Stories Untold by Charlotte McDaniel

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Assessing the significance of an author and her topic is a primary duty of a book reviewer, especially when dealing with memoirs. Likewise, forging a connection with a writer is vital. In both respects, Charlotte McDaniel and her book, Stories Untold: Oral Histories of Wives of Vietnam Servicemen (Bowker, 196 pp. $20, paper), made a dominant impression on this reviewer.

McDaniel focuses on more than thirty women whose husbands took part in the Vietnam War. She lost a family member in that conflict, which she barely mentions. Her interviews include wives of officers and enlisted men from all military branches, with a preponderance of Air Force wives. She identifies the women only with their first names to provide anonymity.

Each interviewee speaks several times about the stages of war-time family separation. Their collective stories evolve chronologically: deploying, adapting to absence, managing children, supporting each other, losing a loved one, reuniting, and coping with the lingering effects of war.

The book’s major revelation is illuminating the spirit and the depths of involvement of young and inexperienced women with duties they never expected to encounter. Anxiety tempered by an acceptance of responsibility dominated most of their behavior. Those with children found themselves fulfilling the roles of mother and father. They look back on their year—or years, when a husband served multiple tours—as character building.

The chapters about loss and its lingering effects describe extreme hardships and disappointments. Those events presented the ultimate test of love. Within the same framework, a few of the women’s stories—such as the one titled “The Horizontal Christmas Tree”—read like outtakes from a script of “The Dick Van Dyke Show.”

I can’t say that Charlotte McDaniel opened my eyes, but she did refresh my view of nearly forgotten drama.

A former Fulbright Scholar, McDaniel’s academic career included appointments at Yale University and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center prior to her retirement from Emory University in Atlanta. She has written many research studies and academic books.

The book is available on line at Amazon.com.

—Henry Zeybel

Courageous Women of the Vietnam War by Kathryn J. Atwood

In Courageous Women of the Vietnam War: Medics, Journalists, Survivors, and More (Chicago Review Press, 240 pp. $19.99, hardcover; $12.99, Kindle), Kathryn Atwood examines the American War (as the Vietnamese call it) and the Vietnam War (as Americans know it) from the perspectives of women from both sides—including the French who started it.

In this young adult book Atwood presents the war through the eyes of a French Army nurse captured by the Vietminh at Dien Bien Phu; a South Vietnamese revolutionary inspired by Ho Chi Minh; Joan Baez trapped in Hanoi during the Operation Linebacker II bombing; and eleven other vignettes.

Atwood’s accounts blend the women’s actions into an overall picture of the war. Therefore, the book covers material familiar to students of the war, but it also serves as a primer for younger readers. I was familiar with the lives of only four of the women. At the end of each chapter, Atwood lists two or three books suitable for further study on the topic she just covered.

K.J. Atwood

The book’s story line begins with the Viet Minh Revolution led by Ho Chi Minh, and progresses through the Ngo Dinh Diem Civil War and the machinations of Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon.

In her book Atwood gives life to people who otherwise might be forgotten. For the most part, without wielding weapons, the women featured in the book faced dangers equal to those faced by many men who saw combat.

Atwood praises the women for their contributions to their countries. She writes about more American women than Vietnamese.

She is the author of three previous YA books about heroic women who served in World Wars I and II. “Young people might not believe they like history,” she says, “but [they] might be enticed toward interest in a particular historical woman if the narrative is compelling.”

In Courageous Women of the Vietnam War, Kathryn Atwood makes the personalities tick for readers of any age.

Her website is kathrynatwood.com

—Henry Zeybel