L.A.’s Last Street Cop by Al Moreno

L.A.’s Last Street Cop: Surviving Hollywood Freaks, The Aryan Brotherhood, and the L.A.P.D.’s Homicidal Vendetta Against Me (281 pp. Highpoint, $24.99, hardcover; $9.99, Kindle) is Al Moreno’s memoir of his years with what he calls “the premier police department in the United States.” Moreno went to work for LAPD soon after coming home from the Vietnam War feeling like it was the job he was born to do. But just a few years later he was fired in what he says was an “unlawful procedure.”

The book’s main story takes place between 1975 and 1982. Moreno, grew up, as he puts it, in the “gang-infested” Florencia-13 part of South Central Los Angeles. His father was abusive and his family very poor—and large. He had eleven brothers and sisters. He joined the Marines in 1968, three years after dropping out of high school and served in Vietnam with India Company, Third Battalion, Seventh Marines as a fire team leader and radioman. After leaving the Corps he obtained an associate’s degree and was accepted into the Los Angeles Police Academy in late 1975.

Always remember, a veteran cop told him, that “this world out here is a shithole with no long-term fixes. Your main responsibility is to keep the peace for that instant in real time and prevent the situation from escalating.”

Moreno had no confidence in the weapon he was issued, describing it as a Smith & Wesson “piss-ant” .38 six-shot revolver with no knock-down power. He describes “greasy spoon” meals on the job, and how routine arrests would typically require five hours of paperwork, and how he served during a time when there were few female officers in the department. He points out that many of the men were war veterans, but that 90 percent of the officers on the force “had never dropped the hammer on an asshole.” He says the term “war brides” was used to describe women who chased cops, hoping to date or even marry them.

Moreno writes that he had a “natural pugilistic talent,” and received a suspension for an off-duty fight while working the Hollywood Division. He went on to work his way up to a specialized unit dealing with gang-related incidents. For political reasons there was intentional under-reporting of gang-related statistics, a situation Moreno helped bring to light, putting him at odds with the department’s bureaucracy. He was suspended again.

Al Moreno

In 1981 Moreno had more serious charges brought against him by a department he believed had it out for him. Then came death threats, then termination, an action he has worked ever since to have reversed.

The stories Al Moreno tells and incidents he describes in his book are often blood-soaked ones. He does a great job of putting the reader next to him in the front seat of a squad car—or on a bar stool.

L.A.’s Last Cop is an exciting story, excitingly told, with serious undertones of a man still trying to reclaim his good name.   

The book’s website is laststreetcop.com

–Bill McCloud

Lingering Fire by William Jackson Blackley

William Jackson’s Blackley’s poetry collection, Lingering Fire (Main Street Rag Publishing, 40 pp., $11, paper), which was published in 2015, contains excellent, mostly short poems with titles such as “Indirect Fire,” “Black Market Habits,” “Cities,” “Captain Crazy,” “Thermite,” “One Tour Too Many,” and “Blue Sunday.”

“Some of these poems were written during a very dark chapter in my life when I questioned even the existence of God,” Blackley writes. “They are based on my experiences growing up, with the draft, military training, battlefield action, coming home, talking with veterans and post-traumatic consequences of actions in Vietnam.” The poems “are, at times, my personal attempts to work through conflicted emotions rising from war experiences.”

The key to understanding this collection is a close reading of Blackley’s poem “Captain Crazy.” It’s about his fellow Vietnam War veteran Yusef Komunyakaa, the much-honored poet.

During my thirteen-and-a half-months in Vietnam I served as an office worker. However, in the months and years after I returned from the Vietnam War, I observed similar behavior to what Blackley describes in “Captain Crazy”. My sympathy for Komunyakaa and other returning Vietnam veterans was extreme, partially because I was similarly affected by my tour of duty.

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If you want to understand the fears of a Vietnam War veteran, read Komunyakaa’s poetry and your sympathy and understanding will be increased.

