Donald N. Burton enlisted in the Navy in April 1966 after receiving a draft notice from the Army. He did three tours in the Vietnam War. His novel, By What is Sure to Follow (Hellgate, 262 pp., $21.95, paper; $9.95, Kindle), is “based,” he says, “on real in-country legendary events of uncommon valor, unbelievable luck and supreme dedication to brethren, chronicling unknown exploits during the early years of the Vietnam War.”
The plot centers on former Marine Sgt. Luke Sims, whom we first meet in a veterans rap session at the San Diego Vet Center in 1989. He’s attended these meetings for fourteen years to try to become normal. He was attached to the First Force Reconnaissance Company in Vietnam. His assignment included watching grids for enemy troop movements and reporting them. Luke Sims also enlisted to avoid the Army draft, like the author.
After a short introductory narrative about the rap sessions, the reader is plummeted back to Sims’ time in Vietnam, and given a respectable and well-written story about Marine Recon. At the end of the book, (spoiler alert), we end up back home again in the present, and it is revealed that Sims has gone crazy and has been responsible for a series of killings.
The structure of the book is like a Fig Newton. The fig part is fine, but the Newton part I had trouble with. I don’t think this book needed the wraparound plot device of making the Marine recon vet a mass killer. That stuck in my craw.
In the course of this novel we get references to John Wayne, Dear John letters, “Wooly Bully,” A Fist Full of Dollars, enemy ears as trophies, Indian Country, M-16s being issued with a warning, jungle rot, and much more.
If the book is meant as a warning about the aftereffects of PTSD, I think it goes too far. I have many friends who are Marine Corps Vietnam War veterans, and I would trust them with my life.