Please Enjoy Your Happiness by Paul Brinkley-Rogers


In 1959 at age nineteen, U.S. Navy enlistee Paul Brinkley-Rogers fell in love with a thirty-one-year-old Japanese woman—Kaji Yukiko. Fifty-five years later, Brinkley-Rogers—who went on to become a Newsweek correspondent who covered the war in Vietnam and Cambodia for eight years—recreates that platonic relationship in Please Enjoy Your Happiness (Touchstone, 333 pp; $25.00 paper). In speaking across half a century, he tells Yukiko, “I never was awed as I was when I was close to you.” Practically every sentence in the book supports that declaration.

The relationship lasted for six months while his ship—the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Shangri-La—operated out of Yokosuka, Japan. Actually they spent only forty-five days together when “the ship was anchored in your harbor,” Brinkley-Rogers writes, but they communicated by letter while he was at sea. The book contains ten of Yukiko’s letters that focus on his future.

The two instantly bonded while she served as a geisha-like hostess at a bar called the White Rose. In their limited time together, she opened the doors of the arts to Rogers and provided him with guidance for a lifetime. Virtually every experience with Yukiko provided enlightenment for him.

Yukiko’s education extended deep into Eastern and Western music, poetry, and cinema. Raised in Manchuria, she fled to Japan following World War II to escape the Soviets. Amid the post-war chaos, a Yakuza gangster took her as a mistress. Her ultimate release from the gangster partially involved Brinkley-Rogers.

English by birth, he grew up under an estranged mother and domineering father. The family moved to the United States in his late teens. After high school, he joined the Navy to escape from home and find his identity.

As a leftist thinker and with a high regard for the downtrodden, the young Navy man easily developed an appreciation for all things Japanese. More than once, he berates America for bombing Japanese cities and civilians during World War II. Yukiko integrated him into a segment of Japanese society in a manner that nullified any stigma he had as an American sailor.

Many people, including a Japanese detective, found reasons for helping Brinkley-Rogers. They appeared to appreciate his exceptionally astute mind and positive nature. I strongly doubt that time might have distorted his memory of 1959 because, along with Yukiko’s letters, he frequently refers to photographs and notes from the past.

After the Shangri-La completed its deployment and returned to the United States, Brinkley-Rogers and Yukiko never met again.

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Paul Brinkley-Rogers

Reading Please Enjoy Your Happiness is a cerebral exercise. The writing .imbued me with nostalgia for my late teens and early twenties. The author cited almost-forgotten poems and words from songs to emphasize the lessons Yukiko taught him. In a subtly funny way, he describes his commander and the ship’s chaplain and their close-to-fanatical zealousness to control his thinking and actions.

Fundamentally, the book’s story line falls well outside the values of today’s young people, but the same observation applies to the time in which it took place. Which is what makes the book timeless and interesting.

Before retiring to Arizona, Paul Brinkley-Rogers spent much of his life in the Far East as a journalist. He shared a journalism Pulitzer Prize in 2001.

—Henry Zeybel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tin Can Treason by Terry Nardone

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Terry Nardone’s Tin Can Treason: Recollections from a Combat Tour of Vietnam (CreateSpace, 159 pp. $12.99, paper; $4.99, Kindle) is a tell-all memoir about life aboard a United States Navy destroyer and the dynamics of the relations between crewmen. Worried about the draft and an infantry assignment, Nardone enlisted in the Navy the day after his eighteenth birthday in 1971. Despite getting his dream sheet fulfilled, he ended up on a ship that went to war.

“Are we men or boys?” Nardone asks several times while thinking through his Vietnam War experience aboard the USS Bordelon (DD881). As part of his treatment for PTSD and guided by “a diary of events,” he writes about his shipboard life in the voice of his younger self in a quest to understand the trauma he still feels nearly fifty years later.

Fear and depression played significant roles in the lives of men on the Bordelon during her round trip from Charleston, South Carolina, to the South China Sea between October 1972 and April 1973. Nardone describes attempts to sabotage the ship as proof that the crew hated the war and wanted no part of it.

Off the coast of Vietnam, the Bordelon primarily provided gunfire support for ground forces and took part in Operation Linebacker. Except for one engagement when he went topside, Nardone spent his combat time below deck setting fuses and moving artillery shells.

