A Stranger in My Bed by Debbie Sprague

I finished reading Debbie Sprague’s A Stranger in My Bed: Eight Steps to Taking Your Life Back from the Contagious Effects of Your Veteran’s Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder  (Morgan James Publishing, 360 pp., $24.95, paper; $9.99, Kindle) late at night. It had been a worthwhile, red-eye learning experience.

Sprague, a certified life and career coach, begins her book with a painfully raw narrative of life with her Vietnam War veteran husband. The reader is taken into a world of darkness and chaos, confusion and fear, anger and hopelessness. The possibility of financial disaster is always on the front burner, and infinite frustration grows with the turn of each page.

The most serious PTSD symptoms of the author’s husband began in earnest thirty years after he came home from Vietnam. It was as though he were pushing some kind of envelope, unconsciously crying out for help. Many will be able to relate to the author’s inclination to ignore small aberrations of behavior, hoping  they would go away.

The chapters describing the gradual dissolution of the couple’s marriage were heartbreaking. Little by little, Sprague’s husband would spend more time with friends where everything was fine, and less time with his wife where their marriage was one continual conflict. His purchase of guns added a serious threat. Daily life became so traumatic that the author herself was diagnosed with PTSD.

Why didn’t the couple simply divorce and start their lives over?  The answer to that question is what makes this book so different from other PTSD books I’ve read.

Sprague loved her husband deeply despite his faults, and she was very committed to her marriage vows. Her courage and tenacity to stick has similarities to what a soldier in combat goes through in order to not turn and run.

Perhaps it was prophetic that the couple’s turnaround began while they were on their way to church on June 6, 2010, the anniversary of D-Day. Her husband read aloud a warning sign telling of a dead-end street by saying, “Debbie’s a dead-end.” As the words echoed through her ears, Sprague said she silently screamed, “NO! I am not a dead-end! I am not a quitter.”

Thus began the turnaround in the life of a true heroine, and the fodder for an excellent PTSD reference book. Perhaps the most important thing Spraque explains is that while it is often impossible to change the actions of another person, it is always possible to change one’s own reactions to those actions. She also shares the sage insight that we can only make progress when we deal with reality and not illusions.

Debbie Sprague

Sprague’s use of biblical verses becomes more frequent as the book goes along. She uses sacred words in a realistic, practical way, though, and does not pontificate.

The final two thirds of the book consists of a well-organized PTSD textbook. It contains information on developing support systems and coping with fear and anger, shame and guilt, and sexual dysfunction, among other things

Were Debbie Sprague’s efforts to pull her much-loved husband back from the abyss worth it? Readers will undoubtedly concur with his response:

“I will be eternally grateful for Debbie and her commitment, not only to me, but to veterans, their spouses, and their families everywhere. God bless her, and God bless our veterans and their families.”

The author’s web site is http://astrangerinmybed.com

—Joseph Reitz

In Honor and Memory by Ray Bows and Pia Bows

Ray Bows, a retired U.S. Army Master Sgt., served in the Vietnam War with the 25th Infantry Division in 1968-69. His latest book is the gigantic In Honor and Memory: Installations and Facilities of the Vietnam War (Bows and Company, 722 pp., $59.95, hardcover), a richly illustrated and detailed compendium of more than 800 named U.S. military fire support bases, camps, landing zones, patrol bases, compounds, and other installations and facilities in Vietnam,Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Okinawa, and Guam.

I suspect that most Vietnam veterans will do what I did: immediately check the long, detailed index to see if the book includes the place where I spent twelve months of my life. And, in fact, Bows has a half page on Camp Granite outside the city of Qui Nhon where I served from December 1967 to December 1968 with the 527th Personnel Service Company.

Ray Bows

I learned that Camp Granite is located “on the east side of Route QL-1, just south of Phu Tai at the base of Vung Chau Mountain” in Binh Dinh Province in the former II Corps. I didn’t know that the camp was named “for the granite cliffs that faced” it—although I probably should have figured that one out.

The entry includes two pictures of Camp Granite.

