The Birdhouse Man by Rick DeStefanis

In Rick DeStefanis’ novel, The Birdhouse Man: A Vietnam War Veteran’s Story (360 pp. $23.95, hardcover; $12.99, paper; $6.99, Kindle), an older veteran tell his Vietnam War story to a student working on a college project. DeStefanis served with the 82nd Airborne Division from 1970-72. The book is the latest novel in his Vietnam War Series.

In it, widower Sam Walker is selling his handmade birdhouses at a campus arts and crafts festival when he meets a student, Claire Cunningham, who tells him the military insignia on his cap is the same one her grandfather had worn. Her grandfather had recently died before he could help her with her senior thesis, which was going to be based mainly on his Vietnam War experiences. Sam seldom talked about the war, except when he had taught it at the college, and he never told anyone about his personal experiences. Still, he decides to help Clair finish the thesis, even though she wants the unfiltered truth of what he did, saw, and thought.

Sam tells her he had enlisted ahead of the draft, volunteered for OCS, then went to Airborne and Ranger School. He landed in Vietnam in late 1967 and noted that everything “outside the barbed wire appeared to be a land of poverty and filth.” He goes on to say that the Vietnamese countryside was “litter, naked children, rivers, and palm trees—sort of like paradise gone to hell.” He was amazed to see a “house made of beer cans.”

Sam eventually tells the young woman of combat so intense and close-up that his rifle was once pressed against the chest of an enemy soldier when he fired it. After a few sessions with her, his nightmares return. We then learn that Claire is trying to connect with her father who served in the Army in Iraq and is on the streets somewhere suffering from PTSD. As Sam continues his story and answers her questions, he decides to help Claire find her father.

In a way the main plot is a fantasy in which a grumpy old veteran finally decides to talk about the war, but only to a young female college student who is very attractive and, as Sam says, my “kind of woman.” While on the road searching for her father the two frequently share a hotel room. One morning they eat breakfast in the room with her wrapped only in a blanket. And, to round out the fantasy, Claire hangs on every word of Sam’s story.

On the other hand, everything turns out to be on the up and up, which seems plausible. Claire loved her grandfather and sees much of him in Sam.

I was impressed with how Rick DeStefanis spun out the various threads of this story in such a way that I never once thought things might come unraveled. He has created a great story of war and the human relationships that come together because of it.

His website is rickdestefanis.com

–Bill McCloud

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

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 Vietnam Veterans Memorial at Angel Fire by Steven Trout

An abundance of love between parents and their children can lead to highly improbable actions. Within days after Marine Platoon Leader Lt. Victor David Westphall III was killed in action near Con Thien in South Vietnam in 1968, his father and mother—Victor and Jeanne—began planning building a chapel in remembrance of him. They accomplished the task in less than three years at the cost of their life savings–and an eventual marital separation.

The Westphalls’ independently built chapel at 8,500 feet altitude near Taos in remote Angel Fire, New Mexico, was dedicated more than a decade before the completion of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial—The Wall—in Washington, D.C.

Steven Trout tells the Westphall family’s story in The Vietnam Veterans Memorial at Angel Fire: War, Remembrance, and an American Tragedy (University Press of Kansas, 240 pp. $50, hardcover; $19.95, paper and Kindle). Trout, who chairs the University of South Alabama English Department and co-directs the university’s Center for the Study of War and Memory, spent several years doing the research for this book. He relied heavily on the words of Victor Westphall (who died at 89 in 2003), as well as his son Walter, David’s younger brother who served in the Vietnam as an Air Force KC135 pilot.

The Westphalls expanded their plans from simply a remembrance of their son to what became the Vietnam Veterans Peace and Brotherhood Chapel. They dedicated the structure to “World Peace,” now and forever. Since then, the chapel has been at the center of repeated controversies.

Readers should bypass the book’s introduction and acknowledgement section because they give away a series of surprising, extraordinary events as the Westphalls’ lives took unexpected and challenging turns after building the Chapel.

Trout opens the story by describing the psychological relationship between Victor and David Westphall. Trout then recreates David Westphall’s seven months in the Vietnam War, using his letters to the family to provide intimate details.

