Forever Young Veterans by Diane Hight and K. Michael Ware

Forever Young Veterans: Stories of Sacrifice, Healing, & Hope (225 pp. Forever Young, Inc. ($23, hardcover; $15, paper; $9, Kindle) is a collection of 22 stories of men and women who served during World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars. They are written by a variety of people, most of them members of the Collierville Christian Writers Group in Tennessee.

Forever Young Veterans is a nonprofit organization helping veterans 65 and older by “returning them to the places where they fought, and bringing them the honor, healing, and hope they deserve.”

Three of the stories in the book come from Vietnam War veterans. Cecil Brunson completed 160 missions as a navigator in an F-4 fighter jet before being shot down near Hanoi in late 1972. He was captured and taken to the infamous Hoa Lo prison, the Hanoi Hilton. While there, he was beaten and placed in solitary confinement before being released with the other POWs in Hanoi in 1973.

Sonny Bradshaw enlisted in the Marines, arriving in Vietnam in August 1969. He was part of an artillery battalion assigned to build an LZ near Hue. Every two months his unit would move to another hill. On one occasion the base he was on came close to being overrun, resulting in hand-to-hand combat. Bradshaw battled the effects of PTSD for many years after returning home.

Skip Funk was a twenty-two-year-old Marine when he landed in Vietnam in September 1967. He was assigned to Khe Sanh with the job of writing casualty reports. He was there during the legendary 77-day siege in 1968.

One of the stories from World War II is about Charlie Henderson, a young African-American soldier from Mississippi. He made truck deliveries of supplies to Allied troops during the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium. For the rest of his life he remembered the great devastation of entire landscapes he saw during his time in Europe.

In a story from the Korean War we read about Betty Drewry Macyauski. From 1950-56 she worked for the U.S. Air Force’s Service Club providing cookies, donuts, and coffee to airmen. She served on bases in around the world nations, including a seven-month period in South Korea while the war “was still raging, and not far from her front door.”

The book includes a timeline of significant events for each war that will be helpful for many readers. I appreciated how these stories seemed to be told without exaggeration. That makes this a book I’m proud to recommend.

The book’s website is

–Bill McCloud

The Healing Box by Paul Reed

Paul Reed enlisted in the Army in 1966 at age 19. He was sent to South Vietnam in early 1968 as part of the 173rd Airborne Brigade. He spent most of his tour in the Kontum area. Upon returning to the States, Reed had a very difficult emotional adjustment, which ruined a couple of marriages and separated him from his son. His life changed when his mother gave him a box that had been in her attic for twenty years.

His memoir, The Healing Box: When Flowers Again Bloom in the Killing Fields (Trilogy Christian Publishing, 286 pp. $29.99, paper; $12.99, Kindle), opens with a road rage incident that emphasizes Reed’s anger management problems caused by PTSD. It then flashes back to him in Vietnam where Reed focuses on his involvement in a battle to take Hill 1064, a Hamburger Hill-type engagement.

Reed was a mortar man and showed no remorse in raining death on the heads of the enemy troops. The loss of friends fueled his hatred for what he saw as the sub-humans he was fighting against. During the fighting Reed and his comrades ran across a deserted NVA base camp where he found a backpack that contained a journal. He mailed the journal to his parents and it ended up in their attic. 

One day, during a low point in his life, his mother brought the box down from the attic and encouraged him to read the journal. Reed had it translated and was surprised to learn that the man who wrote it, Nguyen Van Nghia, was a human being much like himself. Poems (which are included in the book) that Nghia wrote to his wife touched Reed’s hardened heart. He attributes the rediscovery of the journal as a prodding from God to turn his life around, and he decided to return it so that he and his former enemy they could heal their emotional wounds together.

In the book, Reed alternates between first-person chapters about his experiences and chapters chronicling Nghia’s life. Both character’s life stories are interesting, but most readers will find Nghia’s more fascinating, partly because of Reed’s outside the box (pun intended) coverage of his former enemy.

I have read many Vietnam War memoirs. Reed’s story, sadly, is not unique. However, American readers don’t often encounter the lives of North Vietnamese soldiers. Their stories’ parallel arcs come together nicely in the second half of the book as the men meet.

