Other Dreams by Marc Levy

Former Vietnam War Army Medic Marc Levy’s Other Dreams (Telegraphos Press, 361 pp., $18, paper; $4.99, Kindle) is another amazing book from the author of Dreams, Vietnam and How Stevie Nearly Lost the War. I never figured that Levy would produce a dream record to top his first book in this series. But he has done it—in spades.

“You are about to read a rare and valuable gift to human understanding and to dream research,” G. William Dormhoff, the author of The Emergence of Dreaming, says of Levy’s new book.

This is an understatement. Levy has endured PTSD for most of the last fifty years. I can’t help but think of something my mom told me thousands of times when I was growing up. “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” If Marc Levy has done that here by writing about some 250 of his dreams, this lemonade is the best drink ever created from the swamp water of war.

The best friend any survivor of war can have is a dog, and Levy’s first book presented dogs in that loving context. This book, though, boggled my mind with dog references: dogs in general were encountered dozens of times, but also specific dogs—pit bulls, talking dogs, three-hundred-pound dogs, German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Shepherd-setter mixes, Huskies, a big blue dog, Siberian Huskies, seal pups, a Degas dog, a huge shaggy dog, a Weimeraner, a black lab, and more.

The poet makes the statement at least once in a recorded dream, “I love dogs, too.”

My only complaint about the book is that it lacks Levy’s fabulous drawings. His word images compensate for this. But still…

Other Dreams benefits from slow, careful reading, like difficult modern poetry. Not since I read Saul Bellow’s Henderson, the Rain King, have I been so struck by the recurring motif of animals in a work of modern literature. Dogs, certainly, as mentioned above, but also cats, seals, a bull with no ears, hawks and eagles, ducks, cattle, horseshoe crabs, polar bears, foxes, butterflies, water bugs, swans, rabbits, mice, a beast man, kittens, goats, rats, ticks—and Jane Fonda.

On December 8, 2016, Levy tells us, he dreamed:

“I’m in a war zone with another person, possibly my brother, walking along a moonlit, snowy path. We pass a wide-open, snow-covered field. I say to the other person, ‘Hey buddy… hey buddy… just keep walking.’ I’m aware that at any moment we may be shot. Each time I say, ‘Hey, buddy…’ the other person tries to crowd me off the path. ‘Hey, buddy… Hey buddy,’ I say, pushing back, ‘Just keep walking.’”

This dream has elements of poetry, story, and song, and I feel fear in every line. Also, mystery and malice.

It was brave of Marc Levy to commit this dream to print, and I honor that bravery. Levy is always just one short dream away from being back in the jungles of Southeast Asia. I thank him for sharing the war he survived in that jungle. It is a scary place. 

Once you have read Marc Levy’s dream books, I recommend his classic volume of short stories, How Stevie Nearly Lost the War and Other Postwar Stories.

Stay tuned for his next work. I’ve been informed it is coming soon.

–David Willson

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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.

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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

The Mad Fragger and Me by Tom Dolan

Tom Dolan begins his 2013 memoir,The Mad Fragger and Me: Leading an Infantry Rifle Platoon in Vietnam (Booklocker.com, 378 pp., $18.95, paper; $4.99. Kindle), with a twelve-page forward chronicling the U.S. military history of the Dolan clan going back to the Revolutionary War. This sets the table for Dolan’s decision to enter the military after college graduation in 1968 at the height of the Vietnam War.

Was it a need to prove? To carry on the tradition? His enlistment, Dolan he tells us, was more a matter of “getting it over with,” not having to deal with the inevitable questions regarding his 1-A draft-board status from potential employers. He also felt the tug of the generations who served before him.

In this very readable book, Dolan steeps us into the Army’s process of bringing a raw civilian into its world of recruitment, testing, schooling, and branch selection. That includes the trip to the reception center to begin Basic Combat Training and Advanced Individual Training for this bright, young Officer Candidate School wannabe.

He relates, again with good detail–and here and there some rancor and relish—what it was like to go through eight weeks of Basic Training and eight more of infantry AIT in the New Jersey woods at Fort Dix.

The people he meets and deals with—as well as the locations and training situations—are fleshed out with enough detail to keep the reader interested in continuing the story without getting bogged down in the minutia that seems to weigh heavily in many Vietnam War memoirs.

Dolan takes us through an almost rollicking chapter detailing his OCS training. The Tactical Officers seemed to take great pleasure in inflicting discomfort on the candidates. However, on some occasions, some quite humorous, the same measure was returned to the faculty.

Dolan devotes eight chapters to his in-country experiences as leader of Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment in the 11th Light Infantry Brigade of the Americal Division. The unit operated with distinction during his leadership. He tells of friends made and lost, of soldiers he commanded, of other commanders he shared the battlefield with, and of the all-pervasive enemy.

