Eating With Veterans by Michael Lund

Michael Lund served in the U. S. Army as a correspondent in Vietnam, 1970-71. He is the author of a memoir, Route 66 to Vietnam: A Draftee’s Story, and a book of short stories, How Not to Tell a War Story.  Lund’s latest book is Eating With Veterans (BeachHouse Books, 268 pp., $16.95, paper; $3.99, Kindle), a book of twenty serious short stories.

Lundh, a life member of Vietnam Veterans of America, holds a PhD in literature from Emory University, so I expected his stories to be literate and well-written. I was not disappointed.

Most of the characters in these fine stories are aging veterans, mostly of the Vietnam War. Often these veterans and their companions are eating, drinking, and talking. Occasionally a story will seem like a deliberate homage to Raymond Carver, for instance “The Soy Bean Field.”  I intend this as the highest of compliments.

Most of the stories communicate an atmosphere of social unease. Many take place, at least in part, in South Vietnam, and give us insights into the lives of soldiers who served there in communications. Some of the titles are: “The Rules of Engagement,” “Drugs Away,” “Blood Drive,” “The Death of Short-timer Sam,” and “Counterinsurgency. ”

Some of the stories that have non-military sounding titles are the ones that contain the most overt military scenes, for instance Lund’s Tet Offensive story, “Magician.”  We get a reference in that story to the school at Fort Benjamin Harrison, where the correspondent was trained—and where I was trained as a stenographer. I am always pleased when I read a book that deals with what the 80 to 90 percent of us did in Vietnam: not take part in combat. This is one of the best books yet that deals seriously with that aspect of our war.

Lund uses the phrase “rear echelon troops,” and the derogatory term “REMF” does not appear. It’s a term, by the way, that I never heard in Vietnam, but trip over endlessly in Vietnam War combat books, both novels and memoirs.

Lund does deal with some war-horse items such as Agent Orange, and he does have a story that mentions the oft-related tale of returning soldiers being spat upon and called baby killers. But he also includes  “Hadrian’s Wall,”  a rare story dealing with the Coast Guard’s role in the Vietnam War. Jimi Hendrix, one of my favorite Vietnam War era veterans, gets more than a mention—he gets an entire story, “Look Alike.”

Michael Lund

In “Camp Hoover” Lund captures an elusive feeling that I have tried to put into words, but failed to do so: how the past and the present can get intertwined and confused. It’s a great story and the saddest one in the book—perhaps one of the saddest stories I’ve ever read.

I highly recommend the stories in this book to all those drawn to serious writing about the Vietnam War and to seekers after the whole story—not just a narrow story told over and over again.

—David Willson

How to Not Tell a War Story by Michael Lund

Michael Lund published parts of How to Not Tell a War Story (BeachHouse Books, 300 pp., $16.95, paper; Milspeak Books, $4.99, e book) in an august literary journal, War, Literature and the Arts: An International Journal of the Humanities, earlier this year. Lund is a Vietnam veteran, having spent two years in the U. S. Army. He served in Vietnam as a correspondent in 1969-70.

Lund’s book consists of fifteen short stories, many of which deal with the impact of military service in Vietnam on a veterans’ post-war life. For instance, in “The Clean Plate Club” the main character, Lester Sole, has a traumatic experience in the ward of the 125th U. S. Air Force Combat Staging Hospital in Vietnam.

Sole was trained by the Army to be a radio reporter after being drafted. His job: to interview “the patients for hometown news releases.”  Sole is stationed at Cam Rahn Bay and never leaves “the safety of the giant American base on the coast of the South China Sea.” One day, though, he makes the mistake of walking through the wrong door of hospital at the wrong time.

The beauty and utility of these stories in this unique book is that Lund explores the non-combat side of the Vietnam War. He clearly shows that even that aspect of the war—the so-called REMF side—can be fraught with risk and horror.

In this volume we encounter many of the same subjects we have become familiar with in much Vietnam War fiction that centers on combat action:  PTSD, Agent Orange, spitting on veterans, veterans being called Baby Killers, booby traps, R&R, Chris Noel, DEROS, “gooks and slant eyes,” Freedom Birds, and so on. That said, I saw no mention of ham and mother fuckers— not even by their tamer and proper name, ham and lima beans. I sort of missed them.

Michael Lund

A reader of Vietnam War fiction builds up certain expectations. On the other hand, no mention of ham and limas was a relief as I never heard of that loathsome C ration concoction during my more than thirteen months in-country as a REMF working for the Inspector General.

Lund’s story “Exchange” delineates  the fairly typical life story of one Kurt Marlowe, a clarinetist in an Army band in Vietnam. Marlowe spends much of his tour of duty playing in the band, playing poker, watching movies, eating barbecued chicken at the beach, dancing to Filippino bands, playing volleyball, throwing Frisbees, and drinking beer for fifteen cents a can. All REMF’s didn’t have it that good—certainly not all the time—but many did. But this fine story reminds us that it was not all like that. Not when “rockets landed in the compound.”

Kurt Marlowe plays his clarinet in a band that featured the Beatles’ hit, “Get Back,” Joe South’s “Walk a Mile in My Shoes,” and the Animals’ classic “We Gotta Get Out of this Place” in their repertoire. But while riding in a convoy with his band on the way to a gig to brighten some soldiers’ day, the Americans are ambushed, and Marlowe sees a lot of action and witnesses casualties. Lund shows us clearly that even the members of an Army band are not protected from the bloody aspects of the war in Vietnam.

Lund gives us the details of the daily life of the REMF. Hundreds of books do the same for infantrymen, but few have been published that do what Lund does well in this book. He also manages to make these stories interesting.

He has a rare gift as a story teller. Many of the stories are written in a point-counterpoint method, alternating passages set in Vietnam with passages set back home after the war. This technique shows how inextricably linked the past is to the present and how a soldier’s war experiences permeate an ex-soldier’s later life.

These elegantly and formally written stories are in a very traditional form and I enjoyed them. They were full of surprises and introduced me to Vietnam veterans who served as medical supply specialists, personnel specialists, information specialists, and mortuary affairs specialists. And the stories showed me what these rear-echelon personnel contributed to our war.

Thanks to Michael Lund for bravely going with his short stories where no other Vietnam War author has gone before.

—David Willson