Running Toward the Guns by Chanty Jong

Running Toward the Guns: A Memoir of Escape from Cambodia (McFarland, 167 pp., $29.95, paper; $17.99, Kindle) is a sleeper. At first glance it seems to be a pleasant little book that recounts, in almost transcription-from-interview prose, an eight-year-old girl’s escape from Cambodia in 1975. But soon the reader realizes that nothing pleasant happened to Chanty Jong after she was taken by the murderous Khmer Rouge and forced to endure what became a holocaust against the Cambodian people.

Jong’s father was an elementary school principal in Phnom Penh. She was in the third grade and just learning to read. That meant she was on the way to joining a learned family in the eyes of the Khmer Rouge, who were wreaking havoc on the Cambodian people during the infamous Pol Pot regime.

The descriptions of her tribulations written by Jong with the help of her American family physician, Lee Ann Van Houten-Sauter, are graphic in their details of the violence and the jungle camps where she was forced to work as child slave laborer, building roads by hand, as well as the areas she fled through as she made her way to a refugee camp in Thailand. She survived there for months until an interview with a UN aid official afforded her the opportunity to emigrate to America.

During her captivity, the Khmer Rouge camps were overrun by Heng Somren fighters, supported by the Vietnamese. During one raid Jong ran toward the oncoming troops through a hail of bullets in an effort to escape the Khmer Rouge, a act that gives the book its title.

Learning English was always one of the her goals, yet she arrived in the U.S. with the barest knowledge of vocabulary or grammar. She began studying the language in earnest after she arrived. Jong came to the realization, through meditation and self-examination, that all was not right within her psychologically. She describes the best self-diagnosis of intense PTSD I’ve ever read.

In the last 50 pages of this book, Jong takes the reader through the memories and mental jungles that have populated her sleep—and nearly every waking moment. She also describes her therapeutic use of deep meditation, grounding techniques, identifying triggers, compartmentalizing, and memory confrontation.

Even with a few grammatical and punctuation errors, this book offers a true, self-help opportunity for struggling survivors of most traumatic events—not just the horrors of war. This small book also was a pleasure to read—and to experience.

–Tom Werzyn

Take Me Home Huey by Steve Maloney and Clare Nolan

At nearly ten-by-twelve inches in size, Take Me Home Huey: Honoring American Heroes Through Art (Take Me Home Huey Publishing, 216 pp. $45) by Steve Maloney and Clare Nolan offers a new historical dimension of the American War in Vietnam. The book explains why and how Steve Maloney took a wrecked and abandoned UH-1H Huey helicopter (#174) and turned it into a unique piece of art to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the conflict: a symbol that celebrates brotherhood, dedication, and self-sacrifice among American service personnel..

Co-author Clare Nolan’s expertise in high-stakes drama storytelling greatly enhances the book’s military value. She has written documentaries and created multimedia productions about war and space for National Geographic and Discovery television channels.

Maloney’s artistic career involves repurposing found objects—especially things originally designed to move. Recognition of his artwork began in 2001 with exhibitions in museums, galleries, and traveling shows, following a successful business career. He had served as a member of the 156th Signal Battalion of the Army National Guard in Michigan from 1963-69. This background, coupled with a fascination with helicopters, focused Maloney on his commemorative goal.

Take Me Home Huey vividly recollects Maloney’s quest for the “perfect canvas” for his project. To start the search, he interviewed American Vietnam War veterans. He tells us what they taught him in two chapters that detail wartime helicopter missions, with an emphasis on the shoot down of Huey #174 in 1969. He cleverly charts the aircraft’s 30 years of service that ended two decades before he found its frame in a scrapyard in Arizona in 2014.

The book comes alive in many ways. Opening its huge pages to double-truck photographs of Hueys and of soldiers in danger and pain made me feel as if I were gliding through a time warp into the past. The dynamic images gave me rushes of nervous appreciation for crewmen and grunts whose survival depended on helicopters.

