question the American involvement in the Vietnam War.

After training at Ft. Bragg Adam goes directly to Vietnam while his wife sits at home, refusing to watch war movies on TV—and still not flying the flag. She’s marking off the days on a calendar when she learns that her husband has been killed.

Soon thereafter, Rebecca receives a footlocker containing all of Adam’s belongings, and only after months of struggling with her emotions decides to open it. She soon decides to sell her house and dabbles in antiwar activities.

Rebecca Benson’s War is the story of a woman coming to the realization that there’s not a lot she can do to control things in life, but that she can begin to make peace with the world by making peace with her own feelings. This heartfelt, well-researched and written novel helps remind us that during the Vietnam War there were hearts and minds in America that needed to be won over as much as those of the South Vietnamese people fighting communism.   

–Bill McCloud