The first story in Richard Michael O’Meara’s Going Home For Apples and Other Stories (CreateSpace, 152 pp. $28.73, paper; $9.99, Kindle) is the best work of short fiction dealing with the Vietnam War that I’ve read in years. O’Meara served in Vietnam in 1967-68 as an infantry officer.
This book is a collection of six stand-alone short stories averaging about 25 pages each. Some are in first person, others in third person, and they complete an arc beginning with preparations for going to war and ending years after coming home from the battlefield.
The first story, “Going Home for Apples,” is a brief character sketch of someone so memorable that the narrator, Colt, still thinks of him often, more than forty years after Danny Joy—a last name not randomly chosen by the author—and he met in Army Basic Training at Ft. Dix in July 1967.
Colt, who takes everything he’s told seriously, lies in his bunk after the first day of training, wondering if the VC really would “cut my dick off if I went to sleep.” Joy, on the other hand, is a calm, near-mystical figure who seems, improbably, to somehow know all the “tricks” that make it a little easier to get through Basic. Reminiscent of Bubba from Forrest Gump, Danny Joy constantly talks about apples. His family makes their living by harvesting them in the Hudson Valley.
After Basic, the two men are together in AIT at Ft. Dix. They get weekends off so Joy goes home to help harvest apples. After one such visit, he returns a changed man. This first story is so good that it makes you want to keep reading to see if any others are as well. They are.
In “A Sorta War Story,” we’re immediately “doing ambushes in this little town just south of Lai Khe in Vietnam, the Republic of.” We’re in a six-man recon unit and fortunately the lieutenant in charge is a good guy, “not wasting time on the Mickey Mouse.” He lets the men get away with carrying Remington 12-gauge, pump action, a semi-automatic shotgun or even a Colt .45 single-action Army revolver. A big issue is the South Vietnamese members of the group who cannot be trusted. “Hell, at the first sign of trouble, they’re liable to strip down to their skivvies and melt into the bush.”
In “Cantor’s Fairytale” a handful of guys swap war stories while waiting for their chopper to R&R in Vung Tau. “Justice” could have come right out of Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 if that book had been about the Army in Vietnam. It deals with the court-martial trial of a Black man who is considered to be a straight troop who didn’t wear an Afro or hang out with the Black Power guys. Why, writes O’Meara, he never even “carried one of them canes with the knife built into its head.” Two more stories round out this excellent collection.
I hope for more stories by Richard Michael O’Meara. If he would expand the first story to novel length, I would be first in line to buy it.
O’Meara’s website is richardomeara.com