The poem I like best in the Lingering Fire is “Breaking Ranks.” Here are excerpts:

Home from Vietnam I carried engraved images of twisted and burned men everywhere I went

Never mentioned them, never even hinted at them until in the stands at my son’s soccer game one year I stunned myself and friends when ashen faced I stood and shouted “shut up shut up shut up” to a knot of teenagers chanting “kill them kill them kill them”

If you like hard-hitting poems that don’t mince words, this book is for you.

–David Willson

A Quiet Cadence by Mark Treanor

Mark Treanor’s A Quiet Cadence (Naval Institute Press, 392 pp. $29.95) is a great Vietnam War novel.

Treanor—a Naval Academy graduate who led a Marine rifle platoon and commanded an artillery battery in the Vietnam War—tells the war and post-war stories of nineteen-year-old Marine Marty McClure. It begins on the day McClure sees “the dead man above the trees” as he is about to go into the bush. It’s just his fifth day in country.

McClure is an assistant gunner in a rifle company in which the company clerk is the guy with the most scarred face in the unit. The guys are all young. Some have young wives at home, and a couple of them are pregnant. The first Marine to greet him says, “Welcome to shit city.” McClure’s platoon is known as “the frat house” because every member in it went to college.

McClure is looking forward to his first firefight, but hopes it’s a small one. In fact, his actions under fire fall short of his expectations. He is slow to react as he watches a buddy kill “the running man.”

Back at the base camp after a few weeks in the bush means being able to heap mashed potatoes and real butter onto your battered tin chow tray. Then a shower and some sleep and before long you head back out again. McClure encounters the body of a VC and is surprised to see that it’s a young female wrapped in ammunition pouches, an AK-47 next to her.

“Her lips were raised in what looked amazingly like a pucker, as though she were waiting for a lover’s kiss,” Treanor writes, “her nipples incongruously hard.”

Treanor does a great job describing how claustrophobic it feels to tramp through the jungle fearing triggering a booby trap with each step. He also evokes the Marines’ frustrations as they try to ferret out an all-but-invisible enemy:

“We saw no enemy the day Corrie lost his leg.”

“We saw no enemy the day Cavett had his foot blown off and the new guy was ripped up by shrapnel.”

“We saw no enemy on the day Prevas lost his leg.”

The men want revenge, but McClure says there was “no one to kill, no one to pay back. We were all scared.”

When the wished-for action comes, McClure for the first time sees a buddy killed in a firefight. This makes things “somehow more personal,” and he becomes fixated on payback.

The last third of the book deals with McClure’s life after coming home from Vietnam and after leaving the Marines. What he didn’t leave behind was survivor’s guilt. He suffers through continuing nightmares as he attempts to escape the war. The quiet cadence of the title refers to his attempts to continue on with life by focusing on taking things one step at a time.

Mark Treanor

This is a powerful, unrelenting look at the experiences of a Marine serving at the height of the Vietnam War and the personal battles he continues to fight for decades after his return home.

A Quiet Cadence is a major work of combat fiction. It has my full-throated recommendation.

–Bill McCloud

They Were Soldiers Once by Joseph L. Galloway and Marvin J. Wolf

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Former Vietnam War correspondents Joseph L. Galloway and Marvin J. Wolf have combined forces to write a book with a little-traveled approach to telling the stories of those who took part in that war. They Were Soldiers Once: The Sacrifices and Contributions of Our Vietnam Veterans (Thomas Nelson Books, 416 pp. $34.99, hardcover and audio book; $14.99, Kindle) includes the in-country experiences of 49 people who took part in the war, but also delves into what those men and women have done with their lives since then. That is the most captivating factor of this book

Galloway was a United Press International combat correspondent in Vietnam. He’s best known for his collaboration with Lt. Gen. Hal Moore on the book We Were Soldiers Once… and Young. Galloway is also known for putting down his camera, picking up a rifle, and helping fight off the NVA during the Battle of the Ia Drang Valley in November 1965—and for receiving the Bronze Star for that courageous act.