The book is not available in stores. For ordering info and to find out more about the book, go to www.bowsmilitarybooks.com 

—Marc Leepson

Camp Granite

 

Vietnam War Almanac by James H. Willbanks

The latest edition of James H. Willbanks’s Vietnam War Almanac (Skyhorse Publishing, 590 pp., $17.95, paper) has just been published. The guts of this book, which was first published in 2009 (and is not to be confused with Col. Harry Summers’s The Vietnam War Almanac), is 465-page detailed chronology of events in Indochina beginning in 2879 B.C. with the founding of the Kingdom of Van Lang, and ending on November 17, 2000, with President Bill Clinton visiting Vietnam.

The guts of the chronology is a virtually day-by-day rundown of events that took place in Vietnam (mainly dealing with the American war) from 1960 to the end of 1973. Willbanks, who directs the Military History Department at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, is eminently qualified to put together this book. A retired Army lieutenant colonel who served a tour of duty as an adviser with a South Vietnamese regiment during the 1972 North Vietnamese Easter Offensive, he has edited or written a dozen books, including The Battle of An Loc (2005), and The Tet Offensive: A Concise History (2008).

In the Almanac, Willbanks divides the chronological entries into several categories. The most commonly used are: USA-Military, Ground War, Air War, Sea War, USA-Government, USA-Domestic, Diplomacy, North Vietnam, and South Vietnam. Other categories include China, USSR, Terrorism, POWs, Negotiations, Cambodia, and Refugees.

James H. Willbanks

Willbanks also includes a section called “Key Individuals in Southeast Asia,” which is made up of dozens of short biographies, primarily of important American and Vietnamese military men, diplomats, politicians, Cabinet secretaries, and other government officials. The Appendices include statistics on U.S. military personnel in Vietnam and casualties, and a list of Vietnam War Medal of Honor recipients.

That’s a lot on good info packed into one volume, which should be on your book shelf if you want to know just about anything of import that took place in Vietnam during the American war.

—Marc Leepson

All They Left Behind by Lisa A. Lark

All They Left Behind: Legacies of the Men and Women on The Wall (M.T. Publishing, 120 pp., $37.50) is a tribute to sixty-one American servicemen and women who died in the Vietnam War. This handsomely produced coffee-table-sized book was put together by Lisa A. Lark in conjunction with the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund.

Lark, a high school English teacher and community college writer instructor in Michigan, spent more than two years working on the book. During that time she interviewed more than 500 Vietnam veterans, as well as family members and friends of the men and women she profiles in the book. Arranged chronologically by casualty date (from 1962-75), the profiles consist of well-crafted mini biographies augmented with photographs of the men and women before and during the war, as well as with other images, including illustrations and photographs of things left at The Wall.

Lark interrupts the chronological narrative to include an essay on the men who died in Vietnam from Dearborn, Michigan, where she lives. “Fifty-seven sons of Dearborn, the hometown of Henry Ford, gave their lives in service to their country during the Vietnam War,” she writes. “These boys were children of the fifties, coming of age in a city that, despite being one of Michigan’s largest, still behaved as a small town.”

Lark includes includes profiles of six of the Dearborn men (Dennis Stancroff, Earl Smith, Raymond Borowski, David Antol, James Davis, and James Huard) in the book, along with snapshots of forty-two the others.

—Marc Leepson

For the Common Defense by Allan R. Millett, Peter Maslowski, and William B. Fries

The newly revised and expanded third edition of For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States from 1607 to 2012 has just been published (Free Press, 714 pp., $28, paper). Originally published in 1984 and revised in 1994, this book presents a general history of U.S. military policy from the very beginnings of European settlement on these shores. The authors are Allan R. Millett, a professor of history and the director of the Eisenhower Center for American Studies at the University of New Orleans, and Peter Maslowski, a history professor at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. William B. Feis, a history professor at Buena Vista University in Iowa, edited the new edition.

The book’s two concise Vietnam War chapters—“In Dubious Battle: Vietnam, 1961-1967” and “The Lost War: Vietnam 1968-1975”—were among those rewritten for the new edition.  Both chapters go over the main threads of the war in some detail and offer excellent summaries of the military, political, and geopolitical aspects of the nation’s second longest and most controversial overseas war.

