Vietnam Veterans Unbroken by Jacqueline Murray Loring

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In 2010, working in conjunction with a Vietnam War veterans group in Hyannis, Massachusetts, Jacqueline Murray Loring began studying the resiliency of Vietnam vets and their assimilation into the American social structure after coming home.

Loring, a poet and writer of stage plays, movie scripts, and articles, labels herself a “non-military writer.” She wholeheartedly acknowledges the support she received from the group’s Director of Counseling, Jack Bonino.

With Bonino’s help, she compiled interviews and writings from seventeen Vietnam War veterans (including her husband) to broaden her understanding of how they overcame the trauma of exposure to combat. Seven of her subjects served in the Marine Corps; eight in the Army; and two in the Navy.

Loring’s research culminated with her new  book, Vietnam Veterans Unbroken: Conversations on Trauma and Resiliency (McFarland, 212 pp. $29.95, paper).

This book resembles other Vietnam War memoirs that provide the life stories of a group of veterans who enlisted or were drafted from the same region and returned there following their military service. However, rather than providing complete memoirs one after another, Loring separates each person’s experiences into four parts that she then collects into the following groupings:

  • Growing Up in America and Arriving in Vietnam
  • Coping with Coming Home
  • Post-Traumatic Stress
  • Resiliency and Outreach

That structure helps the reader distinguish similarities and differences among the interviewees at four critical junctures in each of their lives.

The veterans—one woman and sixteen men—provided information in a questionnaire that is not included in the book. Their most common problem was the inability to speak about their war experiences. In general, civilians were not interested in stories of what the returnees had done overseas; likewise, most returnees did not want to talk about their experiences, which compounded their emotional problems.

The veterans describe their common feelings in everyday life: anxiety, depression and hopelessness, sleeplessness, anger and rage, nightmares and flashbacks, and suicidal thoughts or attempts. They talk about dealing with emotions that intensified low-level confrontations at home, in the work place, and in therapy. The depth and duration of their therapy to treat PTSD far surpassed what I had imagined.

Loring presents the facts and allows readers to reach their own conclusions about psychological outcomes. I concluded that the returnees’ major need was social acceptance and a method to unravel their innermost feelings, a task for which they received virtually no support.

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Jacqueline Murray Loring

That might sound like self-evident truth, but more than anything else, Loring’s book reconfirms how long it took for doctors and counselors to recognize the long-term psychological damage inflicted by the Vietnam War. Fortunately, these veterans found the resilience to construct at least a semblance of normal existences.

Although Loring’s work focuses on Vietnam War veterans, her findings will help those who served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As one of the Marines interviewed for the book put it: “The young kids coming home today are facing the same quandary.”

Overall, the book is cathartic. It includes no battle scenes. It mainly displays the resiliency of a small group of veterans who paid a steep psychological toll for serving their country.

The book’s page on the author’s website is jacquelinemurrayloring.com

—Henry Zeybel

335th Assault Helicopter Company by Vance Gammons and Dominic Fino

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Vance Gammons and Dominic Fino’s 335th Assault Helicopter Company: What We Did after the Vietnam War. (Deeds Publishing, 296 pp., $19.95, paper) is an interesting look at the post-Vietnam War lives of the members of the Cowboy Company, a stand-alone Air Assault Helicopter company created in September 1966 to work with a variety of infantry units.

The unit, a company of lift ships and their personnel, fitted the needs of the Army in Vietnam to provide the flexibility for ground troops who did not possess their own transportation onto the battlefield.  As such, the 335th provided service to the leg units of the 173rd Airborne Brigade from 1965 until its stand down in November 1971.

The book is a compilation of the post-war biographies of the men who served with the unit. Knowing the pilots and crew members’ propensity for quick, accurate verbal communications, the book surprises with some lengthy personal biographies, along with some extremely brief ones that let the reader fill in the spaces between comments.

Some of the men went on to lead rich and colorful lives. Some of the biographical sketches show the pain and heartaches that others bore during their time in the war.

What comes through clearly in all of them is the brotherly bonds created by the camaraderie of their time as Assault Helicopter men. The pride of their service is evident in all the stories.