Although Reed has a theme of God touching his life through his relationship with Nghia, he is not trying to convert readers. The book likely will open readers’ eyes to the fact that NVA soldiers like Nghia were not unlike most American troops.

Nghia was a patriotic man doing his duty for his country. The hardships he had to overcome to get back to his loved ones are inspiring. Ironically, his horrible experiences in the war can be compared to Reed’s problems after the war. 

Another theme of the book is forgiveness. Reed writes about the negative reaction of some veterans to his changed attitude toward the enemy. The book is his way of trying to get those veterans to reconsider their feelings.

As he puts it: “Just as the war had to be fought as savagely as necessary to win, so the peace had to be lived with enduring gentleness, love, and respect for the former enemy.”   

The book‘s website is

–Kevin Hardy

Hues of Green by Edgar Tiffany

Hues of Green: A Critical History of D.M. Thompson’s Colors of War & Peace (223 pp. $17.95, paper; $.99, Kindle) is a companion work to Thompson’s marvelous short-story collection of the Vietnam War and its aftermath in memory. Edgar “Buzz” Tiffany is the author of Audie Murphy in Saigon, a literary collection of fiction and nonfiction stories, and served alongside Thompson in the 11th Special Forces Group in the late seventies.

It is by no means necessary to read this book in order to enjoy Thompson’s collection. But I suggest reading Thompson’s short stories before opening this one. Then you may want to read Hues of Green—along with a second and third reading of Thompson’s stories. Both books are that good.

This work of literary criticism looks at the eight short stories in Thompson’s collection, digging deep to explain many references, to provide background to many incidents, and to compare Thompson and other literary storytellers.

In discussing the introductory story, “Blue Tattoo,” for example, Tiffany notes that the collection follows a pattern established by Jack Kerouac in On the Road and Che Guevara in The Motorcycle Diaries. “The stage in this tale,” Tiffany writes, “is the pugil pit where the themes of military indoctrination, domination, submission, and victory are reenacted over and over.”

 “Walking Point with Sergeant Rock,” Tiffany writes, is “a journal of hell in a shithole,” told by using several forms of humor. Despite the levity, though, the story is “a serious portrait of the limit’s of man’s fortitude in combat.”

“In Boxcar Orange” Tiffany points out how the plane passengers surrounding the narrator make up a Greek chorus, accompanying his stream of consciousness as he goes “back and forth in military memory.” He goes on to say that Thompson “has managed to invoke history, literature, music, philosophy, religion and finally, art, in support of his major goal—to show the indelible imprint war has on the mind and memory of the young who go to war, even when those young are the most dedicated and capable of all.”

Tiffany is at his most helpful discussing “Challenging Disaster,” in which he points out the seven different circles, orbits, and ovals that revolve around the story and that the story revolves around. Fascinating stuff.

Tiffany’s book will give you a better idea of how to enjoy Thompson’s short story collection, and also provides a broader lesson on how to best read similar literary works to gain the greatest possible understanding and enjoyment from them.  

–Bill McCloud

Colors of War & Peace by D.M. Thompson

Colors of War & Peace (190 pp. $14.99, paper) is a collection of eight short stories written in a creative nonfiction style by D.M. Thompson. It is one of the best literary works dealing with the Vietnam War I have read in years.

Thompson served in Vietnam in 1968-70 with MAC-V SOG, the covert Studies and Observation Group. He was called back in 1978 to serve eight years with the 11th Special Forces Group. Each story in this book is told in first person and they follow each other in a mostly chronological order.

In the introductory story, “Blue Tattoo,” it’s 1967 and a session of Army Officer Candidate School is more than half over. There are still building inspections to face and pugil stick training matches to be held, but the hardest thing ahead for the cadets is finding the required date for the Senior Ball.  

In the second story, “Walking Point with Sergeant Rock,” the narrator is now a “bush-tailed lieutenant,” living in a “jerry-rigged camp” alongside a small airstrip in South Vietnam. He is fighting alongside the indigenous people of the mountains, known as Montagnards, and their “crossbow culture.” He has lost twenty pounds during his first month in-country, mainly the result of constant diarrhea.  

