About vvaposted

Arts Editor and Senior Writer, The VVA Veteran at Vietnam Veterans of America

Promise Lost by Dan Moore

Witnesses and their testimony form the foundation for good reporting. Former Marine Dan Moore presents a wealth of both as he reconstructs the meritorious life of his friend, Lt. Stephen Joyner, who died in action near Khe Sanh in South Vietnam in 1968.

Moore interviewed more than a hundred people who knew Joyner during his twenty-four years on earth. Moore has collected his research in Promise Lost: Stephen Joyner, the Marine Corps, and the Vietnam War (CreateSpace/Hidden Shelf, 212 pp. $16.95, paper; $5.99, Kindle), which he calls a long-delayed “memorial to a beloved friend.”

The book has three observers: Joyner, through letters he sent home; the interviewees Moore spoke to; and Moore himself, who recollects time he spent with Joyner.

Steve Joyner possessed an all-American boy image with his positive attitude, football prowess at San Diego State, and physical strength. He bypassed a possible professional football career after becoming “the man of the family” following his father’s death at age forty-seven. Instead of playing pro football, Joyner enlisted in the Marine Corps after he graduated from college.

Joyner and Moore became friends while serving in Vietnam at the same time in different divisions, which adds credence to Moore’s analyses of events that challenged the emotional stability of both of them. Moore draws vivid pictures of action involving Joyner in and around Leatherneck Square in I Corps as a member of the Third Marine Division.

The discussion of relationships between officers and enlisted men should be required reading for new lieutenants—and perhaps certain captains, majors, and colonels, as well. Moore also dissects relations between new and experienced officers. He explains how the enthusiasm that made Joyner a leader on his college football team did not work as successfully for him as a platoon leader in combat. Moore’s analysis of repetitive operational tactics provides more lessons in leadership.

Moore writes about new lieutenants’ lack of political understanding about South Vietnam’s “corruption” and “support for reunification.” These shortcomings, he says, clouded their approach to the war and reduced their effectiveness.

Dan Moore

Overall, he clearly shows the good and bad aspects of leadership among Marines in I Corps during the height of the Vietnam War in 1967-68.

Several segments of the book focus on Moore’s life more than Joyner’s. Moore served with the First Marine Division. Following active duty, he remained in the Marine Reserves and earned a doctorate in history. He then had a career with the CIA until retiring in 2014.

—Henry Zeybel

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A Silhouette of Liberia by Michael H. Lee

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During his 1969 tour of duty in Vietnam Michael H. Lee developed an interest in documentary photography. He came back to Montana after the war, went to school, got married, and got restless. So he and his wife signed up with the Peace Corps and went to Liberia.

While there, Lee honed his photographic interests and skills. He lived first in the capital of Monrovia, then moved to the hinterlands. Both places offered rich subject matter, although each posed different challenges in approach and cultural sensitivity.

A Silhouette of Liberia: Photographs: 1974-1977 (Sweetgrass Books, 124 pp. $59, lhardcover) is Lee’s second book documenting the people and culture of Liberia. This oversize volume contains nearly seventy images, some in black and white, but most in full color. The photos are accompanied by his notes and explanations of Liberian customs and culture.

Lee was a serious student of Liberian folkways, and clearly takes pleasure in sharing what he learned during his years there—first with the Peace Corps, then working for a virus research lab. His photos are lush, insightful, and respectful.

He notes that Liberians, while not vain, are proud. So, before he took his photos, Lee would wait, for example, for old women to put on their shoes and arrange their dresses.

Lee is intent upon telling a loving, respectful tale, and he tells it well.

The author’s website is awelllitblackhole.com

—-Michael Keating

The Vietnam War in Popular Culture, Vols. I & II, edited by Ron Milam

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Ron Milam, a Texas Tech University history professor who served in the Vietnam War and has written widely about it, has done an excellent job putting together the two-volume The Vietnam War in Popular Culture: The Influence of America’s Most Controversial War on Everyday Life (ABC-CLIO/Praeger, 772 pp., $164), a valuable collection of wide-ranging essays by more than three dozen contributors.

The first volume’s entries focus on aspects of popular culture (primarily movies, music, television shows, magazines and newspapers, and fiction and nonfiction literature) that hit the scene during the war. The second volume looks at the same areas in the years since the war ended in 1975. Nearly all the essays are from university professors; more than a few teach at Texas Tech. The noted Vietnam War historian George Herring contributes an excellent introduction.

Highlights in Volume I include Beverly Tomek’s hard-hitting essay, “‘Hanoi Jane’ and the Myth of Betrayal: The Cultural War on the Home Front,” and Roger Landes’ “Barry Sadler and ‘The Ballad of the Green Berets.'” As the author of the first biography of Barry Sadler (Ballad of the Green Beret: The Life and Wars of Staff Sgt. Barry Sadler), I am pleased to report that Landes—a music professor at Texas Tech who teaches the history of rock and roll—presents an excellent, in-depth look at Sadler’s song, which sold nine million copies and was the No. 1 single of the year in 1966. He used the best sources and his conclusions about why the song went viral twenty-five years before the birth of Internet are right on the money.

