Creatures Born of War by Bruce Taneski

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Creatures Born of War: A Novel about the Korean and Vietnam Conflicts (CreateSpace, 574 pp. $23, paper; $2.99, Kindle) is a continuation of Bruce Taneski’s first novel, Creatures Born of War: A Novel about the World Wars. Both books emphasize, Taneski says, a “depiction of the psycho-social impact of war; not only for the veterans who served during these wars, but also the lasting impact post war for the service member and their families.”

Taneski served in the United States Army during the Vietnam War with recon companies in the 199th Light Infantry Brigade and the 5th Infantry Division. Forty years later he is still living with the trauma he endured during that war. The writing of these novels became a way that the author coped with his symptoms. In some cases Taneski uses real-life experiences in this novel.

This massive book contains two not-so-small war novels—one about the Korean War and one set during the Vietnam War. Taneski struggles mightily with apostrophes and commas in this novel, and the apostrophes and commas win the battle. Or they lose, depending on how you look at it.

Taneski’s strength lies in his ability to tell a story. He’d be better off telling tales around a campfire and letting errant apostrophes and commas fly off into the night sky like fireflies or sparks from the campfire. He lists two editors in the front of the novel; it would appear that too much escaped their editorial attention.  

In the first book in this series, the Bataan Death March was an important part of the story. In this novel, the Tet Offensive gets thorough coverage. The characters we’ve grown attached to in the hundreds of pages of narrative get worked over in a serious way by the Viet Cong and the many enemies who rise up to run Americans out of their country.

Walter Cronkite’s famous statement about the war being lost is echoed by characters in the novel. Their opinion is that the country should be given back to the peasants in the rice fields.

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Bruce Taneski

John Wayne gets several mentions and even the actor Aldo Ray gets a shout out. Ham and motherfuckers are mentioned, but the characters seem to think they are canned ham and eggs, rather than ham and limas. Hippies are busy cursing returning troops and even spitting on them, and the epithet “Baby Killers” is bandied about.

The only time I’ve ever been exposed to any of this is in novels and memoirs. And I returned home from Vietnam to Seattle, which is often figuratively spat upon for being a hotbed of liberalism.

This book contains the Korean and Vietnam War novels that the first book paved the way for, and it does not disappoint as a panoramic tale tracing the history of war trauma and PTSD.

Taneski has skill at showing young men in the context of war, and this novel continues that saga.

—David Willson

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Creatures Born of War by Wm. Bruce Taneski

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Bruce Wm. Taneski’s Creatures Born of War: A Novel About the World Wars (CreateSpace, 566 pp., $20, paper) is a novel about World Wars I and II and the role of shell shock and battle fatigue.

In the front of the book we are told that “coming soon is a novel about the conflict in Korea and Vietnam.” The author’s credentials are clear—he’s a U.S. Army Vietnam War veteran who has experienced first-hand the trauma of war and PTSD, having served in recon units in the 199th Light Infantry Brigade and the 5th Infantry Division. That is not in this book.

In tracing, as Taneski puts it, “the PTSD experience of fictional soldiers, like Jimmy Costigan and Mike McMullen in WWI,” he creates a realistic picture of young men growing up in the early 1900s. Then he shows us their children serving in World War II. This is the most exciting part of the novel due to the author’s skill at showing men at war.

The Bataan Death March figures prominently in this fine novel. We relive the agony of 675 American troops as they take five days to die.

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The author

I collect antiwar quotations and the one I garnered from this book is my favorite: “You know the assholes that allowed the first war to happen are the same assholes that set up the one we are in now. I think we will see more war in our lives. More young men will be sent away and come home screwed up.”

I couldn’t have said it better.

This is a massive book.  It is not a Vietnam War novel, but it prepares the way. The book shows that war—any war—is good for absolutely nothing.

There it is.

—David Willson

I Came Home, But It Wasn’t Me by Bruce Wm. Taneski

Bruce Wm. Taneski’s I Came Home, But It Wasn’t Me: The Memoirs of a Vietnam Combat Veteran as a Recon Scout ‘LRRP’ (CreateSpace, 338 pp., $19.95, paper; $5.99, Kindle) comes full circle when he sits on his pack and eats a can of C-Ration spaghetti and meatballs while looking down at one of the two NVA soldiers he had shot dead a few minutes earlier.

“Don’t mean nothing,” he thought. But deep down inside, he knew it did.

Eight months earlier, as an FNG literally stained from head to foot with blood and guts, he had stared in disbelief at a gunner who casually ate a can of peaches while his helicopter lifted off with the dismembered remains of men Taneski had helped put into body bags.

Writing this book was part of Taneski’s treatment for PTSD, initially diagnosed in 1982. Along with his forty-five-year-old memories, he used after-action reports, maps, and letters he wrote home as source material. His subtitle spells out his wartime duties.

An Army enlistee, VVA life member Bruce Taneski arrived in Vietnam less than two months after he turned eighteen. By then, he had completed Basic, Infantry AIT, and parachute training. He stood five-ten and weighed 110, about the size of his field pack. Eager and a quick study, the teenager talked his way into Recon with the 199th Light Infantry Brigade, 4/12. The unit operated out of FSB Nancy, near Long Binh.

Because his story is therapeutic, Taneski explains everything in detail, down to the nuts and bolts of his P-38 can opener. At times, he writes with the innocence of a young man seeing the world for the first time. He shares the teachings of his sergeants, which Taneski took to heart to succeed in Vietnam. He particularly admired Sgt. Soakley, who mentored him. Much of this true story describes “many of the mundane missions we went on,” which involved “just humping through the jungle fighting the red ants, leeches and mosquitoes.”

Bruce Taneski

Taneski’s year peaked with two major operations. The first was the 199th’s final six-day sweep before returning to Fort Benning. The operation captured thirty-three NVA, while destroying an enemy hospital, training camp, and five hamlets. The second was a 5th Infantry Division engagement against a new NVA base camp near the DMZ, where Taneski finished his last months in-country.

Bruce Taneski’s obsession with detail occasionally flags. For example, he does not mention years as such. I worked out that he served in Vietnam in 1970 only because he mentioned the Year of the Dog, and I looked it up.

Nevertheless, the book clearly tells who Bruce Taneski is and why, which is its purpose.

—Henry Zeybel