In equally detailed chapters Maloney explains how he enlisted help from many veterans and well-wishers to find Huey #174 and the parts he needed for its reconstruction. He repeatedly reconfigured the design of his paint job to match veterans’ memories. Thirty-six pages of double-spread photographs show the Huey from different angles. Drawings, slogans, and lists cover the airframe to symbolize and grunts’ dreams and needs from long ago.

When paraded before the public, the Huey #174 has reunited men who had not seen each other for decades. New feelings and truths arise and old feelings are reborn. The flood of emotional impact generated by the helicopter motivated the authors to also discuss PTSD and art therapy as a way to help combat the emotional trauma of war. At every opportunity, they champion veterans’ welfare and sense of community.

Huey #174 spent two years traveling to 29 venues in 11 states from November 2015 to November 2017. By then, the project also included original music and songs, poems, films, and a PBS documentary. At least a million people viewed it in person.

In 2019, Huey #174 became a permanent part of the collection of the Palm Springs Air Museum in California.

The Huey’s website is takemehomehuey.org/sculpture

—Henry Zeybel

Nine Pairs of Boots in Vietnam by Stephen R. and Rosie Williams

Stephen and Rosie Williams’ Nine Pairs of Boots in Vietnam: Steps to Healing Every Veteran Needs to Know (Author Academy Elite, 180 pp. $25, hardcover; $15, paper; $9.99, Kindle) is an account of Steve Williams’ 12 months of service in the Vietnam War and his 50 years of mental combat struggling with the effects of PTSD.

Steve Williams (AKA “Sgt. Willie”) is a decorated Vietnam War veteran who returned home to face the lonely mental battles brought on by things he saw and did in combat. His wife Rosie, an author, waited patiently for him to say, “It is time to address my PTSD.” So with his personal recall and her military wife’s perspective of the effects of secondary PTSD, the two worked together to write Nine Pairs of Boots in Vietnam.

Steve Williams does a great job taking me through his early years struggling with a lack of self-confidence that was later attributed to dyslexia. Next came his fear and distress with being drafted not into Army, sent to infantry AIT, and assigned to the 101st Airborne Division. He strongly felt he would die in Vietnam.

Steve then details some of his combat actions, a few of which seemed to be swayed by divine intervention. Then his return to The World where—like many Vietnam veterans—he was rejected, shamed, and scorned by those he had fought for, even by veterans of earlier eras.

He then transitions to the years after his return when he got married, raised three sons, received a Master’s degree, and retired from a good career. Steve and Rosie Williams now spend much of their time ministering to veterans of all ages. I found this to be a very interesting and sometimes exciting story.

This book is written for those with PTSD, and also for families and friends of those with PTSD. If you’re looking for a bible-based, Christian solution for PTSD, this is the book to read. If you’re looking for a secular solution for PTSD, this could still be the book to read. 

Steve and Rosie Williams

While the authors quote more than thirty Bible verses in the book, they make references to more than twenty secular PTSD help groups. They also include a lot of basic medical and practical information about PTSD and secondary PTSD.

Even though I do not share all of Steve and Rosie Williams’ religious beliefs, I recommend this book. I found Nine Pairs of Boots in Vietnam to be very easy to read, enjoyable, uplifting, and educational. It is well indexed, too, with a very good appendix, an After Action Review. and several photos.

The authors’ website is www.rosiejwilliams.com

–Bob Wartman

Jumping from Helicopters by John Stillman and Lori Stillman

Jumping from Helicopters: A Vietnam Memoir (Turtle Creek, 242 pp. $25, hardcover; $16, paper; $5.99, Kindle) is a paean by a loyal and thankful veteran to his unit in the Vietnam War. John Stillman, ably aided by his daughter Lori, takes the reader through his 1967-68 year in-country with the 1st of the 502nd in the 101st Airborne Division.

This book is presented in a unique format. Following an engaging story, well written and edited, there are a few chapters designed to encourage conversations that might be developed for a high school AP English class. This book could be a useful tool for today’s students who typically get little historical exposure to the Vietnam War or the stories of its veterans.

For 50 years Stillman did not talk to anyone about his war experiences. He also put up with daily—and nightly—hidden struggles with post-war traumatic stress. An invitation to address a few classes following a high school reunion and his daughter’s sensitivity to his demons convinced him to break down the walls and write this book with her.  

