When We Wore the Uniform edited by Barry Hugh Yeakle

 

10917801_370410826493601_5675899735985768310_oFor years, a bunch of former Marines calling themselves the Leatherneck Coffee Club sat down together in Northern Indiana, drank coffee, and swapped stories about their active duty days. One guy kept insisting on putting the stories together in a book and sharing them with the rest of the world. Another guy asked around and got help from writing professionals. That led to finding support from the Indiana Humanities and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

That effort created a printed book rather than one written in crayon, according to Barry Hugh Yeakle who edited When We Wore the Uniform: The Collected Stories of the Leatherneck Coffee Club (Leatherneck Coffee Club of Northern Indiana, 188 pp.). The book spans the years 1950-2001.  Marines of different ages, ranks, and specialties talk about their experiences in training, in garrison, at sea, and overseas. A a few reflect on it all.

The book contains about a hundred stories. Barry Yeakle, Monte Hoover, John Purcell, Ron Stefanko, Sr., and Carl Johnson III contribute multiple times.

The storytellers are veterans with a strong sense of pride in the Marine Corps, but who also find humor in its flaws. Their ambivalent feelings about first sergeants provide images that nicely fill the traditional mold. And beating-the-system stands out as a favorite endeavor. The section titled “It Happened Overseas” contains stories about the Vietnam War.

The accounts of combat are recollected with little embellishment. Facts pertaining to life-or-death situations are told indirectly. For example, the casualty rate is described as follows: “Attrition was so bad that you might be a rifleman one day, the fire team leader the next, and a squus_marine_corps_mugad leader by the end of the week.”

“We were dehydrated, hungry, exhausted and furious at the enemy” summarizes a day that ended with a unit lost and outnumbered. The straightforward and unpretentious style of the former Marines makes it easy to find commonality with them.

Books like this are enlightening because a reader is privy to a what amounts to a bitch session in which participants are no longer under anyone’s jurisdiction. No holds are barred. Yet reflections made during the years since the events occurred temper complaints and things past are seen more accurately.

The book’s gem of a glossary of “naval lingo” provided a few definitions that made me laugh out loud.  The highly distinctive art style of Claudia Viscarra illustrates many of the stories.

—Henry Zeybel

The Box by Lynne Lorine Ludwick

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The Box: A Memoir (Lockwood and Ludwick, 182 pp., $10, paper) by Lynne Lorine Ludwick is a tribute to the author’s uncle who was killed in action in Vietnam in 1968. Ludwick looked up to her “Uncle Eddy” Schultz, who was three years younger, as a friend, playmate, and schoolmate. He was “more like a brother,” she writes. She idolized him as “the good cowboy. The one who saves the day.”

Along with recalling happy memories of growing up with Eddy in California, Ludwick also describes the life of an unidentified Vietnamese man born at the same time as her uncle. The difference in the two men’s lives from birth until their confrontation on a battlefield were as opposite as peace and war. Eddy Schultz grew up in idyllic farming surroundings. His counterpart endured the turmoil leading to Vietnam freeing itself from French colonial control. At the age of fourteen, he joined the Viet Cong.

Ludwick’s writing about the Vietnam War, particularly antiwar protests, is different than anything I have read on the topic. Her prose reflects undercurrents of innocence, wonderment, anger, compassion, subdued outrage, sorrow, puzzlement, and revelation. At times, her mood takes command of the story, which makes the book both refreshing and enjoyable.

In describing combat action, she relies heavily on recollections of men who served with Eddy and saw him die. She met them at his unit’s reunions. She quotes from letters Eddy wrote to his parents, which do not speak of combat.

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Lynne Lorine Ludwick

Eddy Schultz’s story is sadly familiar. Drafted into the Army in August, he completed basic and infantry AIT arrived in Vietnam in January 1968. Assigned to Dau Tieng, he served as an RTO on search and destroy operations. In response to the 1968 Tet Offensive, his battalion operated at an accelerated pace. The unit engaged in a six-day battle at Tan Hoa in mid-February, and soon after was ambushed at Hoc Mon where Eddy was killed.

