Flapjacks and Fish Sauce by Jim Barker

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Jim Barker’s Flapjacks and Fish Sauce: Asymmetrical Vietnam Humor (115 pp., $12.95, paper) is a compilation of stories from veterans who served in Vietnam during the war. In his introduction, Barker (at left in the photo) says of war: “Like a Texas tornado, conditions can be quickly brewed up that make ‘saints of sinners,’ and occasionally vice-versa. In this colosseum of intensity, the extraordinary, absurd, unusual  and comic find fertile ground.”

The stories Baker has compiled prove his point. Some are outright funny. Some are of a gallows humor that makes one cringe.

One story tells of a man who lost his rifle in a rice paddy. He “fished around” for it, and thought he found it, only to come up with a severed arm.

The less gory tales can be laugh-out-loud funny. There’s the one about a guy on guard duty who felt something tapping on his shoulder.  He thought it was his team leader trying to keep him awake. A little later his rear was firmly squeezed. He yelped and turned around to find he was being groped by an orangutan.

Jim Barker served in Vietnam in 1971-72 as an adviser and linguist with MACV in II Corps.

For ordering info, email the author at erodemango@yahoo.com

—Loana Holyman

The Lighter Side of Vietnam by Pat Capainolo

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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.

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A LARC  at South Beach, Cam Ranh Bay

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.

—Loana Hoylman

T.I.N.S* by Darrell Bain and Will Stafford

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Darrell Bain and Will Stafford are Vietnam War veterans who found each other on the Internet and became computer pen pals. Their years-long correspondence resulted in Bain narrating and publishing most of those exchanges in a book called T.I.N.S.* (CreateSpace, 290 pp., $11.99, paper). The book’s cover tells us that T.I.N.S. is an acronym for “This is no shit.” Humor is the basis for every story.

Or, as the subtitle says: “Hilarious stories by Vietnam vets, zany tales from the war, childhood craziness, and post-war foibles.” The difficulties of childhood and teenage development, along with mid-life aging, dominate the storytelling. This made me feel shortchanged as problems related to marriages, dogs and cats, professions, food and dieting, illnesses, and smoking dominated too much of the text.

At times, these exchanges resemble a game of can-you-top-this. They heighten the entertainment, but also create scenarios bordering on repetitive and mundane chores familiar to most people.

I wanted to hear more about the military careers of Stafford and Bain. Both men spent two tours in Vietnam. Stafford flew helicopter gunships and Chinooks. Bain served as an Army medic. Their few stories about the Vietnam War and military life in general lift the book to a higher level. These stories also are humorous, but deal with activities, events, and places far beyond ordinary life.

Regardless of the topic, Bain–the author of Medics Wild!— generally plays straight man to Stafford and makes him the star of the book. Both men display highly perfected senses of humor.

Bain extends a caveat: “This book contains the complete and unabridged books, Toppers and More Toppers,” both of which he wrote.

Bain’s website is darrellbain.com

—Henry Zeybel