The essay that stood out for me in the second volume is Lindy Poling’s insightful (and cleverly titled) “Encouraging Students to Think Outside the ‘Box Office,'” which reports on a survey of students who took her innovative one-semester elective class, “Lessons of Vietnam.” Poling created that course and taught it from 1997-2011 at Millbrook High School in Raleigh, North Carolina.

 

r-1472846-1266535399-jpegIn her essay, Poling reports on what her former students told her about their knowledge of the war before taking the class and how what they learned (from studying a wide variety of perspectives on the war, hearing from Vietnam War veterans, and visiting The Wall in Washington, D.C.) changed their perceptions of the war and those who took part in it.

Poling found that 55 percent of her students “entered the course with Hollywood film and popular media-based preconceptions” of the war and its veterans; 25 percent had learned about the war mainly from their parents or other adults; and the rest knew “very little” about the war.

After immersing themselves in learning about the war in her class, Poling found that many of them were motivated “to personally investigate and gain a better understanding of what was happening during the Vietnam era, both at home and abroad. In addition, these students come to sincerely appreciate the tremendous sacrifice of our veterans, as well as those who fought for South Vietnam.”

What’s more, she writes, most of her former students no longer rely on Hollywood movies for their understanding of the Vietnam War.

That good news led Poling to her conclusion: “Yes, they truly have learned to think outside the box office!”

—Marc Leepson

 

I Just Want to See Trees by Marc Raciti

Marc Raciti wanted to commit suicide but could not make himself do it. Instead, he opted for “passive suicide” by repeatedly volunteering for deployments to hot spots where he hoped to “die with dignity” in “support of the Global War on Terror.” During his 1989-2013 Army career, Raciti, a retired U.S. Army Major, survived five deployments to Kosovo, Iraq, and on the African continent while his life turned increasingly unbearable.

As an Army Physician Assistant who treated the dying and wounded, Raciti suffered guilt feelings for surviving while troops around him died or disappeared into the medical network without him ever knowing their fate.

“I had cared for the wounded, mourned for the dead and consoled the survivors to the point that I was numb,” he says.

In I Just Want to See Trees: A Journey Through P.T.S.D. (Jones Media, 160 pp. $9.99, paper; $5.99, Kindle), Raciti tells the story of personal agony that became PTSD during his twenty-four year Army career. He wrote the book in hope that telling how he dealt with his disorder might serve as a lesson for others with PTSD.

This memoir should interest Vietnam War veterans because of the guidance and hope it offers for those suffering from trauma generated by war. In presenting what he experienced, Raciti does not dwell on the gore and horror that produced his recurring guilt and nightmares. Instead, he concentrates on his post-war misbehavior, which created what he calls “a wide trail of severed relationships.”

Raciti examining a Somali woman in northern Ethiopia

Sharing hard-earned methods for coping with “constant anxiety and paranoia,” Raciti tells how he conquered “survivor’s guilt, shame, and feeling unworthy of life.”

The book ends happily. Raciti learns to control his PTSD with help from an enlightened wife, a caring counselor, and a service dog.

“PTSD is a chronic condition and medication only manages part of it,” he says. “Therapy manages the rest.”

The author’s website is marcraciti.com/services.html

—Henry Zeybel

A Walk in the Park by Odon Bacque

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A question from one of Odon Bacque’s daughters opened the floodgates of his memory.  It seemed an innocuous question, “Daddy, who are you?” As he reflected on his civilian career and successes, Bacque’s mind kept wandering back to his Army days and how they shaped his entire life—as military service has done for most of those who served.

In his case, he wrote a memoir, A Walk in the Park: A Vietnam Comedy (CreateSpace, 200 pp., $14.95, paper; $3.49 Kindle). The book gives an honest look at a side of the Army Special Forces in the Vietnam War that most never saw or even knew existed.

Bacque, a native of Louisiana—or more properly, a Cajan—entertains the reader with bits of humor as he recounts his time as a soldier and the innocent beliefs in the system that led him naively into Infantry OCS, jump school, the Green Berets, and a tour of duty with the 5th Special Forces Group in Vietnam. As Bacque walks the reader through his year in Vietnam, he realizes he could not have had an easier or more choice job.

It turns out that not all Green Berets were “snake eaters.” Bacque reveals another side, replete with administrative chores and payouts that seemed to have become a major part of Special Forces by 1969 when he was in country. Reading this book, we realize that the Green Berets had REMFs. And, as it turns out, lucrative post clubs featuring a variety of entertainment and “palace guards.”

Bacque gives a very honest assessment of his own role as a lieutenant in the Special Forces, a non-combatant who spent his year doling out funds to the A Teams assigned to his B Team area. As he progresses through the year, Bacque sees more and more things he doesn’t quite understand or believe were right. He becomes increasingly disenchanted as he is forced to administer payouts with no accountability to the mercenaries operating with the SF teams. However, like most of us, he soldiers on, focusing on how much time he has left in his tour of duty.