His contempt for the war peaked when the Bordelon bombarded and “killed about eighteen [friendly] Marines,” he says. He felt an equally tragic loss when he saw a close friend “cut right in half by the steam” from a ruptured 600-PSI line. In combat, tasks that stressed the ship’s structure made “the old beast feel like she [was] going to disintegrate,” Nardone writes, and the crew twice retreated to Subic Bay for repairs.

Nardone talks about the boredom of sailing long distances and says a few crewmen likened it to a prison sentence. He seemingly holds back nothing in describing stops that developed into orgies of drinking booze, smoking dope, and finding whores or girlfriends in port after port. A confessed self-abuser, Nardone nevertheless questioned his behavior, wondering if he “would still have nightmares and problems if [he] did not get stoned.” Frequently in trouble with the ship’s captain, Nardone once spent three days in the brig on bread and water.

The book’s title is deceptive: “Treason” is not clearly defined and might be viewed from multiple perspectives. Suspected of the most flagrant crimes, the ship’s captain was relieved of his command, confined to quarters, and arrested upon returning to the United States.

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Terry Nardone

You could call this a coming-of-age story except that Nardone was a world-wise young man who exerted significant influence on his shipmates. He makes an airtight case for the strength of friendships and confidences that develop among workers in physically restricted surroundings, such as the hundred men on a destroyer.

Reviewing something like a memoir a week for “Books in Review II” for the past year and a half, I have read few accounts of the Vietnam War written by sailors. Until now, the most memorable book I’ve read about the Navy was Brown Water Runs Red by Bob Andretta, which mainly covers action on South Vietnamese rivers.

Tin Can Treason differs by telling more about people and the ship rather than the action. Yet Terry Nardone clearly spells out the impact that the war had on everyone and everything.

He closes his book with a history of the Bordelon from its 1945 commissioning to its 1977 sinking as a target.

—Henry Zeybel

Senator Pressler by Larry Pressler

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If it’s true that timing is everything, Senator Pressler: An Independent Mission to Save Our Democracy, by former South Dakota U.S. Sen. Larry Pressler (Fortis, 166 pp., $8.95, paper) is an example of perfect timing. This refreshing book has hit the market during a presidential election campaign in which the American public rates both major candidates low in trustworthiness.

Larry Pressler grew up on a farm in South Dakota. His family experienced poverty. His interest and love of politics grew out of his successful 4-H work. In 1964, after getting his degree from the University of South Dakota—where he was student body president and Phi Beta Kappa—he was awarded a two-year Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University in England.

In England, Pressler remembered words his father had told him: “If you decide not to go to Vietnam, it will mean that someone poorer and less able than you will have to go in your place. And knowing you, that will trouble your conscience for the rest of your life. So you might as well just go and do it.”

Larry Pressler decided to forfeit his deferment and joined the Army. He served two tours of duty in the Vietnam War from 1966-68. That included providing security along Highway 44 on the outskirts of Can Tho in the Mekong Delta. With enemy snipers all around, Pressler says that he and his men often felt like sitting ducks.

 

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Lt. Pressler in Vietnam 

In 1967 Pressler contracted hepatitis and was sent to a convalescent center in South Vietnam where he experienced frightening nightmares based on what he had seen earlier in his tour. Although he received the Bronze Star and other medals during his two tours in Vietnam, Pressler turned down a Purple Heart. Eventually, he was turned off by the entire war.

Larry Pressler’s political life took off when he ran for Congress in 1974 as a Republican and won by 15,000 votes, unseating an incumbent Democrat. After two terms in the House, he was elected to the Senate in 1978, becoming the first Vietnam War veteran to serve in that august body where her served three six-year terms.

In 1979, Pressler ran for President in the Republican primaries on a platform emphasizing improving conditions for Vietnam veterans. He needed funds, and an opportunity to acquire money soon appeared. True to his character, he turned down what he believed was an illegal campaign contribution. It was—and it also was an FBI sting that became known as the Abscam scandal. The senator was very surprised when he was praised as a hero for doing the right thing.

