MIA: A Hero’s Return by Frank Charles Pisani

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In Frank Charles Pisani’s novel MIA: A Hero’s Return (CreateSpace, 308 pp., $11.99, paper; $3.99, Kindle) Army Sgt. Harry Archer has been kept prisoner by the North Vietnamese for more than forty years because he and a few hundred other Americans were considered being of worth as captives. The POWs live quiet lives in Vietnamese villages, using their farming or engineering skills to help the victorious North Vietnamese.

They are given wives and huts to live in and jobs to do. Archer plans to escape when he gets the chance. Finally it comes and he makes his move. It’s up to the reader to suspend disbelief as much of the story is not very believable. If you read it rapidly, on the other hand, it does roughly hang together.

Among other things, Pisani has the captives cling to their aversion to fish and the smell of fish longer than seemed likely, but that is what they do. There also is complaining among the men about not having received the recognition they deserve; Jane Fonda is cursed; and the North Vietnamese are shown murdering a baby, a turnaround of the “baby killer” myth that American Vietnam veterans were made to suffer for.

There is a section about “The Wall in Washington” and ranting about long-haired commie symps being traitors and running to Canada to avoid the draft.

Harry Archer escapes to America and seeks retribution from those who run the country for all the harm that was done to him. I won’t relate what that looks like, but it isn’t very satisfying.

Pisani does tell an engrossing story and his characters are interesting and believable—to a point. If you are hungry for yet another Vietnam War POW novel, but one that is a little bit different, try this one. It held my interest.

I was disappointed that no mention was made of John Wayne, but you can’t have everything.

—David Willson

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Each One a Hero by Michael March

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Michael March served with the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment in Vietnam from July 1967 to July 1968. In his autobiographical Vietnam War novel, Each One a Hero: A Novel of War and Brotherhood (Hellgate Press, 316 pp., $19.95, paper), the main character, a college drop out who gets drafted into the Army, spends time driving an APC just like the main character does in Larry Heinemann’s Close Quarters, one of the best early (1977) Vietnam War novels.

Each One A Hero gives no challenge to Close Quarters, but it is a worthy effort. The reader encounters the notion that the VC fight their war by arming whores with razor blades in their vaginas. It also asks the question, “Why don’t they give up?” as they are hopelessly out-manned and outclassed, or so the Americans seem to think. Certainly the results of the U.S. body counts seemed to indicate so.

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Michael March

Ann Margaret, Annette Funicello, the Freedom Bird, Woody Woodpecker, and a lot of the usual American pop culture stuff we find in Vietnam War novels gets name checked in this book. The Tet Offensive and the Light at the End of the Tunnel get a workout, too. Magical realism even rears its head, along with Buddy Knox and his great fifties rock and roll song “Party Doll.”

Each One a Hero is well written and is a quick read. The hero returns from his Bangkok sex-capades with his “dick hurting like a bastard.” He was singing the blues right out of “House of the Rising Sun.” That makes me glad I chose not to take my R&R in Thailand.

There is some humor in this book, but it’s hard to laugh at the hero’s predicament as he prepares to return home. I’m sure he figured it out.

—David Willson

Chita Quest by Brinn Colenda

The publisher tells us that Chita Quest (Southern Yellow Pine Publishing, 288 pp., $14.95, paper) is a novel about “one man’s search for his POW/MIA father.”  Actually, two sons have serious involvement in this search for their long-missing father. VVA member Brinn Colenda is the author of the earlier book in this series, Cochabamba Conspiracy, a thriller we reviewed here last year. If you loved that book, you will also enjoy this one. It is more of the same.

The story again involves the Callahan brothers. This time they are on a quest to find their fighter-pilot father who was shot down in Vietnam.

In the book’s Introduction, William B. Scott castigates “political elites who broke faith with those in uniform and intentionally left American POWs behind.” That is the crux of this fast-moving thriller, which is filled with enough plot twists to keep any reader tied in knots of suspense. The heroes are intrepid; the lily-livered bad guys lack any redeeming qualities.

Brinn Colenda

Chita Quest will hold your attention and provide the escape you need for an afternoon—that is, if you wish to devote your time to having your paranoia stoked about patriots being stabbed in the back during the Vietnam War, about fighting a war that was being won by superior fire power and massive air power but was “lost” by self-serving political hacks and the liberal news media.

A warning to sensitive readers: This is the sort of book in which a chubby lieutenant with the common sense not to want to fly in seriously bad weather is nicknamed “Minnesota Fats” by a bullying pilot and put in jeopardy by the bad judgment of that same pilot who then has to eject when their plane is about to crash.

That scene takes place in 1972 near the border of South Vietnam and Cambodia. The mission is to locate a downed pilot. The plane crashes, and I was pleased later to meet Fats again. He and the pilot survived the ejection from the plane. When Fats is ushered in to interrogate the hubristic pilot, the chubby guy punches him in the nose. This was my favorite moment in the book.

Colenda knows what he is writing about, and writes with great authority. He is a graduate of the U. S. Air Force Academy. He served in a variety of assignments around the world, including in Southeast Asia. He had a post-graduate fellowship at the Hoover Institution of War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University.

The book’s Epilogue, set in a Siberian forest, seems to indicate that there will be another volume in this series, one in which our heroes rescue a very old man living alone in a one-room log cabin. He many be very old, but the man still has the moxie to recite “the American Fighting Man’s Code of Conduct” and to salute “a small, crudely made American flag.”

Readers can only hope.

The author’s website is http://brinn-colenda.com

—David Willson