Allan Millett

“Riddled with ambiguities, uncertainties, and paradoxes, the Vietnam War defied easy generalizations,” the authors note. “Pitting North Vietnam and a very substantial number of South Vietnamese against other Southerners, it was both a civil war and an international conflict involving the U.S., China, and the Soviet Union. Moreover, the international situation changed dramatically between 1964 and 1972, as the Chinese-Soviet estrangement became increasingly obvious and U.S. policy moved toward detente with both Communist superpowers.”

The authors perceptively note that generalizations about the war are difficult because—as nearly every Vietnam veteran knows—the war lasted so long and conditions often were markedly different at different times and in different places. As they put it: “What was true in one place was often irrelevant in another because the conflict varied depending on where soldiers were stationed, when they served, and the nature of their assignment.”

As for politics, the Vietnam War, the authors say, “was always about more than the fate of that Southeast Asian country. Three presidents based their decisions as much on domestic political considerations as they did on the war’s exigencies.”

As for the war’s legacy, the authors have this to say: “Not the least of the war’s legacies was an array of haunting questions that could have no definitive answers. How and why did the U.S. lose the war? Could it have been won at an acceptable cost? If so, how? Was Southeast Asia worth the prolonged ordeal? After all, although South Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos ended up in the Communist camp and endured decades of postwar misery and privation, no other dominoes toppled—not Thailand, not Malaysia, not the Philippines, not Indonesia.”

—Marc Leepson

A Grunt Speaks by Ray Gleason

Ray Gleason is a retired Army Major. He served in Vietnam as a rifleman with A Company, 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry and was also a LRRP team leader with the 75th Infantry. He tells us in A Grunt Speaks: A Devil’s Dictionary of Vietnam Infantry Tales and Terms (Unlimited Publishing,232 pp., $14.99, paper) that he still has his P38. I have mine, too, hanging on my dogtag chain right next to my dogtags.

Gleason is a lecturer in medieval literature at Northwestern University in Chicago. He also teaches leadership and ethics at the Culver Academies, a boarding school in Indiana.

In many ways, I am the perfect reviewer for this handsome, well-written, well designed, and very unusual reference book. I’m an Army veteran, I served in Vietnam, and I spent thirty years as a college reference librarian. I’m also a great admirer of Ambrose Bierce, to whom the author pays homage in the subtitle, “Devil’s Dictionary.” I served in Vietnam for thirteen months, although in a very different role than Gleason’s. He was in the infantry; I was in the rear.

So I wondered how long I’d have to read before I’d encounter the term “REMF” in this grunt book. Not long. It is on the back cover, and it appears on the earliest numbered page in the book.

I’ve read all of the many reference books that attempt to include and explain the military terms of the American War in Vietnam, and I’ve developed a quick and dirty way to start my evaluation of a new one. The first term I look up is always “REMF.”

This book is usefully arranged alphabetically and the arrangement works.  As the first entry in the “R” section, I found a three-page entry under “REMF.” Early in the entry, Gleason chooses to perpetuate the near myth that REMF clerks used their skills to award themselves CIB’s (Combat Infantryman Badges.)  Maybe somewhere, sometime, a REMF did that.  But I consider it even more unlikely than the near myth of the long-haired, braless hippie girl at the San Francisco Airport spitting on a newly returned Vietnam veteran and calling him a baby killer.

I’m unconvinced that these things ever happened as described, but I confess my skepticism has its roots in my personal history. I never encountered either. Hippie girls were always nice as pie to me and the last thing I ever wanted was a CIB.

I knew a lot of clerks and jerks in Vietnam and since and none ever expressed any interest in bilking the Army out of a CIB. Besides, the clerks and jerks lacked the proper MOS for a CIB. From what I understand, you had to have be an 11-Bravo or another infantry MOS to be considered for a CIB. That was true even if you had received a Bronze Star for valor defending your air-conditioned office when it was overrun by VC during the Tet Offensive .