Lt. David Westphall in country

The remainder of the book deals with the construction and function of the chapel, a constant struggle for the family. Trout also examines the American antiwar movement; the politics and funding of veterans memorials; the passion and interactions of Victor Westphall and visitors to the chapel; and the evolution of the ownership, name, and operation of the site.

Along with normally accepted viewpoints, Trout delves into deep and controversial arguments from the past. Several ideas were new to me—and challenging.

Near the book’s end when Victor and Walter Westphall arrive in Vietnam to visit the battleground where David was killed, they leave the reader with a somewhat contrary conclusion to all that had come before by saying that in Ho Chi Minh City, they immediately noticed a sea of young faces, a population explosion that had already left Vietnamese veterans of the “American War” vastly outnumbered by countrymen with no memory of the conflict.

Ironically, here the war seemed to matter less than it did at home.

—Henry Zeybel    

Reach for More by David M. Szumowski

Reach for More: A Journey from Loss to Love and Fulfillment (Dementi Milestone Publishing, 152 pp. $20, paper; $7.50, Kindle) by David M. Szumowski is an inspirational look at how one man refused to let the fact that he had been blinded in the Vietnam War determine what the rest of his life would be like. The story describes everything David Szumowski accomplished despite what many would have considered a handicap, leading up to being appointed a Superior Court judge in California.

Szumowski grew up in upstate New York. Both of his parents had been in the Army and served in France during World War II. The oldest of four boys, he took ROTC in college and after graduating in 1967 he was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant. After training at Ft. Knox and Jungle School in Panama, he arrived in Vietnam in February 1969.

On March 20, Szumowski, an 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment tank platoon leader, was wounded during a day of heavy fighting near Dau Tieng. He had been in Vietnam for only forty days and had experienced only one firefight. The five 48-ton tanks under his command were patrolling near the Michelin rubber plantation when they came under attack. The last thing, literally, that David Szumowski saw was a flash of light.

He was immediately taken to a field hospital in Bien Hoa where he learned, after two weeks, that his war was over—and that he would never regain his sight. The young lieutenant was flown to Camp Zama, Japan, where he stayed for about three weeks. His next stop was stateside at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C.

Szumowski was medically retired from the Army, and then went through a 16-week rehabilitation program designed to teach him how to live without sight. He learned Braille, but realized he would never read a book in that manner because of how long it would take. He began listening to recorded books, instead, and believes he has “read”to more than 5,000 since then.

The bulk of Reach for More deals with Szumowski’s decision to attend law school, his short-lived private legal practice, a decade of service as a Deputy District Attorney, and an even longer period as a judge in California.

Judge Szumowski

Szumowski has kind words to say about the VA. Even though the agency “is currently under scrutiny for its lack of care to veterans,” he writes, “I am one veteran who benefitted greatly from VA programs and have only high praise for their programs and care.”

According to Szumowski success in life is the result of “playing the hand you are dealt, seizing opportunities that present themselves, having faith in God, and never giving up.”

There are several photos in the book, including an especially moving one of the author at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. Szumowski represents very well the many veterans of the Vietnam War who have risen above physical problems they brought home and continue to serve as inspiring examples of the indomitable human spirit.

–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

Too Strong to Be Broken by Edward J. Driving Hawk and Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve

Bison Books at the University Nebraska Press’ American Indian Lives series contains autobiographies, biographies, and memoirs of Native Americans selected for their anthropological and historical interest and literary merit. The latest addition to this treasure trove is Too Strong to Be Broken: The Life of Edward J. Driving Hawk by Edward J. Driving Hawk and Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve (Bison Books/University of Nebraska Press, 200 pp. $27.95, hardcover and Kindle).

The authors—brother and sister—wrote the book five years ago when Edward Driving Hawk reached the age of 80. They tell the story of his life in three psychologically and physically demanding sections.

A Lakota Indiana born in South Dakota in 1935, two years after his sister’s birth, Edward Driving Hawk lived an outdoor boyhood with plenty of hunting, fishing, and trapping. Accepting Great Depression hardships and periodic segregation from white people, Edward fondly remembers close relationships with his parents and grandparents who taught him tribal traditions that guided his behavior. He primarily attended federal government schools until the age of seventeen, then enlisted in the Air Force.  