The “box” of the title contained a gift indirectly sent to Ludwick from a Viet Cong soldier who had fought in the battle for Hoc Mon—more than forty years earlier. The gift prompted Ludwick to write the book.

—Henry Zeybel

Fighting the Cold War by John R. Galvin

 

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Gen. Galvin’s highly interesting and informative autobiography, Fighting the Cold War: A Soldier’s Memoir (University Press of Kentucky, 517 pp., $39.95), easily could have been titled Winning the Cold War. While serving as Supreme Allied Commander in Europe from 1987-1992, Gen. Galvin proved himself to be a master of high-stakes diplomacy with the Soviet Union’s leaders as they were coming to terms with the breakup of the Warsaw Pact, as well as the Soviet Union itself.

The book’s Foreword by retired Army Gen. David H. Petraeus describes the high regard and respect that he and other military professionals and statesmen had for Gen. Galvin and his 40-plus years of service to his country. The son of an Irish bricklayer from a small town outside Boston, Jack Galvin—who died last September—loved working with a plasterer’s trowel alongside his father. One day, much to his dismay, his father forbid him to touch those tools, insisting that Jack attend college.

So he enrolled in college, but soon dropped out to become an artist and laborer. To avoid the draft in 1948, Galvin joined the Massachusetts National Guard and trained as a medic. He was selected for U.S Military Academy, and accepted the challenge, graduating in 1954. What followed were diverse assignments that preceded his service in Vietnam: Ranger training; leading a platoon  in Puerto Rico; serving with the U. S. Army Mission in Colombia, at Fort Campbell with the 101st Airborne Div., and at Fort Knox Armor School; and as an English instructor at West Point. While working on a Ph. D. in English, Galvin opted to forgo that goal to attend Command and Staff College at Leavenworth prior to leaving for Vietnam.

Gen. Galvin’s first of two of tours in the Vietnam War was from 1966-67. He was a major initially assigned to the 1st Brigade, 1st Infantry Div. at Phuoc Vinh as operations officer. Less than two months later, he was replaced because he and the Brigade CO were “not a good combination.” He was transferred to U.S. Army Headquarters in Saigon as a logistics officer.

What could have been a setback to Galvin’s promising military career soon turned around. After much persistence and arm twisting, Galvin wrangled an assignment at the 1st Cavalry Div. headquarters at An Khe, where he worked in the G-3 shop, Division Operations.

His next assignment was at the Pentagon, as the Military Assistant to the  Secretary of the Army. This is where Galvin really came into his own and proved that he had the right stuff to become a general. In 1969, Lt. Col. Galvin started his second tour in Vietnam, again with the 1st Cav. He went on to command the 1st Bn., 8th Cavalry, 1st Brigade  near the Cambodian Border.

From there, Galvin was given increasingly more challenging assignments. He was the commanding general of the 24th Infantry Div. at Ft. Stewart, Georgia. Then he was given command of the VII Corps in Germany, the largest unit in the U. S. Army at the time. He achieved his fourth star and was assigned to Southern Command in the Panama Canal Zone from 1985-87.

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Gen. Galvin when he commanded U.S. and NATO forces in Europe (Galvin family photo)

The zenith of Gen. Galvin’s career came with his appointment as Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, from 1987-92. He saw the Warsaw Pact dissolve, the Berlin Wall come down, and the Soviet Union’s sphere of domination begin to fragment. Gen. Galvin was the head of NATO, dealing with Mikhail Gorbachev and his high-ranking Russian generals, determined to facilitate that historical transformation without a war breaking out. He was the right general in the right place at the right time.

Upon his retirement, Gen. Galvin became dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He wrote three other books: The Minute Men: The First Fight; Air Assault: The Development of Airmobile Warfare; and Three Men of Boston: Leadership and Conflict at the Start of the American Revolution.