“Boxcar Orange” is a reference to the new, wild, color schemes being used by Braniff Airlines for their planes that frequently carried U.S. troops into and out of the war zone. The narrator is two months into his second tour and has just boarded a plane to Sydney for a one-week R&R. While sitting buckled-up in his seat he worries that he is helpless inside a large stationary bulls-eye for 122mm rockets.

“Challenging Disaster” takes place on January 28, 1986. Our narrator now works for a brokerage firm while attending occasional drills as a member of the Special Forces Reserve. Getting to his office requires him to walk down a long hallway, “dark and drafty as a French prison.” Many of the people and things he encounters cause him to recall some act of violence during the Vietnam War. Meanwhile, the space shuttle Challenger moves closer to its rescheduled launch time.

Dan Thompson

In “Black Hand” the narrator is preparing to make one of his regularly required Reserve parachute jumps. Maj. Wilson is sitting in the number-one slot, making him the “wind dummy.” His jump will help determine if wind speeds are safe enough for the others. Waiting his turn, the narrator’s thoughts go back to a combat jump he once made into a situation of “controlled chaos” in Vietnam.

This is a great collection of stories written in a unique, experimental style. Thompson’s use of the English language is a joy to behold. While writing stories that seem to be exploding in several directions, Thompson never lets them get out control.

Dan Thompson has a new fan and I’m thrilled to help spread the word about him and this fine literary work.

–Bill McCloud

Patriot Songs by Jerry L. Staub

Patriot Songs: Poems about Brave Patriots Who Sacrificed to Keep America Safe and Free (68 pp. $7.95, paperbackis a small collection of rather old-fashioned-style rhyming poetry that celebrates the service of men and women throughout our nation’s history. Staub is an American veteran with a lifelong interest in military history.

“A Hero Plain and Simple” addresses the idea of a quiet, everyday hero taking care of his loved ones:

He works hard to support his family,

Each day of every long and tiring week.

He lives his life with grace and dignity,

While praise and notoriety, he never seeks.

“A Memorial Day Prayer” begins this way:

Many American soldiers have marched into eternity.

They’ve given everything they had to give;

Their lives, their souls, and their prosperity.

They sacrificed it all so in freedom we might live.

From “The Appetite of War (The Siege of Firebase Ripcord)”:

Fearful eyes scan a blurry horizon to the fore,

when thunderous blasts all at once begin to roar.

Flashes of light, then screams, right and left,

as shadowy figures trip the wires of death.

Heavy fire along heavily barricaded battle lines,

keep heads pinned down, as retorts it undermines.

Deadly rounds buzz through leaves and trees,

like swarms of thousands of angry bees.

There is likely no other form of writing that can be as personal and heartfelt as poetry, and it’s always enjoyable to read how veterans use the medium to express themselves. None of these poems appear to have been previously published in any literary journals.

Half of the net proceeds from the royalties of this book will be donated to nonprofit veterans’ organizations, including Vietnam Veterans of America.

–Bill McCloud

An Army Lawyer’s Military Journey by George Allison

In detailing his Vietnam War tour of duty in his memoir, An Army Lawyer’s Military Journey: Unique Experiences in a Viet Nam Combat Zone (Carson Street Publishing, $20, paper) George Allison addresses a profound question: What is the nature of military law, and how is it upheld? His book provides insights into the principles and practice of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and how it applies to all service members, particularly those in Vietnam during Allison’s tour duty.

His military service began early when at sixteen Allison joined the Army National Guard in Nevada. On finishing high school, he enrolled at the University of Nevada, Reno and entered its Army’s ROTC program. In 1963 he graduated from the University of California’s Hastings College of Law, passed the Nevada bar exam, and went on active duty with OCS training at Fort Benning. The following year he attended the JAG School on the grounds at the University of Virginia.  

The bedrock of Army discipline is the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Adopted by the Second Continental Congress in 1775, the UCMJ deals with crimes unique to the military, such as what happens when personnel disobey orders or when they flee in the face of the enemy.

Allison details the composition of an Army court-martial. In Vietnam, it included a jury of five officers; a senior officer for a judge; attorneys for prosecution and defense; a court reporter; and a process of Appellate Review in which a designated officer may approve a guilty verdict or mitigate a sentence. Interestingly, Allison notes that the Miranda Rights statement read to arrested suspects was put into military law enforcement practice years before the Supreme Court adopted it into American criminal law.