Twenty years of military service filled the middle of his life. Trained as a Forward Observer, he saw action in both the Korean and Vietnam Wars. He loved guiding B29s and fighter-bombers from a front-line position against masses of North Korean troops—until they shot him through the leg.

Edward returned to the United States in 1955 and married Carmen Boyd, his high school sweetheart. They raised four sons and a daughter.

During the Cold War, he worked Distant Early Warning (DEW) lines at NORAD operations from Alaska to Ontario, Canada. He attained flying status and engaged in low-level EC-121 missions over Cuba during the 1962 missile crisis, and special flights over Panama, Hawaii, and Alaska.

His account of the 156 missions he flew in EC-121 surveillance aircraft during three six-month tours in Vietnam provided new information for me and made exceptionally interesting reading.

In referencing those years, Edward repeatedly says, “I drank but was still able to do my job.” Yet he also writes of “uncountable blackouts.”

Edward and Virginia Driving Hawk

He was not a special case. According to my recollections of the USAF in the fifties and sixties, drinking was the favorite pastime among military personnel. Too many simply did not know what else to do during off-duty hours, and officer, NCO, and airman clubs became second homes. After 14 years of alcoholism—and under the threat of being discharged from the Air Force— Edward Driving Hawk joined Alcoholics Anonymous. He’s been sober for more than 40 years. 

Events of his post-military life back in South Dakota comprise the most dynamic section of his memoir. He attained the rank of Chief in the Roseland Sioux tribe and then chairman of the National Congress of American Indians—a united voice for all the tribes of the United States. He befriended senators; presidents befriended him.

He details his vigorous work on behalf of Indian causes, although too often with limited success. He ran afoul of the FBI, was undercut by his associates, and wound up serving eight months in federal prison. At the same time, Edward endured bouts of  Post-traumatic stress disorder and developed cancer as a result of exposure to Agent Orange. After many operations, today he must use a wheelchair.

The value of this book is that it offers a broad view of American society from a member of a small minority. Edward and Virginia recount the good and bad aspects of an unusual life and he takes responsibility for his actions, including those that he most regrets. A dozen photographs and a Driving Hawk family tree enhance his narrative.

—Henry Zeybel

Who’ll Stop the Rain by Doug Bradley

If there is someone who knows more about popular music and the Vietnam War than Doug Bradley does, please come to the head of the class. Bradley has immersed himself in what he and other troops listened to since he set foot in Vietnam in 1970. For years he taught a class at the University of Wisconsin called “The Vietnam Era: Music, Media, and Mayhem.”

What’s more, Bradley co-wrote, with Craig Werner, We Gotta Get Out of This Place: The Soundtrack of the Vietnam War (2015), a compendium of all things Vietnam War-era music. “For anyone who wants to know about music and the Vietnam War, this is the book to read,” David Willson wrote in his VVA Veteran review of that book. Bradley and Werner “have given us a gift, a compendious book that looks at the music we rock-and-roll-generation Americans who served in the Vietnam War listened to.”

Doug Bradley’s latest book, Who’ll Stop the Rain: Respect, Remembrance and Reconciliation in Post-Vietnam America (Warriors Publishing Group, 258 pp. $34.99, hardcover; $14.95, paperback; $5.99, Kindle) picks up where the previous book left off—but also expands the subject broadly. The heart of Who’ll Stop the Rain is a detailed report on more than 100 book-and-music presentations around the country that Bradley—who was drafted into the Army in March 1970 and served for a year as an Army journalist at USRV headquarters in Long Binh—and Werner hosted following publication of their book.

What they found time after time at their presentations was that popular music bound together Baby Boomer Vietnam War veterans as well as those who did not serve—no matter what their political persuasions. “The music of the era,” Bradley writes, “can help ground us, get us out of the quagmire, by moving us away from [political] polarizations. Music truth is complex, an implicit recognition that no one voice can tell the whole story, that our public memory is inescapably plural.”

That became especially clear during the Q&A sessions following the presentations. His audiences, Bradley says, “didn’t do the usual griping or head shaking; instead, they listened, intently and respectfully, to what all sides had to say.” Nearly “every conversation eventually moved to somewhere in the middle, and, in the end to some type of communal healing, with every person who stood up and shared—veteran and non-veteran—feeling as if they had been heard.”