Those who knew Gen. Galvin have described him as a teacher, scholar, diplomat, statesman, and  warrior. He has even been called a true Cold War hero. President George H. W. Bush said: “General Gavin is one of the greatest soldiers this country has ever had.” This reviewer is in total agreement.

—James P. Coan

 

 

PTSD and Me by Richard M. Czop

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One fact about war is that many survivors are forever wounded. Evidence is all around us. Wounds are visible on the ribbons veterans wear on their uniforms. Missing limbs and scars are proof of the horrors of war. But some of the most grievous wounds are not visible to the eye, and many who do not bear physical scars are still terribly wounded.

Earlier wars gave rise to the terms shell shock, battle fatigue and soldier’s heart. It wasn’t until 1980 that the American Psychological Association officially adopted the term post-traumatic stress disorder–a mental health condition triggered by going through or witnessing terrifying events.  In  PTSD and Me (Schuler Books, 209 pp., $16.95, paper; $9.99, Kindle) Dr. Richard Czop relates events that highlight his personal journey with PTSD. The book is also an indictment of the inadequate psychological treatment and understanding that was available to Vietnam veterans in the 1960s and 1970s.

As a young, patriotic American, the author was a college student with many high school buddies serving in the military. After learning of his friend’s second wounding in Vietnam Czop decided to join up. He quit school and volunteered for the draft.

After Basic Training at Fort Knox, Czop was assigned to the Army Medical Training Center at Fort Sam Houston. While there he received word that his friend had been wounded a third time, leaving him paralyzed. In the ensuing months Richard Czop was able to spend a fair amount of time with his friend. While on the surface this contact may have seemed like a good thing, in truth it dragged Czop deeper and deeper into the abyss of guilt.

In his angst, and perhaps feelings of guilt, Czop took steps that eventually led to his assignment as a medic in Vietnam with the 9th Infantry Division. Life in combat further exposed him to the fertile ground from which the seeds of PTSD grow. The book in vivid detail identifies the events—including the author’s own wounding—that led to his decades-long battle with PTSD.

Upon his return to the United States Richard Czop  graduated from college and medical school.  He was divorced twice and married three times, further evidence of the personal difficulty that exists when dealing with untreated PTSD. He also raised a family and had some problems raising his children.

Dr. Czop set up his own family medical practice and appeared to have a semblance of normalcy. But the normalcy was shallow and short lived. After hearing a speech by U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, Czop had what could only be called a PTSD attack. This event might not be medically described as such, but to this reviewer it influenced the progress of Czop’s PTSD.

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Dr. Czop

A series of political events surfaced Czop’s long-buried hostility toward the U. S. government. That culminated with a questionable government lawsuit, and made Czop realize that he had PTSD. The lawsuit bought Czop into contact with a lawyer who became a stabilizing voice in his life and greatly helped him come out of the darkness of PTSD.

Others helped, too, each one contributing something different. This validates the idea that there is no single pattern for PTSD.  Individuals manifest unique reactions to those around them. Triggering mechanisms include flashbacks, nightmares, and anxiety.

Czop’s book, I believe, would be valuable for those who have PTSD, for the PTSD sufferer’s friends and loved ones, and—perhaps most importantly—for those who help treat those who have  PTSD because of their service to their country.

—A.R. Lamb

 

 

 

Dragonfly Edited by Frederick D. Long

 

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Reading Dragonfly: The Smallest Fighter… The Fastest Gun… A-37s Over Vietnam (A-37 Association, 311 pp.; $29.95, hardcover; $19.95, paper) is like sorting a stack of lottery tickets and finding every one is a winner. Dragonfly presents a collection of attention-grabbing history lessons. I initially opened the book, edited by Frederick D. Long and Lon Holtz, to a story titled “Sir, I’m on Fire,” and was amazed by how in the heat of the moment (pun intended) pilots perform illogical actions and survive whole. It only got better from there.