He begins at the beginning, with his birth in Chicago and rearing in the Saint Louis area, noting his desire to be a soldier from an early age. Stillman enlisted in the U.S. Army after high school and describes being inducted, and what it was like going through Basic Training, AIT, and jump school. He leavens the narrative with wry humor and anecdotes.

Before his departure for Vietnam, Stillman’s father gave him a journal “to record [his] thoughts.” Those journal entries are sprinkled throughout the book, providing insights into Stillman’s experiences.

Despite the book’s title—and although he was with an airborne unit—Stillman and his fellow 101st troopers didn’t make any parachute jumps helicoptes. They did, however, make countless plunges from helicopters before the before the skids hit the ground. Stillman writes that the times he felt the most free in Vietnam were when he was sitting in choppers, his feet on the skids, riding the wind.

This is a worthy offering–a good read and one I recommend.

The book’s website is jumpingfromhelicopters.com

–Tom Werzyhnf

Flashbacks by R. Dean Jerde and Tom Pisapia

Disappointingly, R. Dean Jerde appears or is quoted only sparingly in his own book, Flashbacks: A Vietnam Soldier’s Story 50 Years Later (Luminaire Press, 260 pp. $14.95, paper; $7.99, Kindle). His war story—as a member of a searchlight battalion during his December ’67-to-January ‘69 tour of duty in the Vietnam War—could have been a much more interesting one if he had put more of himself into his own book. Jerde and his co-author Tom Pisapia, instead, have providing a lot of well-known information about Agent Orange, PTSD, the VA’s mistreatment of Vietnam War veterans, and the negative reception we received upon returning to the U.S. from the war.

As indicated by the book’s title, Pisapia put Flashbacks together after a series of conversations, meetings, and interviews he had with his old friend Jerde and his brother over the span of about a year. During those sessions Jerde’s recollections, by his own admission, amounted to a series of mostly unrelated flashbacks to his time in Vietnam. 

Upon returning to the states after his tour of duty, Dean Jerde married, began a family, and immersed himself deeply into his chosen occupation as a carpenter. He buried his wartime experiences, not speaking about them, even to his wife, for fifty years. Not until his retirement with time on his hands and the advent of the conversations and meetings with his brother and with Tom Pisapi, did some of the stories and experiences come out, along with symptoms of his long-carried PTSD.

As can be the case with self-published books, Flashbacks could have used a fact checker and more editing as it contains more than a few spelling, syntax, and punctuation errors.

Flashbacks, in short, is a book that needs more story and a bit of polish.

Pisapia’s website is tompisapia.net

–Tom Werzyn

Little by Slowly by John P. Maloney, Jr.

When I first picked up John P. Maloney’s Little by Slowly: From Trauma to Recovery (Lotus Design, 222 pp. $21.95, paper), I did not know what to expect. As a former educator, I have always been interested in the human condition. Why do some people adapt, adjust, and overcome when faced with adversity? Why do others succumb to their plight and seek to escape their pain through alcohol and drugs?

In this book Vietnam War veteran Jack Maloney takes us on his own personal Magical Mystery Tour in the form of a vivid first-hand account of alcoholism and its exacerbating effects on those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Actually, the book is more like a detour from reality that many of us have experienced following shock and trauma.

Maloney has a compelling story. As you read, you get a sense of the suffering and pain he continues to deal with. He presents a clear picture of the alcoholic father who abused him verbally and physically. He give us a vivid look at the psychological demons that alcoholics possess, including their pompous superiority and pretentiousness to the point of being so self-absorbed and wrapped up in their own arrogance that they cannot empathize with others who are suffering—unless they do so superficially because there is something in it for them. 

Being raised in an alcoholic environment, brought periodic explosions of anger and rage from Maloney’s father, followed by remorse. I would guess that Maloney had reached a fork in the road at the ripe old age of sixteen: become an alcoholic like his father or pursue a more-sober path. Like most people suffering from the disease, he really didn’t have a choice. If you do not deal with the disease, it will deal with you.