Doug Bradley on the job at USRV HQ

The issues that came up during the presentations ran the gamut of Vietnam War and postwar subjects. They included Agent Orange, PTSD, veterans’ homelessness, the VA’s Vet Centers, wannabes, Veterans’ Courts, The Wall and other Vietnam veterans memorials, and Vietnam War movies and books. Throughout the book Bradley intersperses first-person sections, told mainly by Vietnam War veterans, about those and other aspects of the war and veterans issues.

Along the way, Bradley takes care to highlight the postwar accomplishments of many Vietnam veterans, including writers and Vietnam veterans advocates. That group includes W.D. Ehrhart, Alfredo Vera, Karl Marlantes, Steve Piotrowski, Shad Meshad, Bob Fraser, John Ketwig, Kimo Williams, Chuck and Tom Hagel, Sue O’Neill, and Mary Reynolds Powell.

Their words are varied, powerful, and important. As is this book.

–Marc Leepson

A Final Valiant Act by John B. Lang

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In A Final Valiant Act: The Story of Doug Dickey, Medal of Honor (Casemate, 296 pp. $23.92, hardcover; $17.99 Kindle) retired Marine Lt. Col. John B. Lang presents spellbinding accounts of the ferocity of fighting during Operations Deckhouse VI and Beacon Hill in early 1967 in Vietnam. His stories form the centerpiece of this biography of PFC Douglas Eugene Dickey, a Medal of Honor recipient who sacrificed his life by smothering the blast of a hand grenade with his body to save his fellow Marines.

In this deeply researched book Lang re-creates Dickey’s upbringing in Ohio, his military training and service in Asia, and the aftereffects of his sacrifice. Lang also includes Marine Corps history back to China and during World War II and the Korean War. The book’s 24 pages of photographs relate mostly to Dickey.

During the Vietnam War, fifty-eight Marines received the Medal of Honor, forty-four of them posthumously. Those medals went to young men who, like Doug Dickey, died saving their buddies, Lang says.

Lang graduated from U.S. Naval Academy with a BA in history and an MA in international relations, and served in the first Persian Gulf War and in Somalia, and Iraq during twenty-two years with the Marines. He considers Vietnam War veterans his leaders, mentors, and friends. 

The portrayal of Doug Dickey, the oldest of four sons, reveals more than the details of his daily life as Lang provides touches of cerebral insight from letters Dickey frequently wrote to his mother and other relatives during his Marine Corps service. Lang’s many interviews with men who trained and fought alongside Dickey further show the depth of his subject’s character.

After graduating from high school and expecting to be drafted, Doug Dickey and four friends enlisted in the Marine Corps for two years under the Buddy Plan. The physical demands of basic training challenged Dickey to his limits, but he persevered. He breezed through the follow-on Infantry Training Regiment course.

Men of the Dickey’s platoon in the Third Marine Division’s First Battalion, Fourth Regiment comprise the core of manpower cited in the book. With them, Dickey engaged in the Combined Action Program, search-and-destroy missions, and amphibious operations of Marine Special Landing Forces against Viet Cong units around Duc Pho and the North Vietnamese Army along the DMZ. Both sides suffered high casualty counts in every encounter.

To better explain the amphibious operations, Lang includes a series of maps that show the company’s actions virtually day by day. This technique clarifies the Battalion Landing Team maneuver of striking the flank of the North Vietnamese Army invading across the DMZ, the operation in which Dickey died.   

The last third of A Final Valiant Act examines the post-war lives of Second Platoon Marines by recounting their unwelcoming homecomings, their fortitude during prolonged and painful hospitalizations, post-traumatic stress issues, and suicides. The book also examines the emotional toll within Gold Star families.

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Members of Dickey’s platoon at the 2014 opening of his Medal of Honor exhibit at the Garst House, a local history museum  in Greenville, Ohio

In 1997 in honor of Dickey, Second Platoon members held their initial reunion, which became an annual affair. Lang first attended in 2006, and he retells stories of bitter combat and heartwarming friendships collected from attendees. The platoon made Lang an honorary member in 2009.    

A Final Valiant Act leaves the reader with a definitive image of Doug Dickey: A selfless young man who loved his family, respected other people, and felt great responsibility toward his country.

—Henry Zeybel