Bacque is brutally honest in shining light on the U.S. government’s lack of oversight into operations such as those he was involved in—as well as the corruption caused by throwing millions of dollars into black holes with little or no expectations of a return. It is refreshing to find a man willing to admit that his time in Vietnam with the Special Forces was less-than heroic when so many exaggerate their wartime roles.

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Odon Bacque

This is a true book with a story that needed to be told. Bacque is honest with the reader and himself, as he shows that not all of those who served in the war were trigger pullers.  He did his job honorably. In the end, it is apparent that his life was shaped and his character molded by overcoming the obstacles he confronted in the military.

The book is an easy and entertaining read—especially for those have never seen Don Bacque’s side of the Vietnam War.

—Bud Alley

The Lice: Poems By W.S. Merwin

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W. S. Merwin is well known for his Vietnam War poems. He was was born in 1927 and has been awarded pretty much every possible prize given to a poet, including a Pulitzer prize, a National Book Award, and the Bobbitt Prize from the Library of Congress. He also served two terms as U.S. Poet Laureate.

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Merwin’s The Lice, the poet’s 1967 response to “the atrocities of the Vietnam War and the national unrest of the Civil Rights Movement.”  Or so a blurb on the back cover of the latest edition of the book (Copper Canyon, 96 pp., $15, paper) tells us.

The book’s most important poem, “When the War is Over,” is printed on the back cover, following the blurb, so that the dullest reader will not miss it.

When the war is over

We will be proud of course the air will be

Good for breathing at last

The water will have been improved the salmon

And the silence of heaven will migrate more perfectly

The dead will think the living are worth it we will know

Who we are

And we will all enlist again

Not all of us. I was asked to re-enlist. My response was unequivocal. Not me, Sarge.

W.S. Merwin, at 90, is alive and living on Maui in a nature conservancy of rare palm trees that he planted. The cover of this beautiful book is a Larry Burrows Vietnam War photo showing smoke rising from a cluster of thatched Vietnamese hooches, following bombing and resulting fire from napalm in Viet Cong territory (a so-called free fire zone).

31iv0jleqbl-_ux250_“The Asians Dying” and “For the Anniversary of My Death” both seriously hit home.  “The Asians Dying,” for reasons I don’t feel like explaining, and “For the Anniversary of My Death” because my doctors told me that 2017 I’d have been dead for at least five years due to the effects bone cancer caused by being exposed to Agent Orange. I don’t plan to live as long as W. S. Merwin, but one never knows.

As Merwin warns us in his poem “For a Coming Extinction,” “One must always pretend something among the dying.”  We can’t deny the obvious; we are all both the dying and among the dying.

This is the most beautiful book of Vietnam War poetry published in 1967—and again in 2017.  Buy it and read it.

—David Willson

The Good Governor by Mathew Walsh

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Among the tens of thousands of refugees who needed resettling after the fall of the Saigon government on April 30, 1975, were the members of the Tai Dam people, also known as “Black Tai” because of the color of their clothing. Originally from northwestern (North) Vietnam and Laos, the Black Tai had their own language and system of writing.

During the French War the majority of Tai Dam sided with the Viet Minh, though some fought with the French against the insurgents. When the French were defeated at Dien Bien Phu the Tai Dam who fought with the French fled to Laos. By the mid-1950s most had secured work as domestics, bureaucrats, and soldiers. In April 1975, Tai Dam and other ethnic groups who had worked with the French or Americans feared for their safety and streamed into Thailand looking for sanctuary.

A campaign to bring them to this country began in the summer of 1975; letters were written to thirty U.S. governors seeking help. Only Iowa’s Republican Gov. Robert D. Ray agreed to resettle the Tai Dam in his state. Today more Tai Dam live in Iowa than anywhere outside of Asia. AThere have been expected (and unexpected) adjustment problems on all sides.

Matthew R. Walsh’s The Good Governor: Robert Ray and the Indochinese Refugees of Iowa (McFarland, 244 pp., $35, paper; $9.99, Kindle) includes interviews with dozens of refugees and resettlement officials who paint a picture of struggle and resistance, but also of hope and promise.

Ray was alone in his compassion among sitting governors in his efforts to welcome a group whose 12th century lifestyle was bound to conflict with 20th century America. He was determined to build a workable program that would integrate the two cultures in a way that preserved both without diminishing either.

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Tai Dam women

Ray also was involved with Cambodian refugees after he and a delegation of governors visited Tai Dam and Cambodian refugee camps in Thailand in 1979.  While there he watched as men, women, and children died for lack of food and medicine.

Working with Iowa SHARES—a program that brings people together in response to humanitarian needs without respect to ideology, ethnicity, faith traditions, or other ism’s and ology’s—the needs of Cambodian refugees were also met.

As we have witnessed over the generations, our rich national fabric is strengthened and enriched by the frequent incorporation of those fleeing oppression and hate and those looking for better opportunities for their families. Now, nearly 50 years later, the Tai Dam of Iowa are no different thanks to a caring army of volunteers aided by government and non-governmental agencies moved to action by Robert D. Ray, a United States Army veteran who served as Iowa’s Governor from 1969-83.

That is the uplifting story told in his worthy book.

—Jim Doyle