In his final chapters and epilogue Dolan describes returning to “The World.” He refrains from deeply political rhetoric, but does state his feelings and convictions.

He dedicates his book to the five men lost during his command and to Gary Smith, “The Mad Fragger,” who died of Agent Orange-related illnesses in 2011.

—Tom Werzyn

The Last Red-Line Brig  by Peter Carini

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Peter Carini’s The Last Red-Line Brig (Austin Macauley, 320 pp., $25.95, hardcover; $16.95, paper; $4.41, Kindle) is a work of fiction that is based on a true story. Carini is a short story writer and English teacher in the San Francisco Bay area.

His novel’s hero, Joe Carini, is a youthful renegade, independent thinker, compassionate husband, and a corpsman in the U.S. Navy near the beginning of the Vietnam War. Never an ambitious man, but tended to do an honest day’s work while daydreaming. He had no interest in war or in learning military discipline.

He ends up in the Navy, assigned to a place known as the “red-line brig” among “hardened, unaccommodating Marines and even less friendly inmates.” The brig’s toughest area is called “dimrats,” and it is nothing short of a nauseating torture chamber.

Joe Carini struggles to conform to the standards of his assignment, but pisses off the Marines and his superior officers at every opportunity. This puts him in frequent danger of becoming an inmate in dimrats himself.

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Peter Carini

The characters in this book have the sort of nicknames those of us who have read a lot of Vietnam War novels have become accustomed to:  Pvt. Unibrow, Sgt. Serious, and No Neck.

If you read this book attentively, you will learn the duties of an assignment to a Red-Line Brig, and books that treat military jobs seriously and thoroughly are rare. That makes this one a valuable resource for military scholars and students of incarceration during the Vietnam War.

I found the novel engrossing and hard to put down. It is well edited and well written and tells a good story. Agent Orange is mentioned in one paragraph and the long-term consequences of exposure to that dangerous toxin are emphasized.

Novels of wartime military incarceration are rare. This is one of the very best.

I highly recommend it.

—David Willson

Boots and the Law by Samuel T. Brick

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Samuel T. Brick is a lawyer. He tells the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth—”for the most part” and except for the names of the innocent and guilty—in Boots and the Law: A Story of Army JAG Service in Fort Polk and Vietnam (iUniverse, 244 pp. $26.95, hardcover; $16.95, paper).

The book’s subtitle explains its storyline, which is based on Brick’s experiences on active duty in the late 1960s. Brick fictionalizes his tale by giving everybody an alias—to protect those who went through the military judicial system. Samuel Brick becomes Gregg Thompson.

The Army permitted Thompson to finish law school and pass the Delaware bar exam before herding him through Basic and into AIT as an infantry draftee. The Pentagon then dragged him from the middle of Tigerland at Fort Polk, tested him, and promoted him from E2 to O3. When unexpectedly offered a commission to captain, Thompson barely managed to croak, “Let’s get on with it,” and a major immediately swore him in.

Like most JAG newbies, Thompson started his courtroom career on defense, something that tilts the scales of military justice in favor of prosecutors who theoretically have the more difficult job and require greater experience. That supposition brings us to what I liked most about the book, traits that from here on I will credit to Sam Brick, their practitioner.

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Over a century ago Georges Clemenceau said, “Military justice is to justice what military music is to music.” The quote’s subtext says, “It suffices to add ‘military’ to a word for it to lose its meaning.”

People cite Clemenceau’s idea to defame military justice, arguing that it provides officers with unquestionable authority to punish subordinates. Neither Brick nor I see it that way.

In Vietnam, Sam Brick defended, prosecuted, or sat as a judge in many types of cases: murder, desertion, rape, disobedience, armed robbery, black market activities, and various lesser crimes. Regardless of his role, he sought to see into the minds of defendants by investigating their histories in depth.

Generally, Brick uncovered evidence that showed defendants were immature men without a viable value system. The possibility of dying in the Vietnam War and their unwillingness to being there often overrode any other thoughts.

Pre-trial research guided lawyers in formulating a strategy for defending or prosecuting a case and determining appropriate punishment. In that regard, Brick carefully explains the pros and cons of military courts relative to a crime. Most of his JAG cohorts used the same approach.

The detail with which Brick explains trial and administrative procedures makes the book an outstanding read for anyone with even the slightest interest in justice. As he puts it: “Some of the sentences for serious crimes, usually more lenient than one would suspect, are a consequence of military juries weighing the need for discipline while bearing in mind the environment in which our men were thrust.”