Co-author Wolf served as the Public Information Officer for the 1st Air Cavalry at An Khe. Among a plethora of other books, Wolf co-wrote Buddha’s Child: My Fight to Save Vietnam with the Nguyen Cao Ky, the controversial former South Vietnamese prime minster, and Abandoned in Hell: The Fight to Save Vietnam’s Firebase Kate, with the hero of that fight, William Albracht.

They Were Soldiers has an obligatory A-list of Vietnam War veterans filling its pages. Among them are former Army nurse Diane Carlson Evans, the founder of the Vietnam Womens Memorial; film director Oliver Stone; former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State Colin Powell; and Sen. Max Cleland.

What makes this even more worth the read, though, are the profiles of lesser-known veterans. People such as Paul Longgrear, a Baptist pastor, who said of his service in Vietnam: “I really didn’t mind going. I wanted to see the world. I was pretty wild at that time. Really wild, to be honest.”

Burbank, California resident, Don Ray, a permanent fixture at veterans’ events in that city, is another fascinating addition to the book. Ray was a dog handler stationed near the Cambodian border was attached to the Soc Trang Civil Action Group. “When the Sergeant in charge of the unit and the veterinarian were both arrested for black-marketeering, he suddenly found himself in the role of the detachment’s acting veterinarian technician,” Galloway and Wolf write. After the war, Ray’s passion for research led him to a career in broadcast journalism at KNBC-TV in Burbank.

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Joe Galloway

In addition to those who donned the uniform in Vietnam, others people profiled in the book served in civilian capacities. The International Voluntary Services (IVS), erroneously thought to be an arm of the CIA at one point, sent people to Indochina to counter communism in a nonviolent way.

Retired North Carolina State University English Professor and poet John Balaban, a pacifist who struggled with his draft board, as recounted in his book Remembering Heaven’s Face, telling them, “If you don’t believe me, send me to Vietnam.” They did. Balaban, another very appropriate addition to They Were Soldiers, served with IVS as an English professor at Can Tho University. But being a pacifist did not preclude him from experiencing the Vietnam War’s death and destruction.

Vietnam veterans have suffered the indignities of being labeled the first to lose a war, drug abusers, baby killers, and the like. Many a Hollywood film and TV shamefully added to that erroneous image. The truth is that an overwhelming majority of Vietnam War veterans, much like their World War II veteran parents, came home from their tours, fit back into their communities, went to college or back to work, married, had children, and continue to make the USA the great country it is today.

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Marvin Wolf

Joe Galloway and Marvin Wolf’s They Were Soldiers goes a long way to illustrate that. Their book will greatly enhance the libraries of Vietnam War veterans, students of the war, journalists who reported on it, as well as J School students of today.

–Marc Phillip Yablonka

The reviewer is a journalist and the author of Vietnam Bao Chi: Warriors of Word and Film, His web site is warstoriespress.com

Waging Peace in Vietnam edited by Ron Carver, David Cortright, and Barbara Doherty

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Waging Peace in Vietnam: U.S. Soldiers and Veterans Who Opposed the War (New Village Press, 256 pp., $35, paper) is a-large format, heavily illustrated book that looks at the role played by active-duty troops and Vietnam War veterans in the antiwar movement. The book—edited by Ron Carver, David Cortright, and Barbara Doherty—is based on a multimedia exhibit that has been shown in this country and in Vietnam.

The editors begin with a 1964-73 timeline of the Vietnam War antiwar movement.  Then comes an essay, “Dissent and Resistance Within the Military During the Vietnam War,” by Cortright, a former Army draftee who was active in the GI peace movement who today is professor of peace studies at the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. In the essay Cortright writes that by 1970 U. S. ground troops had ceased fighting as an effective fighting force. The reason, he says, was opposition to the war from within fomented by underground GI newspapers and other antiwar activity.

Other essays, oral histories, and reprinted newspapers, posters, flyers and photographs deal with Jane Fonda, John Kerry, and nearly all the usual suspects who played important roles opposing the Vietnam War. There also are brief sections on important places and people in Vietnam, such as Long Binh Jail, aka LBJ.  There is a good photo of LBJ, which communicates what the place must have been like for those locked behind its bars.