Maloney faced several traumatic events as a Marine in the Vietnam War, and portrays himself in the book as being overly sensitive. This was a conundrum for me. After growing up in a household with an abusive alcoholic father, I expected he would be well and truly desensitized to any emotions, especially empathy.

Jack Maloney

In one passage Maloney recounts how he felt after seeing a young Vietnamese boy crushed beneath the deuce and half truck he rode escort on: “Even though I did not actively knock the kids off the trucks, one of them fell under the truck tires and was killed instantly,” he writes. “The sight and sounds remain, at times, as an indelible memory that I will always carry in my heart and cause nightmares to this day.

Jack Maloney endured through one traumatic event after another and kept climbing back up. His story is truly remarkable, and one I would recommend to anyone dealing from PTSD who chooses alcohol or drugs to self medicate.

Little by Slowly shows that there is another way. Another choice. I would also recommend this memoir to all of Jack Maloney’s family and friends, especially his grandchildren.

—Charles Templeton

The Gopher King by Gojan Nikolich

Gojan Nikolich’s new novel, The Gopher King (Black Rose Writing, 358 pp. $20.95, paper $5.99, Kindle), is not quite Alice going down the rabbit hole chasing the White Rabbit. But a few chapters into the book and you might think it’s Coraline going down a gopher hole with an M16 on full auto and a K-Bar in her teeth.

The story centers around Stan Przewalski, a weekly newspaper publisher in Bull River Falls, Colorado. Stan suffers from a severe case of PTSD after surviving a hellacious tour of duty in the Vietnam War, and Nikolich—a U.S. Army veteran—paints a verbal portrait of PTSD suitable for hanging in any VA hospital.

Stan, like many veterans who experienced combat, came home with the demons of war firmly in control of his life. He soon depends on therapy and pills to keep those demons in check. The healing process for Stan materializes in the form of a gopher—and not just any gopher. He is the Gopher King. Soon, Stan and the Gopher King, appropriately named Chaz, embark on an odyssey of mutual self-exploration. Chaz is an anthropomorphic literary device Nikolich uses to deftly to probe the depth of Stan’s problems and alleviate his PTSD.

On a sightseeing trip to Vietnam, Stan realizes that he cannot be redeemed. But he also discovers that facing his fears and the hidden places in his mind amounts to true bravery. And that the times he allowed himself to suffer at the hands of his demons actually were opportunities to face his fears.

Nikolich effectively plumbs the depths of PTSD through the magical world he creates that Stan enters. It’s a world populated with camouflaged gophers toting M16s and fighting to save their homeland. It’s full of misunderstandings, meaninglessness, pompous characters, reminiscences without purpose, and characters who make absolutely no sense and are based on vanity and cluelessness.

The residents of Chaz and Stan’s world mainly just want to get by and survive and maybe have a good time. Their world isn’t actually that much different from the real world, although the real world may be less exaggerated with its arbitrary rules and adult nonsense, crookedness, cowardice, and sordidness. Still, it contains those traits in equal measure—and in many ways the cruelty of the real world is more incredible.

Gojan Nikolich

Nikolich’s writing style drew me in immediately. He ticked all the good-fiction boxes for me: a good story, entertaining and creative descriptions, and mesmerizing dialogue. To the extent that a good novel entertains and enlightens, The Gopher King masterfully achieves both goals.

Nikolich’s portrayal of the characters is realistically accomplished. The humor and the story could provoke unwanted memories for the initiated, but they also can be of tremendous educational value for those with little knowledge of PTSD.

I highly recommend putting a velveteen gopher on the desk of every VA shrink and The Gopher King on your reading list.

–Charles Templeton

Vietnam by Chinook by Edward Corlew

During his year as a Ch-47 Chinook crewman in the Vietnam War, Edward Corlew grew “distressed, depressed, and plagued by guilt.” He had joined the Army after his freshman year of college, and became a man and matured faster during his tour of duty than he had planned, he says.

Raised in a strong Christian family from a farming community, Corlew enlisted for an assignment in helicopter maintenance with the assurance that he would safely serve behind the battle lines. Instead, he ended up working as a crew chief/gunner and flight engineer on CH-47 Chinook helicopters during the entire 1968 Tet Offensive.

