Path to a Lonely War by Richard Schaefer

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In Path to a Lonely War: A Naval Hospital Corpsman with the Marines in Vietnam, 1965 (Texas Tech University Press, 163 pp. $29.95, hardcover) Richard W. Schaefer says he did not want to write a war story. But he includes several depictions of exciting and graphic battlefield action in this memoir of his Vietnam War experiences—where, he says—“we were involuntarily in the process of wearing away any remnants of innocence we had brought with us to this hellhole.”

Dick Schaefer’s main hopes in 1965 were to relate to others and to transform from an eighteen-year-old high school graduate into a battle-hardened man. As he tells that story, Schaefer shares his thoughts and analysis of the war in Vietnam and its effect on those at home.  After his four-year Navy tour, Schaefer returned to civilian life in Iowa, got married, and raised a family.

Some artists create pictures with lines and shapes. Schaefer creates pictures with words, artfully “painting” mind-drawn images throughout his book. For example, he writes that older generations sat and “watched” the radio, and from the mesmerizing words they heard visualized characters and scenes in their minds. In that manner, I did not so much “read” this book, as I “watched” it.

In his short, powering opening acknowledgements section, Schaefer shows a true understanding and respect for the Marines with whom he served. Eventually, he became one with them.

He uses the phrase “lonely war” not to depict sadness but to describe the isolation that he and others serving in the Vietnam War felt. I could sense this feeling of isolation from cover to cover.  Not a dark isolation, but a need to be alone in his thoughts and tend to his duties. Throughout it all, Schaefer shows a high degree of professionalism.

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The book and the author

Dick Schaefer was a typical Navy Corpsman: brave, strong beyond his size, and truly concerned for the health and well being of everybody around him. He received two Bronze Stars with V devices during his 1965-66 Vietnam War tour of duty.

After reading this book, I had mixed feelings. I felt I was missing something, so I read it a second time. I’m glad I did. I wound up loving Path to a Lonely War.

— Bob Wartman