In 1966, Allison transferred with the Army’s 4th Infantry Division to the Central Highlands of Vietnam where they established a base just outside Pleiku. Once there, he and his fellow attorneys quickly settled into their routine. It was hardly dull, as much of their time was spent preparing for trials. The JAG officers often traveled to meet with soldiers accused of crimes and to gather witness testimony and other evidence. Reviews and trials were frequently held in the field, sometimes at outposts within range of enemy fire. It was not uncommon for Allison to prosecute or defend soldiers while sitting on the ground.

George Allison

While several courts-martial were routine – such as for soldiers arrested for drunk and disorderly conduct – others were much more sobering. One trial was for a soldier charged with killing his commanding officer after being ordered to carry a mortar round when already burdened with an M60 machine gun.

Other courts-martial included two sergeants accused of raping a Vietnamese woman and a G.I. who allegedly set a sergeant’s tent on fire. Perhaps most disturbing, Allison describes what happened when two men played Russian roulette until the revolver’s single round went off.

George Allison completed his Vietnam War tour in 1967 and returned to civilian life in Nevada where he founded a successful law firm. Reflecting five decades after his service in the war, Allison writes: “It struck me that relating my entire military journey, which spanned many years and had a profound effect on shaping my life, might be a good way of describing that feeling of pride in some kind of interesting manner.”

He succeeded. This account is an illuminating one and well worth the read.

–Mike McLaughlin

Black World by Robert R. Rotruck

Black World: Career Changes – Life Continues (101 pp. $9.95 paper and Kindle) is retired Navy CWO3 Robert Rotruck’s second novel featuring former Navy SEAL and CIA black-ops operative Bill York, now a private investigator working for a former CIA colleague in the Washington, D.C., area.  

York gets involved in several operations, including with a series of gangsters who are straight out of Central Casting. This book resembles the first drafts of a potential TV series screenplay.

–Tom Werzyn

The Vietnam Run by Michael Gillen

Whenever the official songs of the American military services are played at public events and veterans of those services are asked to stand when the song of their service is played, I do not recall ever seeing anyone rise when the U.S. Merchant Marine official song, “Heave Ho My Lads,” is played.

As someone who flew back and forth to Vietnam, I had no contact with any Merchant Mariner and had no knowledge that they had anything to do with the Vietnam War. However, now that I have read Michael Gillen’s The Vietnam Run: American Merchant Mariners in the Indochina Wars (McFarland, 376 pp. $49.95, paper; $22.49, Kindle), a well-written history of the U.S. Merchant Mariners in Indochina from 1945-75, I am no longer ignorant. It turns out that merchant seamen were not only in Vietnam during the war, but also decades earlier and later.

Gillen is a history professor who was a Merchant Mariner during the Vietnam War. Some of his predecessors include a slew of noted writers and poets, including Richard Henry Dana, Jr., Ralph Ellison, Herman Melville, Louis L’Amour, Allen Ginsburg, and Jack Kerouac. Those writers, Gillen tells us, inspired him to become a historian of the U.S. Merchant Marines.

The book begins with French troops being ferried to Indochina in 1945, immediately after World War II, and the book ends with post-Vietnam War trade and searches for MIAs. During the American war, Merchant Marine ships transported 95 percent of all war supplies and materiel and, in the early years of the war, brought some 60 percent of American troops to Vietnam. In addition, they ferried hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese refugees from north to south when the country was divided in 1954 and out of the country at the close of the war in 1975. 

The Vietnam sea run was the American equivalent of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Forty-four Mariners, including the last three names inscribed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, died during the war, as their ships were targeted by the enemy with floating mines, rockets, snipers, and water mine sappers, known as “swimmers.”

The book well-researched and exhaustive without being exhausting. It includes interviews and material from enemy sources, informative endnotes, lists of abbreviations and acronyms, maps, photos, the story of Gillen’s two post-war visits to Vietnam to deliver medical supplies, and heartwarming rescues of Vietnamese boat people.

Gillen notes that the U.S. Merchant Marines are not mentioned in Ken Burns’ 2017 18-hour PBS series, “The Vietnam War.” I never thought about it at the time, but after reading this book, realize that this was a grievous omission, as America could not possibly have fought the war without those men who put themselves in harm’s way.