Sen. Pressler was a favorite of Ronald Reagan. I found it interesting that they often discussed how Pressler’s father was doing with his Alzheimer’s disease. Perhaps the strongest of Pressler’s attributes was his sincerity in dealing with the problems of people regardless of their political affiliations. That included working to improve the lives of Native Americans in his home state.

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Sen. Pressler

Pressler lost his Senate seat in the 1996 election, but decided to try a comeback by running as an independent in the 2014 South Dakota Senate race. The challenges he faced in that endeavor bring the reader a much clearer understanding of what has been going on in the highly partisan atmosphere of congressional politics today. Pressler makes a convincing case for the need for more independent candidates.

I recommend this book to those who want to make sense out this election year. A special recommendation goes to those whose favorite line is, “It’s just politics.”  With more involvement by people with the integrity of Sen. Pressler we might learn we don’t have to just muddle through.

The Senator says that taking the high road of politics has set him free. He closes with a quote from Isaiah 25 made famous by the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Free at last, Free at last! Great God Almighty, Free at last.”

Sen. Larry Pressler shows us how to change a nightmare into a dream.

The author’s website is senatorlarrypressler.com

–Joseph Reitz

 

 

Born on the Fourth of July by Ron Kovic

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Former Marine Ron Kovic was arguably the nation’s most famous Vietnam veteran from the mid-seventies through the late eighties on the strength of his 1976 primal scream of a memoir, Born on the Fourth of July, which came out in 1976, and the Oliver Stone movie of the same name, which hit the multiplexes in 1989 (with Tom Cruise playing Kovic).

The book, which became a big bestseller, was reissued in July—the 40th anniversary of its publication—by Akashic Books (224 pp., $26.95, hardcover; $15.95, paper), with a new, brief introduction by Bruce Springsteen. The big rock star became a strong supporter of Vietnam War veterans after meeting Kovic in 1978. Springsteen writes that after reading the book, he ran into Kovic in Los Angeles. The two men hit it off and Kovic took him to the Venice Vet Center to meet a group of other Vietnam veterans.

“It was unforgettable and sparked my interest in veterans’ affairs,” Springsteen writes, which “led to our concert in support of Vietnam veterans” in 1981 in L.A. Springsteen gave $100,000 of the proceeds of that memorable concert to a young, fledgling Vietnam War veterans organization–Vietnam Veterans of America—a staggering sum that helped rescue VVA from the precipice of financial ruin.

Born on the Fourth of July is a short book that chronicles Kovic’s life beginning with his All-American fifties upbringing on Long Island, through his time as a gung-ho Marine who volunteered for a second tour in Vietnam, and into his life battling the VA and becoming an antiwar activist after he was severely wounded and paralyzed from the chest down. It’s a very moving book, told in bitter and emotional bursts.

Look for our review of Kovic’s second memoir, Hurricane Street, in the “Books in Review” column in the upcoming September/October print edition of The VVA Veteran.

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Ron Kovic

—Marc Leepson

A Year in Hell by Ray Pezzoli, Jr.

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Ray Pezzoli, Jr., the author of A Year in Hell: A Memoir of an Army Foot Soldier Turned Reporter in Vietnam:  1965-1966 (McFarland, 263 pp., $19.99, paper), spent his time as a reporter trying, he tells us, to take “the Great Vietnamese War Photo” with the wrong camera and the wrong film—and with no training as a photographer. He also spent that time participating in as many 1st Infantry Division combat activities as he could.

The title tells us how Pezzoli–who died in 2014—served in Vietnam and when. In his Preface he defends President George W. Bush’s National Guard service, and when Pezzoli uses the word “liberal,” he uses it with disdain.

“Contrary to popular thought, America won,” he writes in his memoir, which was published originally in 2006, “losing only one half of one percent of their soldiers, stimulating the demise of communism throughout the world and devising the best Army in the world through its expertise there.” He refers to Vietnamese prostitutes as “strumpets” and labels the way he held his cigarettes in photos from that time as “fruity.” He was smoking up to four packs a day.

Aside from “strumpets” and “fruity,” Pezzoli uses plenty of references found in most American Vietnam War memoirs: John Wayne, body counts, “Oriental” rather than “Asian,” Good Morning, Vietnam, Jane Fonda,  Bob Hope, cowboys and Indians, friendly fire, antiwar protesters, being short, C-rats. And how the media never showed Americans all the good things the infantry did in Vietnam such as feeding orphans.