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The biographical section at the end contains good information on the voices heard in the book and the men pictured on the front cover. I enjoyed reading those bios and learned a few things I had not previously known.

This is a valuable reference book and should be a part of every Vietnam War section in college and public libraries.

The book’s website is wagingpeaceinvietnam.com/book

–David Willson

Cooper: The Making of a Service Dog by Clyde Hoch

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Clyde Hoch spends much of his life helping veterans, particularly those with post-traumatic stress disorder. He sees using a service dog as one of the better ways to cope with PTSD. “Many times,” he says, “I’ve heard from veterans, ‘If it were not for my service dog, I wouldn’t be alive today.’” He knows whereof he speaks.

A Marine tank commander in the Vietnam War in 1968-69, Clyde Hoch was severely injured by a mine that destroyed his vehicle. After coming home, he found that he could not fit into society. Eventually, he learned that he had PTSD, as well as Traumatic Brain Injury. Much later—with encouragement from a therapist and guidance from dog instructors—he bought Cooper, a Doberman Pinscher puppy, and spent a year qualifying him as a service dog.

In his latest book, Cooper: The Making of a Service Dog (100 pp. $8.95, paper) Hoch presents a strong argument for the adage that “a dog is man’s best friend.” The book covers almost three years of their relationship and Cooper’s training. “You build a bond with your dog like no other on earth,” Hoch writes of his one-hundred pound service dog.

The book is interesting because it discusses reducing the effects of war-induced emotional problems in everyday terms. Cooper, Hoch tells us, provides controls that he lacks. Best of all, he softens Hoch’s temper. For example, when Hoch displays road rage, Cooper rests his head on his shoulder to defuse the situation. Cooper also provides extra eyes and ears, lessening Hoch’s reactions to night noises. Cooper also takes the edge off Hoch’s tendency to be hyper-vigilant when he is in crowded places.

“He knows your mood and you know his,” Hoch says. “When I get angry or frustrated, he knows it and comes to me without my telling him to.”

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Clyde Hoch in-country

Hoch repeatedly emphasizes the etiquette of service dog recognition. When wearing an identification vest, a service dog is off-limits to interactions with strangers, including petting. The dog knows this, but most strangers do not. Without the vest, the dog becomes a pet and acts accordingly.

Clyde Hoch performs volunteer work for veterans in many ways. He organized the Veterans Brotherhood, which takes homeless veterans off the street when they are at their lowest. He donates profits from this and his lengthy list of other books to veterans’ organizations and schools.

The long-time VVA member also is well known as a guest speaker in Eastern Pennsylvania where lives.

Clyde Hoch’s website is clydehoch.com

—Henry Zeybel

Yesterday’s Soldier by Tom Keating

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After graduating from Stonehill College’s Holy Cross Seminary in Massachusetts, but denied further advancement to ordination as a Catholic priest, Tom Keating surrendered to the inevitable and volunteered for the draft in 1968. Army Basic Training and Infantry AIT, along with his superior skill with weapons, overpowered Keating’s semi-monastic religious life style. And he began to concentrate on “how to survive and kill in battle,” Keating writes in his memoir, Yesterday’s Soldier (153 pp., $16.99, paper), and he moved on to Officer Candidate School.

As his infantry training continued, Keating re-evaluated this character transformation, and once again followed his religious training. Not wanting to kill people or order others to do so, he sought conscientious objector status.

In the first half of Yesterday’s Soldier Tom Keating does an excellent job explaining the dynamics of attaining conscientious objector status as an active-duty soldier during the Vietnam War. His recollections provided me with new knowledge and insights about a punishing, tedious, and sinister process. How sinister? Keating’s best friend became an Army Criminal Investigation Division agent assigned to evaluate the sincerity of his religious beliefs.

Although a Defense Department policy limited the number of conscientious objectors serving in the armed forces, Keating won his case: He would not be assigned a combat role or issued a weapon for the rest of his tour in the Army.