The book is packed with first-hand accounts of Dragonfly pilots’ combat missions in Vietnam from 1967-72. Some other chapter titles are “I’ll Never Do That Again,” “Hanging By A Thread,” and “How to Kill a Water Buffalo.”

Arranged chronologically, the flying events parallel the course of the war. Pilots talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly. They recall dangerous and heroic deeds; they explain the utterly stupid ones. Honesty prevails.

The nine-by-eleven-inch book is a work of love and art. Its large format includes hundreds of photographs, maps, and illustrations. The A-37 Association published Dragonfly in 2014, with a second edition in 2015.

Editor Fred Long’s Introduction records the transformation of the T-37 from a trainer into an attack aircraft.  He also explains the development and deployment of other A-37 squadrons, starting with the 604th Air Commando Squadron up to the time when the USAF turned the fleet over to the South Vietnamese Air Force.

“The A-37 was called on to take out missile sites, artillery and supply sites, bunkers, trucks, sampans, buildings and support ground troops while under attack,” Long says. “They flew day and night, dropped napalm, bombs, fired rockets and the minigun under every conceivable condition. They went on FAC missions, dodged antiaircraft fire, and performed escort operations. A successful mission was the rule, not the exception.”

Associate Editor Lon Holtz, the President of the A-37 Association, adds historical perspective with “Prologue 1945-1966: The Beginning of an Unpopular War.” Holtz flew the Dragonfly in Vietnam during his 1968-69 tour of duty.

The editors included a section that honors thirteen Dragonfly pilots killed during the war. Appendices include a Vietnam War Photo Album, Dragonfly Combat Pilot Roster, and Glossary, along with an extensive Bibliography and Index.

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Books of this type are important because they fill voids in military history. Combat is a highly personalized and relatively spectatorless endeavor. Rarely are people standing around to watch and report it. Mainly, the people that see it are those engaged in it. Consequently, John Q. Public relies on guys from the arena to tell it like it was. This book performs that duty through the voices of a specialized group of warriors.

The same logic applies to any war memoir. I made four trips to Southeast Asia in four different jobs and thought I knew a lot. But since August of 2014, I have read and reviewed nearly seventy Vietnam War memoirs and each one has taught me something new about that conflict.

For more info, go to www.a-37.org/news/news_page.html

—Henry Zeybel

 

Proud to Be edited by Susan Swartwout

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I wish I was a little bird

So I could fly away;

I’d go to all the far off places

Where my daddy has to stay.

—Ashley Williams

The “far off places” in this anthology are battlefields from Sharpsburg, Maryland, to Kanduhar, Afghanistan, and many American wars in between. Stories and photographs from veterans are collected in the fourth volume of Proud To Be: Writing by American Warriors (Missouri Humanities Council/Southeast Missouri State University Press, 270  pp., $15, paper) edited by Susan Swartwout, who worked on the previous three volumes.

Swarthout selected the short fiction, poetry, interviews, essays, and photography with the help of a six-person panel of judges. “The War Within” is the only screenplay in the volume. It succinctly and cleverly presents a cast of character in two versions, one a proud Marine and one dealing with PTSD.

PTSD is also covered in an essay by David Chrisinger, who teaches veteran re-integration at the University of Wisconsin. This well-researched essay centers on Marine Brett Foley’s service in Afghanistan, where he witnessed an IED explosion that killed two and wounded several others.

Dealing with the horror two years later, Foley said: “At the end of the day, it all comes down to the fact that at times I wished desperately that I could simply erase parts of my memory so that I could just be normal again.” In addition to counseling and his wife’s support, “what helped Brett’s resilience was talking about his trauma and remembering the good men he served with.”

