A Dove Among Eagles by Linda Patterson

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Linda Patterson is a powerhouse of determination. Her energy emanates from a core of emotions connected to her brother Joe Artavia’s heroic death in combat in Vietnam, a sacrifice she wants remembered forever. Her instincts regarding love and respect are flawless. Her patriotism, as she expresses it in her memoir, A Dove Among Eagles: How the Sister of One Paratrooper Changed the Lives of Tens of Thousands in Vietnam and Beyond (Silver Linings Media, 212 pp. $19.95, paper; $9.99, Kindle), overpowered me.

In one instance, her belief in America’s righteousness in world affairs astounded me to a degree that I challenged her logic. But I accepted it. She is unbeatable.

Growing up, Linda Patterson had three younger brothers for whom her mother made her responsible. Mom cared for the children, but also enjoyed drinking and husbands: She married five times. At the age of 14, she ran away from the turmoil of the household. She still watched over her youngest brother, Joe, though, even after he joined the Army and went to Vietnam in 1967 where he served in the 101st Airborne Division.

Amid much of the American public’s aversion to the Vietnam War, Linda Patterson’s concern for her brother peaked when he wrote to her and suggested she could raise the “low and dropping” morale in his company “as high as the clouds” by getting their hometown, the City of San Mateo, California, “to adopt us.”

That request turned Linda Patterson’s life around. Her involvement with that idea created a relationship between San Mateo and the men of Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry in 101st’s 1st Brigade that is still tight today. To show that the people of San Mateo truly cared about the men of A Company, Linda Paterson flew to Phu Bai in Vietnam and lived for two weeks among the troops, an experience that she describes in detail in the book.

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Visiting wounded troops in Vietnam 

She organized a 1972 homecoming with a full-scale, three-day celebration in San Mateo—including a parade—for all 130 men in the company. She then induced the city to install a Screaming Eagles museum in its main library. In 2016, she guided the construction of a monument at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, to honor the 792 men of the 1/327th who perished in the Vietnam War.

She accomplished all this while dealing with personal issues that stretched her emotions to their limits. Foremost was the death of her brother Joe. She also had to deal with marital, parenting, and employment problems. She did so with remarkable fortitude.

Based on her success with her brother’s unit in Vietnam, in 1991 Linda Patterson formed America Supporting Americans to work to have other towns and cities adopt military units fighting in the Middle East, a program that is going strong today.  The book includes an excellent collection of photographs of  projects Linda Patterson has championed.

I once heard Tony Curtis—yes, that Tony Curtis—say, “Living is such a wonderful experience you do not want to deny it.” Good, bad, and otherwise, he seemed to tell us. Linda Patterson’s life parallels that motto and is well worth reading about in her book.

—Henry Zeybel

Echoes of a Distant Past (revised) by Eraldo Lucero

Eraldo Lucero’s Vietnam War memoir, Echoes of a Distant Past, first published in 2012, has recently been reprinted in a revised edition (CreateSpace, 190 pp., $35.38, paper).

You can read our 2012 review at vvabooks.wordpress.com/2012/10/06/echoes-of-a-distant-past-by-eraldo-lucero

100 Monkeyz by T.A. Drescher

T. A. Drescher served in the U. S. Army from 1967-69. That included a tour of duty in Vietnam with Company C of the 2/17 Cavalry, 101st Airborne Division, the “Ready Reactionary Force.” He received a chestful of medals, including the Bronze Star. Since 1986, Drescher has been serving two life sentences without parole at Mt. Olive Correctional Complex in West Virginia.

The introduction to his book 100 Monkeyz: A Monkey Memoir (Taos Press, 420 pp., $16.95, paper) tells us that this is a collection of short stories.  A few pages into the book, though, it becomes apparent that the chapters are not short stories, but chapters in Drescher’s memoir. They are presented in a mixed chronology, as the author goes hither and thither in time, juxtaposing a boyhood scene with a scene from his Vietnam War tour or with some other time in his life. This is an effective story-telling method for Drescher, and it kept me reading.

Occasionally there is a small flash to his current state, “Now I’m an old man crippled with arthritis,” he tells us. I read on, eager to find out more about where he is, and how he ended up there.

100 Monkeyz contains no account of a trial nor any clear account of the legal mechanisms that put the author in prison for life. The people he confesses to killing are characterized as bad guys—men who preyed on the weak, men who needed killing. Drescher says that he never cared for bullies.

He came home from Vietnam “like a ticking time bomb.” He felt naked without a gun, so immediately went to a pawn shop and bought a Browning Hi-Power 9 mm pistol, which he carried for many years. He recounts seeing “Baby Killer” signs in the airport when he returned and says he detoured around demonstrators because he was “much too dangerous for a confrontation with them.”

After serving in Vietnam, Drescher worked various hustles. That included being deeply involved with the Hare Krishna Movement and buying cars cheap and selling them for a lot more than he paid for them.

Drescher’s thirty years in prison is addressed, but not with the detail that he devotes to his time in Vietnam, which is disbursed throughout the book.The juxtapositions make it clear how his war-time service influenced the rest of his life due to PTSD. Drescher says the VA was in denial “about PTSD, Agent Orange, or any of the other effects from the war.” The VA, he notes, “gave soldiers the third degree and [they] were browbeat over voicing their complaints. Small wonder that many of us ended up in American penitentiaries after the war ended.”

