A Never-Ending Battle by Howard B. Patrick

Howard B. Patrick’s A Never-Ending Battle: How Vietnam Changed Me Forever (CreateSpace, 208 pp., $10.99, paper) is a classic account of how combat in the Vietnam War resulted in many years of post-traumatic stress disorder that adversely affected his life.This book is a basic primer for anyone unfamiliar with what the combat experience was like for veterans who served in the Vietnam War.  But more importantly, Patrick published his book to help other veterans suffering from PTSD, as well as to provide their families with information, advice, and support.

Howard Patrick was a highly trained IBM computer technician when he received his draft notice in 1967. Of course, the Army ignored those skills and sent him to NCO school. Then came orders to Vietnam, where Patrick was placed in a 1st Cav Division infantry unit—Echo Recon of the 1st of the 5th—as a “new boot” squad leader.

Sgt. Patrick soon was thrust into several heavy combat, which he describes in great detail. After six months with Echo Recon, his platoon walked into an NVA ambush and half of the men were casualties, including the platoon sergeant and platoon leader. Patrick was then named platoon sergeant.

When a shiny new West Point graduate captain ordered Patrick to resume the attack with the remaining exhausted soldiers, he refused. Two weeks later, Patrick was transferred to the 2d Brigade Civil Affairs unit in An Loc. His new duties included Psyops air missions, leaflet distribution, and live audio broadcasts from the air to try to repatriate Viet Cong. Other duties included Medcaps and humanitarian and recreational activities.

Howard Patrick left the Army after serving in Vietnam and returned to his old position at IBM. But he had changed, and over the years his behavior became increasingly dysfunctional.

Howard Patrick in Vietnam

His PTSD began with repressed memories of the war surfacing in nightmares of a helicopter crash he’d survived. Then the flashbacks started. Road rage and panic attacks came next. Patrick’s work efficiency decreased and he began job hopping, eventually filing for bankruptcy. He suffered constant feelings of anxiety and hopelessness, culminating in an unsuccessful suicide attempt, which he hoped would provide a $100,000 insurance benefit to his wife who had stuck with him through it all.

Patrick’s road to recovery from PTSD started when another 1st Cav veteran urged him to get help at a Vet Center. From there, the author progressed to involvement in VA treatment over several years. Patrick lists the complete list of PTSD symptoms—he had most of them. He eventually received 100 percent service-connected disability for PTSD.

This book should be required reading for war veterans wondering if their dysfunctional, erratic behaviors might be due to PTSD. What’s more, every mental health professional who has ever treated (or could ever have) a veteran as a client, also should read this book.

The author’s website is http://howardpatrick.weebly.com

—James P. Coan

First Light by S. Elliot Lawrence

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S. Elliott Lawrence’s First Light: A Novel of Close Combat (CreateSpace, 444 pp., $19.99, paper; $9.99, Kindle) closely follows the 1968-69 Vietnam War tour of Lieutenant Kenneth McKenzie. The lieutenant serves with the First Cavalry first as an platoon leader. He fills out the second half of his one-year tour as the Division Protocol Officer. McKenzie grew up in Oregon and the novel often alludes to the Pacific Northwest and his boyhood there.

Lawrence shares the above biography with his character. A Vietnam veteran, he is a retired trial attorney who can write and how knows how to tell a story. His main character is the lowest of Army officers, a second lieutenant. That was rare in Vietnam since most newly minted officers chose extra training before they left the United States, which resulted in them being first lieutenants when they arrived.

Our hero was in a big hurry to get to the First Cav, so he volunteered to go to Vietnam right out of OCS, with no jump school or other foot-dragging exercises.  That’s why he was not highly valued when he arrived in country.

Lt. McKenzie fooled the powers that be, though, by surviving his first few weeks and then months in the field and doing a good job as an infantry platoon leader. His priority was to keep his men alive while also following orders. When orders placed his men at serious risk for no apparent reason, McKenzie butted heads with his commanders. This led to quite a bit of drama in the novel and to the young LT’s reassignment.

Lawrence brings his characters alive—the lieutenant and the enlisted men and officers he served with, both good and not so good. When they die, this reader felt their loss, and believed that the lieutenant felt their loss as well.

Lawrence, center, in Vietnam in 1969

The filth and suffering of being in the field for weeks at a time without clean water, clean clothes, and decent food is well communicated. We encounter such oft-told horrors as ham and lima beans and worse. John Wayne is meantioned, but Audie Murphy surprisingly also is name-checked. REMF’s are also encountered.

Our hero becomes a REMF in the second half of his tour, but that part of the book is not as long as the combat section. The emphasis is the hero’s combat experience, but Lawrence also presents a good, solid representation of the life of a Division Protocol Officer.

I enjoyed this well-told story from beginning to end. My only carping remark would be about some lamentable editing: “heals” for “heels”; “people” for “purple”; and on and on. For those who lack training and experience as an Army stenographer (which I was), perhaps the lack of proofreading will not trouble you, and the excellent story will carry the day. I hope so.

—David Willson

1966: The Year of the Horse by Robert K. Powers

Bob Powers, who was born and brought up in Chicago, tried to join the Army Reserves in September of 1965. He was working as a newly minted journeyman electrician with a newly bestowed 1A draft classification. “I had a new 421 Pontiac Bonneville coupe and a Corvette powered cherry ’56 Chevy,” he writes in 1966: The Year of the Horse (Dog Ear Publishing, 215 pp., $14.95, paper), his war memoir. “I loved muscle cars and drag racing. My love life was great and my future was looking good.”

Powers’s future did not look so good after he failed the Army Reserve physical—and it looked much worse when his draft notice came in January of 1966. Strangely, Powers passed his draft induction physical, and was inducted into the Army on March 30. Then came Basic Training at Fort Polk in Louisiana, followed by Infantry AIT at Polk’s infamous Tigerland, and then the inevitable assignment to Vietnam.

Powers put in an eventful nine months with the 1st Cavalry Division’s 5th Battalion, 7th Cavalry in the Central Highlands. His tour of duty was cut short after he was severely wounded following a day of humping the boonies when a trip wire booby trap went off as Powers and his unit were waiting for a helicopter.

“All of a sudden there was a tremendous explosion to my right,” Powers writes. “It felt like I had been hit in the head with a rifle butt. My ears were ringing and there was dirt everywhere. I slipped my left arm out of the straps on my rucksack and I went to do the right and I couldn’t move my arm. I extended my left arm across my chest and my hand into my right armpit and I could feel a large wet hole in my back. My hand was covered with blood.”

Powers was medevaced out and operated on at the 15th Medical at LZ English. He recovered at the 85th Evac Hospital in Qui Nhon, the 7th Field Hospital in Japan, at Clark Air Force Base Hospital in the Philippines, and at Ireland Army Hospital at Fort Knox.

His readable memoir, filled with much reconstructed dialogue, is told chronologically, beginning with Powers’ Army Reserve physical and ending with his honorable discharge in March 1968.

The author’s website is www.1966theyearofthehorse.com

—Marc Leepson