Gleason says in his REMF entry that “no one reading this would ever acknowledge that it describes them.” I do acknowledge that his entry applies to me. I suspect it also applies to hundreds of thousands of other clerks and jerks who served in the rear in Vietnam, and who relished—as Gleason puts it—“three hots a day, sleeping on a bunk out of the rain, sleeping entire nights without having to pull guard, having a club to drink cold beer and other forms of chilled alcohol, having access to hot showers, sleeping without boots, wearing clean pressed uniforms with patches and insignia of rank properly attached.”

Ray Gleason in Vietnam

Yes, I felt entitled to those things, and I especially gloried in the showers.  But so what?  Most grunts would have gloried in these comforts, too.Enough about the “REMF” entry, even if it does work well as an example of how this book operates. As the subtitle indicates, the book has both terms and tales. The anecdotes are intended to illuminate the definitions of the terms, and they usually do.

My next step was to look up the definition of “Ham and Motherfuckers” to see how Gleason deals with this delicate term. I turned to the “H” section to see what I could find. No ham and motherfuckers. Okay. So I went to the back of the book for a look at the index. Perhaps the term was buried in some other section. There is no index.

There was a notice that Gleason’s next book would be a “Gruntionary.”  Perhaps that forthcoming work will include an entry on this special term.Then I looked for “C-Rats,” and found four pages of useful information. Something Gleason calls “Ham and Bullets” is on his list of “C-Rats normally avoided.” This must be the usually loathed ham and lima beans which are usually referred to as “ham and motherfuckers” in the grunt literature, both novels and memoirs. The C-Rat entry is typical of most in this book: It’s detailed, helpful, and contains an interesting personal anecdote.

I went back and read the entire book, encountering a very useful entry on Agent Orange and a moving entry on Ann-Margaret. I found no entry on Jane Fonda, although she is mentioned in the book more than once.  Reference books seldom are best served by reading them straight through, but by dipping into them to get a quick answer. But this book held up to this treatment.

I will put this dictionary on the big shelf of Vietnam War books in my study and will consult it when I have a grunt term to look up. Gleason declares his focus in the title and the book does not let us down. Its bias is unashamedly “grunt.”  If this focus grates on a REMF reader, he or she has the option of producing a REMF reference book.

I thought of “A REMF Speaks.”  It’s a temptation, but I’ll pass. Book sales have already proven there is a much greater market and readership for grunt and LRRP books about the Vietnam War than for REMF books.

Which is odd because World War II produced many REMF bestsellers, books such as Tales of the South Pacific, Mr. Roberts, The Caine Mutiny, and From Here to Eternity.  These books were fundamentally non-combat books.

It was a different time.

—David Willson

More Than Names On A Wall by James McComb

Walking back from a visit to the Bucks County Vietnam War Memorial wall in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, which contains the names of the 136 county residents who died in Vietnam, James McComb felt unfulfilled. While he was proud that his county’s largest war memorial was dedicated to those who died in the Vietnam War, McComb felt that more than a wall containing faceless names was needed to honor the sacrifice of those veterans.

Acting on this belief, McComb–a member of VVA Chapter 210 in Doylestown—began work on a book that serves as both an individual and a collective memorial to all 136 individuals listed on the wall. More Than Names On A Wall: Remembering Bucks County’s Veterans Who Lost Their lives Serving our Country during the Vietnam War (CreateSpace, 258 pp., $12.95, paper) is McComb’s end product.

After a brief preface explaining his inspiration for the book, McComb, who served in Vietnam as a radio operator assigned to the 1st Marine Air Wing west of Khe Sanh, dedicates one to two personal pages to each fallen serviceman, organized alphabetically according to the year in which he died. Using mostly information he obtained from the Internet, McComb provides a photo and biographical information, including rank, circumstances of death, and location of service. He also includes a brief (one- or two-paragraph) biography of each individual.

Thanks to McComb’s dedicated work, Bucks County’s Vietnam War dead are no longer just names on a wall. Rather, they are real people with faces, families, lives, and individual stories. As McComb points out in his preface, the fallen veterans “deserve to be known as more than inscriptions on a wall.”

—Dale Sprusansky