The essay, “Korea 1951–Marines Don’t Cry,” predates the study of PTSD and describes how trauma can be dealt with on the battlefield. To wit: “I slowly walked out into the woods. Alone, I couldn’t stop the tears. I reached into my holster and took out my .45. Self-pity turned into anger. I lifted the gun, holding it in both hands and aimed at the sky. I shot it over and over. A couple Marines came running out yelling, ‘What’s going on?’ I pulled my cap down over my eyes so they couldn’t see the tears, turned to them and said, ‘Just practicing.'”

The irony of war could almost be the theme of this compilation. One account describes an action in Sicily during World War II in which German soldiers captured a group of American medics despite the fact that red crosses were on their helmets. They were imprisoned because the Germans had heard a rumor that American generals hid howitzers in ambulances.

“Best Revenge” is a stunning piece of short fiction in which a Marine corporal and a staff sergeant meet during the corporal’s last days in Vietnam. The surprise ending made this standout my favorite.

Another must-read is the essay “My Vietnam Nightmare” written by a former Navy Corpsman. He writes: “Terrified, I think this could very likely be the last day of my life. This suicidal waltz is known as ‘doing your duty.'”

The final section of Proud To Be is devoted to poetry. I recommend taking quiet time to read these poems, especially the well-crafted “Dead Man’s Cap” and “The Flight of the Liberty Belle.”

I would be remiss not to mention the photography category. “Remembering Home” and “Iraqi Boy Sitting” are two I particularly enjoyed.

Finally, here is the poem “Proctors” by Kanesha Washington:

You signed your names on the front lines of war

Susan Swartwout

Susan Swartwout

You packed your duffle bags with manhood
Many only teenagers yet you knew what you were fighting for.
while putting away your adolescence
You left behind family, children and even friends
to become a protector of our nation
Adorned in a uniform of freedom and pride
you marched with bravery on the battlefield of uncertainty
By land, ship, or sea
you proudly and selflessly carried out your duty
You are the stars represented on our flag
America salutes you

for your future, present and especially your past

—Curt Nelson

Stumbling Toward Enlightenment by Polly B. Davis

 

 

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Polly Brown married Tom Davis the day after he finished Army OCS in 1969. For Polly, “marrying a soldier seemed surreal.” She did not hold the profession in high regard, but was “committed to her beau” and had “made up her mind to follow him wherever he chose to go.”

After a three-day honeymoon, Tom began parachute training. Almost instantly, Polly looked into “the soul of the military machine” and saw that “the mission came first, before family, before anything.” She asked herself, “What? Me, second?” but tagged along while Tom finished jump school and then Special Forces training.

Believing husbands and wives should share everything, Polly made two parachute jumps—the first frightening, the second enlightening, and the final one because she had nothing more to prove. With Tom’s encouragement, she became a high school sociology teacher and embarked on a life of her own, which she describes in Stumbling Toward Enlightenment: A Wife’s Thirty-year Journey with Her Green Beret (Old Mountain Press, 209 pp., $15, paper; $6.99, Kindle)

They had been married slightly over a year when Tom went to Vietnam. While he was overseas, Polly earned a master’s degree at the University of Georgia.

Initially, Polly talks mostly about raising their children, Thomas IV and Pollyanna, moving from post to post, curing illnesses, raising dogs and cats, and keeping house while Tom pursued adventures around the world. During a three-year tour in Germany, for example, she writes of picturesque travels across Europe.

Back in the States, Polly developed an ever-increasing independence as a college English teacher and department head. She received a PhD from North Carolina State University. Volunteering for profit and non-profit companies earned her jobs at high-levels, which brought greater authority and recognition. At one time, Polly simultaneously chaired Networth, the North Carolina Community College English Association, and her local Kiwanis.

What’s more, throughout her career, she battled—and repeatedly neutralized—multiple sclerosis.

Polly examines topics beyond travels and her teaching and leadership skills. Her strongest message concerns the difficulty of being a military wife with children and her relationship with her husband.

When I entered the Air Force in the mid-1950s, young men with family problems often were told: “If the military wanted you to have a family, they would have issued you one.” This attitude still prevailed throughout Polly Davis’ life from 1969 to 2000.