Nevertheless, he owed the military one more year of active-duty service. Without a job specialty, he was sent to Vietnam. On his arrival, Keating lucked out when a college friend classified him as an administrator and assigned him to a job with the 1st Logistical Command at Long Binh.

Keating’s writing style flows smoothly. I enjoyed reading his stories about the Vietnam War. But his book offers little new information about life behind the lines.

There are descriptions of surviving close calls during rocket, mortar, and sapper attacks on Long Binh. He tells of giving up his “seminarian virginity” in a Saigon bathhouse. Issued a Jeep, he chauffeured officers and performed other minor chores. He befriended a housemaid who was Catholic. R&R in Australia was a highlight of his tour. And then he came home.

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Tom Keating

Tom Keating found a different world than the one he had left two years earlier, especially within the Catholic Church. As part of a continuing evolution of character, his limited exposure to death had magnified his perception of the past. He determined he “could never return to that world, not after Vietnam. That world had collapsed.”

So he began a new life, earning a master’s degree in education and teaching high school for eight years before starting a long career in corporate communications.

The author’s website is tomkeatingwriter.com

—Henry Zeybel

Weapons of War by Robert E. Wright

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Weapons of War: A Compilation of Letters Recounting a Soldier’s Story of Service, Love, and Faith (AuthorHouse, 212 pp. $23.99, hardcover; $12.99, paper; $3.99, Kindle) tells a love story far greater than a war story. In it, Robert E. Wright gives us letters he sent to Barbara Hampton during his two years in the U.S. Army, which included a 1969-70 tour in Vietnam as an infantryman with the 101st Airborne Division, the Screaming Eagles.

The book works as a love story because Wright’s weapons of war were his M-16 to fight the NVA and Viet Cong; his pen to fight the loneliness and separation he felt; and his faith in God to fight fear and doubt. The power of the latter two exceeded that of the first. His letters concentrated on convincing Hampton that she was his one-and-only love forever.

As a grunt, Wright repeatedly walked point on lengthy search-and-destroy missions; turned a VC defector into a Kit Carson Scout; and cleared remote landing zones. His awards included the Bronze Star, two Air Medals, and the Army Commendation Medal.

I enjoyed reading his accounts of military life, but wanted more. That’s because Wright’s desire not to upset his high school sweetheart and their families with his combat experiences made him temper what he wrote. I respected his deep love for Hampton, which he pledged for eternity in every letter, but the memoir would have greater appeal for military history fans if, between letters, he had injected detailed notes about the actions that he otherwise quickly passes over.

The Army drafted Wright while he was still a teenager, and he quietly answered the call. He says military duty made him into “a mature man who is not afraid to make decisions and take on responsibility.” His personal motto of “Stay Focused on the Future” carried him through the war.

I admired Robert Wright’s integrity, particularly denying himself R&R to avoid temptations of the flesh. Best of all, his commanders appeared to respect his certitude about life by assigning him leadership roles above his rank.

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Robert E. Wright

Barbara Hampton and Robert Wright married in 1972 and raised two daughters, who like their mother graduated from Ball State University. Barbara died in 2002 at the age of fifty-two. Robert worked twenty-six years for the Indiana Bell Telephone, followed by twenty-one years of full-time ministry with the Eastern Star Church in Indianapolis.

His memoir teaches excellent lessons in self-restraint and perseverance. It includes photographs with many of the letters.

Wright’s website is weaponsofwar-indy.com/home

—Henry Zeybel

My War & Welcome to It by Tom Copeland

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Like most teenagers of the time, Tom Copeland had no burning desire to fight in the Vietnam War. But he was drafted into the Army and served for a year in Vietnam with the 1st First Infantry Division. His tour of duty in the war is the centerpiece of  My War and Welcome To It (Sunbury Press, 191 pp. $$19.95, paper; $9.99, Kindle), which is written in a voice ranging from youthful humor and wonderment to one of great fear of being killed. He prefaces this autobiography by saying: “I was aged beyond my years. I became an old man before my time.”