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Sam Brick

Brick shows that not every offense went to trial. In-country transfers provided equally effective methods for changing behavior. Gen. Creighton Abrams himself once sent a popular but recalcitrant AFVN disc jockey “up north” to a little mountain just outside the A Shau Valley where the 101st Airborne Division could “teach him to soldier,” Brick writes.

During the early 1970s I found a similar degree of leniency among peers with whom I sat as a juror. I came to believe that being in a war expands one’s tolerance for lesser evils.

Brick wraps up several of his stories with twists. In summarizing one case, he says, “Nothing in this country is ever what it seems.” That conclusion fits just about every issue he writes about .

My verdict for Boots and the Law: Sam Brick is guilty of clearly explaining the fairness of military law during the Vietnam War.

Brick is a member of Vietnam Veterans of America,serves as VVA’s South Carolina State Council President, and took part in this year’s Leadership & Education Conference in Palm Springs. He retired as an Army reserve JAG colonel after working for CENTCOM during the Persian Gulf War.

I believe that he should write a sequel to show if the righteousness of military justice still prevails.

—Henry Zeybel

Virginity Lost in Vietnam by David Lange

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David Lange, the author of Virginity Lost in Vietnam (Act 3 Publishing, 460 pp., $34.25), has made a successful post-military career of wordsmithing. That fact is evidenced by his book’s dust-jacket accolades, comments, and author profile that  highlights his forty-year journalism career.

The book feels heavy on minutiae—both geographic and personal—of Lange’s early years in Ohio. He brings us meticulously from his birth to his arrival in-country, filling perhaps half the book. The same attention to detail continues throughout. The research is well done, and the book is great fodder for the hometown crowd, although is frequently a bit tedious for the casual reader.

Lange—a long-time member of Vietnam Veterans of America who has written widely about Vietnam War veterans’ issues—cites sources in the text for his frequent references, as well as for some quotes and additional material. This saves the reader the need to leaf back and forth to footnotes.

Lange’s experiences as a disbursement clerk with the Brown Water Navy in Vietnam in 1969-70 makes for interesting reading. He functioned in a necessary support role, getting troops paid. He filters his service story through the lens of current (2000-18) events and personalities, even more so than dealing with the folks who peopled the halls of power during his time in Vietnam. You could say this is an almost fifty-year-old story anchored in today’s headlines.

Dave Lange’s “virginity” on several levels is a theme throughout much of the book. And, yes, Lange loses it in Vietnam—on several levels.

This reviewer served in Vietnam a year earlier than Lange did. But he had me nodding affirmatively while reading some of his experiences, and he did a good job conveying the ambiance of his Vietnam War experience.

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Lange’s 1967 high school yearbook photo

Lange lets politics invade his stories too frequently, though, with unfortunate name-calling and invective. I expected better from a noted journalist.

Lange also writes about his deployments after coming home from Vietnam. This detracts somewhat from the book’s premise, but surely illustrates the formative aspects of his military service. In his post-military adventures Lange reboots Jack Kerouac’s On the Road with tales of hitchhiking here, there, and everywhere to visit and party with former shipmates. Liberal use of marijuana and alcohol lubricated those wanderings.

He completes this book with a rather detailed, German-rooted family history, as well as an extensive recitation of “WW II Winners and Losers” in the old-world geography his family called home.

Lange describes his Vietnam War story as a “coming of age memoir.” In that regard, he fulfills his mission.

His website is virginitylostinvietnam

—Tom Werzyn

The Guardians of the Night by David Keeton

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David Keeton’s The Guardians of the Night (227 pp. $25, paper) was written, Keeton says, “to honor the countless canines that have served alongside GIs over the years.”

Keeton was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1967. In Dalat during the 1968 Tet Offensive he served as a Sentry Dog Handler with the 18th Military Police Brigade. After his discharge, Keeton worked as a deputy sheriff and then became a schoolteacher. He has published four other books about dogs.

The Guardians of the Night begins with a history of war dogs, including no less than Rin Tin Tin. The bulk of the book is devoted to stories of war dogs and their handlers in the Vietnam War. The final chapters cover 911 search and rescue dogs and war dogs in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I saw some of these dogs in Vietnam, but had never given them much thought. Learning how they served and the many lives they saved has given me a new and very respectful understanding of their capabilities and their value in warzones.

The pages of this book are loaded with pictures, poems, stories, and interviews.  More than a hundred and fifty dogs and their handlers in Vietnam are highlighted, along with many more from other eras.

I found this book to be somewhat primitively put together in that most pages are physically cut and pasted, and there are editorial errors of all types throughout.

However, I also found this book to be captivating and a pleasure to read, so I give it a thumbs up. For ordering info, write to 402 Division St., Union City, MI 40904

— Bob Wartman