I found his insider’s look at the Hare Krishna movement fascinating and often humorous.  The Hare Krishna farming and dairy cow sequences caused me to laugh out loud more than once.  Because of their dedication to the sanctity of the life of cows, the Krishnas’ dairy cattle herd kept increasing in size, but their rocky piece of land grew no hay at all, so all the hay had to be purchased.  Drescher estimates that the milk their cows produced cost upwards from $150 per cup. The cows, it turned out, were very expensive pets.

T.A. Drescher

Their farm produced tons of zucchini squash, acorn squash, and tomatoes, but the cows would not eat that stuff. So the farm had to be abandoned.

Drescher’s Vietnam War accounts are powerful and riveting. “Our air assaults into hot LZs were legendary, not the John Wayne kind,”  he writes. By that, Drescher means that as soon as the men hit the ground, they suffered immediate casualties because of the disastrous leadership of their lieutenant colonel, who was chasing a promotion. The colonel was above the men in a helicopter, sending them straight into the bullets of snipers.

Later, his own men fragged his tent.  “Our leaders lived for body count,” Drescher writes. And some died for it. 

Drescher feels that casualties due to friendly fire increased when drug use got heavy and common in the 101st.  His description of a thirsty infantryman slogging through rice fields with nothing to drink but “brownish, treated iodine laced water” in a plastic canteen made me thirsty. I drank a bottle of mountain spring water to get through that section and thanked my lucky stars that I’d served in the rear with the beer and the gear during my Vietnam War tour.

Drescher says of the rear: “No mosquitoes, or heat stroke.  No foul drinking water or blisters on their feet. They are too intelligent for that.”  Or lucky.

Drescher goes on to say: “No one gets a free ride for what they have done.” I guess that is the core of the philosophy of this memoir.

I highly recommend this book to readers who realize that but for a stroke of luck they could be homeless, in prison, or a suicide. I can easily see myself in one of those groups.   Drescher asks: “Can there be such a thing as an innocent person?’’  Probably not.

The book’s website is www.100monkeyz.com/about-us.html

—David Willson

West of Hue by James P. Brinker

James P. Brinker’s West of Hue: Down the Yellow Brick Road (BookSurge, 354 pp., $20.99 paper, $2.99, Kindle) is a Vietnam War memoir that centers on the author’s tour of duty with a recon platoon in the 101st Airborne Division’s 2/502 Infantry Regiment “Strike Force” Battalion. Brinker went to Vietnam in December 1969 and put in eleven months in Vietnam, eight of them in the jungle.

Brinker spent his last three months as a mail clerk, bartender, and training sergeant. It was hard for him to adjust to being a REMF, but he coped. It took some digging to find out, as Brinker is modest about medals he received, but he was awarded a chest full of them, including three Bronze stars with “V” device.

The men in his recon platoon were the only troops in his battalion who wore full woodland camouflage. Serving as the eyes and ears of the battalion, the platoon searched out the enemy, then let the line companies do the hard work—at least in theory. In practice, it seldom worked out that way.

Brinker was allergic to bamboo, so he should not even have been in Vietnam. He developed a serious rash from the bamboo he encountered daily until his unit moved West of Hue into the bamboo-less high mountains. Of course, there were worse things than bamboo there: plenty of the enemy, along with snakes, leeches, centipedes, crocodiles, and tigers.

Brinker tries hard to describe what it was like to be in combat. He “was too busy to actually react except in the basic human instinct to stay alive,” he writes, as he tried to strike “a balance between excessive fear and over-zealous bravery.”

In the recon platoon Brinker was often both the forward observer and radio operator. It didn’t take him long before he was “no longer a nice innocent farm boy from the Heartland.”  Brinker tells us that he “started to get bloodthirsty and totally fearless, which had never been in my character before. Now it remained embedded in me like a huge war scar.”

He explains that the mission of the military is to close with and kill the enemy. At one point he says they were shooting away like “the team of John Wayne and Audie Murphy.”  Later he pooh-poohs somebody who tries “shooting from the hip, John Wayne style.”  At one point, he notes that the combat he experienced “was just like the movies starring John Wayne.”

Brinker deals with many of the same subjects that Vietnam War infantry memoirs tend to focus on: the black syph; Agent Orange; what he calls “grunt mode” or numbness from the war; the song, “We Gotta Get Out of This Place;” the My Lai Massacre; and how those events colored the hometown reaction to Vietnam veterans.

Brinker says that by going back home to Iowa, he “would be back at the bottom of the heap again as an unwanted Vietnam veteran.”

I totally get that, as I felt that in Seattle when I returned. He says it became “fashionable” to spit on Vietnam veterans upon their return, but then notes that he “never personally saw spitting or heard any negative comments at the airports.”  I thank him for that honesty.

Brinker criticizes John Kerry  “and the leftist establishment” who started to “negatively stereotype Vietnam vets.”  Brinker ends with a statement “We fought a good fight then and won from a military perspective.”

What military perspective was that? I have read that before in Vietnam War memoirs, but I have not seen any research to support that point of view.  It seems more a feeling than a fact.

The book could have used an editor and proofreader. Often sentences end without a period. Words that need capital letters don’t get them, and two words sometimes run together. 

Still, Brinker has written a worthy memoir that I enjoyed reading. I recommend it to anyone who is curious about the life in Vietnam of a recon team and has thick skin about the finer points of punctuation.

—David Willson