Corlew crewed with B Company of the 228th Assault Support Helicopter Battalion of the 1st Air Cavalry Division at Red Beach and LZ Sharon. B Company Chinooks flew every day in support of 1st Cav, 101st Airborne, ARVN, and Marine Corps units in I Corps. 

The Chinook’s primary tasks were rescue and resupply, but its crews reconfigured the aircraft into weapon platforms by adding machine guns that gave them a 360-degree field of fire to counter the masses of North Vietnamese troops who attacked during Tet ‘68.

“For several months, I saw more destruction of life, equipment, beautiful cities, and innocent Vietnamese people than I can explain or expect anyone to understand,” Corlew says. He clearly describes those and his other experiences in Vietnam by Chinook: A CH-47 Crew Chief During the Tet Offensive (McFarland, 191 pp. $29.95, paper; $17.99, Kindle), a well-told memoir.

Corlew survived three shoot-downs. The semi-miraculous outcome of one defies imagination. Whatever the situation, though, he had his stuff together. His accounts of many missions he flew during the fighting at Hue, Khe Sanh, and in the A Shau Valley provide insights beyond the norm. Crew chiefs and flight engineers played vital roles in determining the capabilities of damaged but possibly flyable aircraft, and Corlew clearly explains the dynamics of their interactions with pilots. He vividly portrays the frantic, yet controlled, reactions of crewmen during crashes.

His story of action in the A Shau Valley amounts to one long description of losses and near disasters because the territory had been heavily fortified by the NVA, which had controlled the area for years. At one point, enemy antiaircraft weapons and Chinook mechanical failures depleted the company’s usable aircraft from sixteen to four in a matter of days.

B Company flew and got shot at every day. They also endured mortar attacks and infiltration by the NVA practically every night at LZ Sharon, a desolate, primitive landscape fifteen miles south of the DMV. Sandbagged tents were the only hint of civilization on the LZ. Crews provided the base’s defense and prolonged sleep was a rarity.

Paperwork was haphazard, but Corlew guesstimates that he put in a thousand hours of combat flying. His seventeen Air Medals indicate a helluva lot of time in the air. In two years of service, he attained the rank of Spec. 6.

Corlew writes about the necessity of killing people—armed, unarmed, or any possible threat. Doing so, a desire to survive took over his psyche and dominated his actions. “We had no choice but to fight in order to survive,” he says.

Occasionally, Corlew questions the purpose of war and a Christian’s role in it. He left the Army in 1969 and was emotionally troubled by what he had gone through for decades. Despite that, he earned a college degree and married. In 2005, with help from old friends and VA counselors, Corlew finally learned to put his emotional demons to rest. He closes the book by harshly criticizing antiwar activist Jane Fonda, Navy Lt. John Kerry, and Congress.

Vietnam by Chinook reconfirmed my belief that helicopter missions amounted to the most dangerous flying of the Vietnam War.

—Henry Zeybel

The Best of Medic in the Green Time by Marc Levy

Marc Levy’s The Best of Medic in the Green Time: Writings from the Vietnam War and Its Aftermath (Winter Street Press, 563 pp. $24, paper) is a kaleidoscopic book of stories written by Levy and others. Kaleidoscopically, these colorful stories burst out in all directions. They’re collected from a website that Levy, who served as a medic with the First Cavalry Division in the Vietnam War, started in 2007.

The stories, poems, essays, recollections, and reflections are divided into three sections: War, Poetry, and Postwar. There are more than seventy stories in all, three-fourths written by Levy.

Here is some of what we encounter in the opening section on the Vietnam War. A casualty of friendly fire, the first man Levy has to patch up. How to make morning GI coffee. Inflated body counts. Souvenirs taken from the dead. Medals awarded to appease grieving families. Coincidences that save lives. Men voluntarily returning to the war because they missed the adrenaline rush.

Several stories describe extreme combat at a personal level. A buddy dying in Levy’s arms. The attacking Viet Cong dressed only in loin cloths. Men giving themselves self-inflicted wounds to try to keep from returning to combat.