Read this informative and lucid book so that you do not make the mistake that Ken Burns and I did.

–Harvey Weiner

A Thousand Chances by Dan Hickman     

Retired U.S. Army Gen. Dan Hickman opens his book, A Thousand Chances: A Memoir of Life and Death in the Air Cavalry during the Pivotal Year of the Vietnam War (Palm Wars Publications, 343 pp. $14.95, paper; $5.95, Kindle), with a sobering thought: Why did “they” send us there to fight and possibly die if they never intended to win?

This story of one man’s experiences in a senseless war mirrors many other Americans’ experiences in Vietnam. From the very first pages I felt a strong sense of camaraderie with Hickman as I read about how he dealt with many unknowns while he traveled the steep learning curve of surviving a war during his 1968-69 tour of duty. 

As the title indicates, in a war you face death many times without knowing when your luck will run out. It can come from any direction and sometimes for the dumbest reason.  

Dan Hickman, a life member of Vietnam Veterans of America, humbly lets the reader in on the dumb things did as a helicopter pilot with the 3rd Battalion of the 17th Air Cavalry in seemingly endless combat and just barely survived the consequences. That he recalls those close calls so vividly fifty years later is one indication that he is still haunted by them.  

I remember experiencing moments similar to what he describes as day-to-day life in the Vietnam War—from the chaotic response to incoming to questionable protocols that came down from above that needlessly placed my life on the line.   

Reflecting on that, Hickman aptly cites a quote from Catch-22 that says it all: “The enemy is anyone who is going to get you killed, no matter which side he is on.”   

Reading his characterization of his platoon as a Band of Brothers, I thought back to being with my unit and it totally resonated. I especially felt that way when he quoted Col. John P. Geraci, who commanded a brigade Hickman supported. Geraci had been my battalion commander. To this day he is held in high regard by the battalion’s veterans. 

Gen. Hickman

After reading Hickman’s accounts of his combat missions in the most difficult of conditions and of his surviving close calls again and again, I imagine that he came home feeling like a survivor. He served in the Army National Guard after coming home from Vietnam. He was recalled to active duty in 2003 and went on to command a reinforced Armor Brigade in the Iraq War.

Hickman writes that North Vietnamese units did not begin coming south until Viet Cong units were decimated during Tet 1968. Although the NVA did increase the movement of troops southward to fill the decimated ranks after Tet, the 1st Cavalry had fought North Vietnamese regiments as early as 1965 in the Battle of the Ia Drang Valley and U.S. forces battled their divisions during the Siege of Khe Sanh in early 1968.   

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this nicely written memoir and highly recommend it.

— John Cirafici

The Golden Brigade by Robert J. Dvorchak

The Golden Brigade: The Untold Story of the 82nd Airborne in Vietnam and Beyond (Knox Press, 552 pp. $40, paper: $16.99, Kindle) is both a doorstop of a book and a door opener into the history of the U.S. Army’s storied 82nd Airborne Division’s 3rd Brigade.

In this deeply and widely researched and well-written book, veteran journalist Robert J. Dvorchak chronicles the 22-month deployment of the 82nd’s 3rd Brigade in the Vietnam War. The unit’s numerical designation dates back to World War I when it was dubbed the All-American Brigade because every state was represented within its ranks.

Dvorchak chronicles the unit’s operations, engagements, and movements in Vietnam from February 1968 to December 1970. He adds to the story with asides and interview snippets from unit veterans and with the families of those who lost their lives in the Vietnam War.

Chapter 25, “Joe Tentpeg,” contains the best description of living and battle conditions on the ground I’ve ever come across. Other chapters reconstruct some of the best battlefield stories I’ve ever read.

Of the book’s 67 chapters all are fact-filled and replete with stories of the men of the 82nd taking part in patrols, skirmishes, overnights, stand-downs, and rear area dramas all of which are engagingly presented. Dvorchak’s analyses of the battle action add to the book’s value.

In sum, this is a very well written book about a stellar unit operating in a tough war. It contains 64 pages of excellent photos. The Golden Brigade is a must-read for alumni of the 82nd, and all others who enjoy a well-told war stories.

–Tom Werzyn