Pezzoli blames Oliver Stone and his films for giving the general public the notion that the troops in Vietnam talked dirty. He says that he only heard “foul language” in Vietnam once.

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The author

He offers old rants about Jane Fonda, but his are even more anachronistic than most. Her antiwar activism, including the visit to Hanoi, took place in the early seventies. But somehow Pezzoli channels her into his mid-sixties tour of duty when she was a sexpot alien in the movie Barbarella and a popular pin-up in Vietnam.

Pezzoli calls into question his invented quotations and conversations with his characters when he quotes a Maj. Weeks as saying in 1966: “Brigade was afraid Jane Fonda would complain if we don’t warn the enemy that we’re going to pay him a visit.” At no time was Jane Fonda running the Vietnam War, especially not then.

So what is Pezzoli’s intent? Is his book factual? Or is it a fantasy narrative of his faulty memories of the war? My conclusion is that his narrative is not to be trusted.

When he has a beautifully described incident of friendly fire, can I trust that?  And his countless visits to whorehouses, and all his scenes of religious worship?  And his story of his buddy dying in his poncho and bleeding out in it so that Pezzoli becomes soaked in the blood and suffers from hypothermia? What is truth? What is fiction?

I could go on, but I’ve given the prospective reader plenty to allow an intelligent decision about this detailed but sketchy book.

—David Willson

Eyes over the Delta by Hank Collins

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Hank Collins piloted Army fixed-wing O-1 Birddog aircraft in Vietnam during 1965-66, a period he calls “the defining year of my life.” He served as an adviser to an ARVN division.

In Eyes Over the Delta (Outskirts Press, 72 pp.; $19.95, hardcover), Collins records “historical fiction” from that era by combining real people and events with composite people and events. Assigned to the 221st Reconnaissance Airplane Company, he worked the area from Can Tho City south to the sea.

A 2007 reunion with men from the 221st motivated Collins to write and publish this short, thinly veiled memoir. In five vignettes that span a year, Collins describes combat flying, Vietnamese justice, war orphans, spontaneous friendship, and the power of prayer.

The stories deliver lessons in introspection with an undercurrent of goodness among people who practice Catholicism. Two stories that focus on flying are the highlights of the book.

Collins includes photographs and copies of letters in the book.

—Henry Zeybel

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The author in Vietnam

The Long Goodbye by Michael Archer

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The Long Goodbye: Khe Sanh Revisited (Hellgate Press, 367 pp., $21.95, paper; $9.99, Kindle) is an exceptional book on many counts. It is very well researched and generously documented. As it is largely autobiographical, the book conveys to the reader a significant you-are-there quality. Plus, there is an element of mystery to this story, which covers more than four decades

Author Michael Archer includes the de rigueur critique of the tactics used in the Vietnam War by rifle units during his phase of the war. But the central theme of the book is the philosophical issue of battlefield casualty recovery and to what extent it should be pursued. It is an unwritten policy in the U. S. military that every effort should be made to recover combat casualties from the battlefield. This policy is designed to promote comradery, morale, and mutual loyalty.

I believe the most important contribution this book makes to military literature is the standard it sets for loyalty and caring among fighting men and women embodied in the statement: “No soldier will be left behind” on the battlefield.

The author narrates a poignant story about his close friend Tom Mahoney, his close friend from high school. Archer and Mahoney joined the Marine Corps together. Both went to Vietnam where they faced combat and death. It is this experience that helped them develop maturity, responsibility and loyalty that lasts throughout their lives.

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Mike Archer

 

Mahoney was killed at Khe Sanh in 1968. Despite their best efforts, his fellow Marines were unable to recover his body. What followed was a long, earnestly pursued effort to bring him home. It involves many Marines, both those who made a career out of their military service and those who left active duty after the war.

Archer, in loving detail, tells of his and others’ efforts to recover the body of their deceased comrade. No one involved in this recovery task is left unaffected. These efforts include personal attempts at recovery as well as official government recovery attempts in which they participated.

Altogether these efforts have lasted more than forty-five years.

The author’s website is http://www.michaelarcher.net

—A. Robert Lamb