Copeland describes his life growing up in Southeastern New Mexico, mostly outdoors; getting drafted in August 1966; going through infantry AIT; operating from Lai Khe with a ground surveillance team with the Big Red One’s 2nd Battalion/2nd Regiment in 1967-68; and returning home and working his way up a corporate ladder. The last part was the most difficult.

He  describes military life largely by concentrating on the good and bad behavior of men of all ranks. Copeland highlights individualists such as a trainee who got away with impersonating the boot camp commander and drill sergeants, even in their presence.

He saw plenty of action, including fighting Viet Cong forces at Prek Loc II and Phu Loi, in the Ong Dong Jungle during Operation Paul Bunyan, and at Ong Thanh. Copeland writes in detail about the wounded and dead-and-maimed bodies in only one of those operations, Ong Thanh. That battle, he says, “marked a change in the way I saw the war and the value of human life.”

After the war, Copeland suffered decades of emotional stress involving his family, work, and schools without recognizing that he had post-traumatic stress disorder. In 2003, his nephew displayed PTSD symptoms following three deployments to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Copeland forced the young man to seek medical help. That’s when he realized he had the same emotional problems and went to the VA for treatment.

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Tom Copeland in country

In 2013, Tom Copeland went back to Vietnam to try to ameliorate the negative effects of combat that lingered within him. He and other Vietnam War veterans placed commemorative plaques and flowers at battle sites where friends had been killed.

The book’s concluding chapter is a deeply insightful distillation of the trauma serving in the Vietnam War inflicted on him. He closes that section—and the book—by letting us know that the war is still with him.

“Don’t think for a minute I have forgotten those things that took place years ago,” he writes, “They have just become easier to live with.”

—Henry Zeybel

 

 

Appalachian Free Spirit by Duke Talbott

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Irwin D. “Duke” Talbott says that his 1968-69 tour of duty in the Vietnam War amounted to a prolonged nightmare. He encountered increasingly inhumane and intolerable situations that separated him from normal behavior. Those traumatic experiences included seeing naked prisoners locked in bamboo cages cowering in the fetal position; consoling a witness to the murder of women and children at My Lai; and surviving sustained bombardments of LZ Bronco.

Talbott’s Vietnam War experiences are the centerpiece of his memoir, Appalachian Free Spirit: A Recovery Journey (Balboa Press, 266 pp. $35.95, hardcover; $17.99, paper; $3.99, Kindle), which also includes his account of salvaging his life from PTSD and addictions. Talbott also includes letters he wrote to his parents from Vietnam and earlier from Somalia where he was a Peace Corps volunteer.

His stories about Somalia are entertaining and meaningful. Heading a school building project provided profound self-satisfaction. On the other hand, his exposure to war’s violence began during his Peace Corps days in Africa when he went to Yemen and found himself in the midst of several gun battles during a period of civil unrest.

Talbott sandwiches his Vietnam War stories between detailed accounts of his West Virginia upbringing and his college-oriented, post-war life. Describing his first “big gulp” of whisky in his mid-teens, he says: “My whole being glowed in the aftermath.” He also fondly recalls memories of Darvon. It was in Vietnam, he says, that he “first learned to mix alcohol, grass, and pills for maximum effect.”

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Duke Talbott

The Twelve Step Program was Talbott’s compass to finding emotional freedom, and he details every step he took. He explains that his escape from self-destruction followed a path available to everyone. He bases his message on logic and inspiration from God.

Our society overflows with people willing and capable of helping addicts, he says, and finding them is infinitely rewarding. He clearly convinced me that one’s strongest enemy in a battle for emotional independence is one’s own ego.

After earning a Ph.D. in history from West Virginia University, Duke Talbott taught at several colleges, including his alma mater, Marshall University in Huntingon, West Virginia, and West Virginia Weslyan. He is a Professor Emeritus of History at Glenville State College in West Virginia. His expertise focuses on Africa. From 2009-13 he served as the mayor of Elkins—West Virginia, of course.

—Henry Zeybel