Tom Davis wrote a memoir about his career, The Most Fun I Ever Had with My Clothes On:  A March from Private to Colonel. In reviewing his book, I wrote: “I greatly admire Davis because he frequently used his leadership position to challenge authority, mainly to question his superiors.” I feel equal admiration for Polly’s willingness to step on toes when necessary.

Tom attended every school available to him: Special Forces, Mountaineering, SCUBA, Infantry Officer Advanced Course, Ranger, HALO, and Command and General Staff College. He served in England, Germany, Denmark, France, Korea, Zaire, Turkey, Tunisia, Italy, Iraq, and Bosnia. These assignments required him to be away from home for prolonged periods, leaving Polly entirely burdened with their family problems.

Separations from husbands became a way of life for Polly and other Army wives. When the men returned, she says, “What should have been relaxed, joyful homecomings often ended up as several tense days of adjustment.

“Reunions weren’t easy. A pretty standard habit, we wives agreed, was for our men to arrive after a long or even a short deployment and immediately take over. Or make an attempt.” The men immediately sought “to repair what they considered damage done in their absence, whether it was disciplining the children or the dogs or balancing the checkbook.

“First they would question our latest purchase, even groceries, then the reason for the purchase, then criticize it. The unfounded guilt that arose from their misplaced criticism confounded me.” In the best of times, marriage was one great compromise, reached mainly by wives surrendering.

Difficulties were compounded by the fact that, as Polly says, “We wives considered those long periods as sole parents tedious and difficult.”

In the seventies, “military wives were incidental, part of the casualties of the War,” Polly says, arguing that nobody recognized the possibility of PTSD. “We wives were nothing but confused, guiltily wondering what we’d done wrong,” she says.

Soldiers grew introverted and found solace among their peers rather than within their marriages. “Sometimes I felt like I’d lost [Tom] to Ron and those guys on the team.” The needs of Tom’s men—even the most impractical demands—took precedence over the needs of his family, she says, and she did as told because she thought it was the norm.

Yet when husbands deployed, they expected wives to manage everything single-handedly.

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The family that paddles together… Tom and Polly Davis

As further evidence of men’s domination, Polly cites Tom’s accusations of her “lack of attention to detail” about small mishaps. His military mind sought the same degree of perfection from her that it expected from his men. He failed to realize that he was absent more often than not when family problems arose, and consequently he seldom provided timely solutions.

While in the Air Force, I was guilty of every complaint that Polly makes against military husbands. At that time, I crewed on Strategic Air Command bombers. Every other week we lived in a bunker next to our airplanes; perfection was the only acceptable performance of duty. Like me, many fellow crewmen applied military standards to family life. I left SAC after six years, and did a 180, but it was too late to make amends: My wife divorced me.

To overcome the “still dependent wife” syndrome, Polly encourages soldiers’ wives to build identities of their own. But she had limited success in altering their ingrained behavior. “I’d always found it difficult to perpetuate an outmoded tradition that squelched individual growth,” she writes.

Nevertheless, a growing concern among men that wives were “getting uppity” and a “batch of divorces in the battalion” provided her with a modicum of grim satisfaction. Otherwise, she felt that women were merely their husband’s shadows.

All husbands can benefit from reading Polly’s book, particularly men in highly stressful jobs and those who spend long periods away from home. It is important to understand that Polly is not a whiner. She talks about stumbling to enlightenment without belaboring situations that challenged her along the way. Her criticisms are factual and brief.

For example, describing a time when MS immobilized her for two months, she says: “Tom did the best he could. However, the tension was often so thick I could feel myself chocking. Tom couldn’t do it all.” Following her description of one confrontational dinner, she explains how the children formulated a solution for the conflict, and then  changes the subject.

Enlightenment has taught Polly Davis how to move ahead regardless of what gets in her way.

—Henry Zeybel