The poems are a mixed bag; some of the best are written by Levy. In “He Would Tell You,” for example, he writes:

 Let me never tell you

Things you cannot know

Let me never tell you

Things that won’t let go.

“Portrait of a Young Girl at Dawn” ends with:

They haul her in.

Beneath the whirling blades

She is spinning, spinning

She is floating away.

“Dead Letter Day,” begins: “He sent the letter to the guy’s wife/The same day,/Leaving out the following:”

We then learn the truth of the man’s death. Things his widow must never know.

One of the best poems, by Tom Laaser, is “Things I Think About at 11:11 on November the 11th”. In it, a man is attending yet another program for vets in a high-school auditorium and he’s conflicted. He senses that he does not want to be a veteran,

But the second that god damn flag is unfurled

And that crappy high school band strikes up you

Give way to unyielding patriotism of the highest degree.

I bled for this

You want to scream.

I am a veteran. This is MY country. I earned this freedom.

I earned

This day.

Marc Levy, left, at LZ Compton in An Loc, 1969

The third part, “Postwar,” includes a small section on combat humor, as well as one on how to talk to college students about the war, and one on the symptoms and treatments of PTSD because, as Levy writes, “Whatever you did in war will always be with you.” An especially interesting section includes comments from dozens of veterans describing what they think when some well-meaning person says, “Thank you for your service.”

It’s a phrase Levy considers to be “petty.”

This is a great book because of the well-written variety of stories and topics Levy covers. It’s also great because of how it’s put together. There is no reason to read the more than seventy chapters in order. Dig in and skip around any way you choose.

A kaleidoscope of stories awaits you.

Marc Levy’s website, Medic in the Green Time, is medicinthegreentime.com

–Bill McCloud

The Eagle on My Arm by Dava Guerin & Terry Bivens – OCT. 13

The Eagle On My Arm: How the Wilderness and Birds of Prey Saved a Veteran’s Life (University Press of Kentucky, 218 pp. $26.95, hardcover and e book) by Dava Guerin and the late Terry Bivens is the story of the life of Patrick Bradley. And what a story it is.

Bradley, who is in his early 70s, is one of the founders of the Avian Veteran Alliance, a program that uses birds of prey as a form of therapy for military veterans and others coping with chronic physical and emotional trauma. This type of animal-assisted therapy often uses large birds that have been seriously injured, making them wounded warriors as well.

Bradley served in the Vietnam War as a Green Beret in a team whose main job was to infiltrate enemy lines for information-gathering purposes. The authors describe how his team experienced high casualty rates on its dangerous forays into North Vietnam. “Out of his original team of sixteen, only three would survive, and two of them would commit suicide within a few years.”

Bradley returned from Vietnam as an explosively angry young man. Several incidents nearly landed him in the stockade at Fort Leavenworth. His first post-military job involved counting bald eagles in the Canadian wilderness. For three years he worked alone, using his Army survival training and experience in Vietnam as he lived off the land. Only a few weeks after he started observing the eagles Patrick Bradley found his anger issues had dissipated.

He moved on, and spent a few years working odd jobs at wildlife centers and preserves, where he found himself drawn to hawks. Bradley noted that working with a wounded bird seemed to calm both him and the animal. His personal life didn’t improve, though, as he continued to experience occasional violent, PTSD-fueled outbursts. Each failed relationship would cause him to get closer to his birds as he tried to fight the demons he continued to face.

As Bradley eventually felt a sense of healing from his relationships with several large birds, he began working with a VA hospital and became one of the founders of the Avian Veteran Alliance in Florida. That program has helped helping thousands of veterans with PTSD and others who have been through major illnesses.

The authors wrap up their book with the following words: “To live one’s life on one’s own terms, to touch others through passion and perseverance, to be fearless of rejection and hopeful that our better angels will prevail: that is the story of Patrick Bradley’s life.”

Bradley (right) demonstrating how to hold an eagle

It was great to read a story about a man who was filled with anger and fear upon his return from the war in Vietnam, but learned to harness his emotions and go on to help thousands come to terms with the darkest times in their lives.

The book’s Facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/pg/guerinpr/posts/

–Bill McCloud