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A particularly heartbreaking biography submitted by the widow of Ed Eget tells of a lifetime of hard work punctuated by lingering health problems related to his service in Vietnam. It is easy to see the effects of combat on each person in every story—including Agent Orange and PTSD.

Dominic Fino, one of the co-authors, tells of his struggles with bits of sarcastic humor and honesty.

The book shows Vietnam War veterans as we returned home, put on civilian clothes, and went about making productive lives. It also shows the resiliency of the American citizen soldier who faced extreme danger in war, yet overcame that to grow into substantial contributing members of society.

–Bud Alley

A former First Cavalry Division LT, Bud Alley is the author of The Ghosts of the Green Grass, which looks at the fighting at LZ Albany during the 1965 Vietnam War Battle of the Ia Drang Valley

 

Long Journeys Home by Michael D. Gambone

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Michael D. Gambone proposes that Americans should raise the status of Korean and Vietnam War veterans to the legendary height of those who fought in World War II. He makes that case in his latest book, Long Journeys Home: American Veterans of World War II, Korea, & Vietnam (Texas A&M University, 275 pp. $45.00, hardcover; $45.00, Kindle).

Gambone examines those who played a role in the three wars from multiple angles: class, race, gender, age, education, and region. Much of what he says is not new, but Gambone uses this information—such as how draftees were selected, the composition of forces, and post-war economic trends—to make his points persuasively.

He delves into the post-war lives of the three groups of veterans to show that Vietnam War veterans were not monsters as identified by many in Hollywood and the news media during that era. He also makes a case for boosting public appreciation for veterans of the so-called “forgotten war” in Korea.

 

Gambone, a history professor at Kutztown University, points out that many  novels, television shows, and movies laid the groundwork for countless authors, journalists, and film directors to build World War II veterans into the “Greatest Generation,” which won a “good war.” He notes, though, that those troops did not fight any harder, nor did not die in greater agony, than other combatants did throughout modern history. Nevertheless, the idea that World War II warriors saved the entire world from dictatorship placed a halo effect on them.

The public disliked and basically ignored the Korea War because it too soon renewed the fight against the Asian hordes, he suggests. In other words, public emotions overrode facts concerning combat to the detriment of American veterans from the wars in Vietnam and Korea.

Gambone strives to separate myth from fact and thereby reduce the impact of the nature of a war on the public’s perception of the value of its veterans. He contends that “armies cannot escape the societies from which they are drawn,” but he asks the public to accept veterans who deviated from the norm in crisis—rather than to condemn them.

Overall, Gambone shows that the quality of life beyond the battlefield deteriorated from World War II to Vietnam. Upon returning home, Vietnam War veterans experienced increasing difficulties with mental problems, job placement, racial issues, and educational opportunities.

At the same time, veterans from the three wars shared a commonality about the “basic nature of military service,” according to Gambone. To prove this point, he cites evidence that supports consistencies in patriotism, dealing with trauma, and assimilation into civilian life, along with much more.

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Michael Gambone

Gambone, the author of The Greatest Generation Comes Home: The Veteran in American Society (20015), served with the 82nd Airborne Division from 1985-88. He spent 2006 in Iraq as an Army contractor.

I would have liked to see Gambone compare the veterans he writes about in Long Journeys Home to veterans from today’s all-volunteer military forces.

When describing the post-World War II period, Gambone says, “There was no shared burden to link the public with [the nation’s] military effort. Education, income, and race became important cleavage points with respect to service, sacrifice, and recognition.”

To which I say: “That’s still America today. Tell us how to change it.”

—Henry Zeybel

No Strings Attached by John W. Carlson

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John Bultman enlisted in the Marine Corps and arrived in Vietnam at age nineteen in 1967. He spent thirteen months as a courier for the First Marine Air Wing at Da Nang. He also helped defend the base perimeter as a rifleman during the 1968 Tet Offensive. Bultman’s courier runs to outlying posts by helicopter, Jeep, light aircraft, and river patrol boat exposed him to “war’s dreadful brutality,” he says. The sight of dead bodies, “especially women and children,” created his “most horrible memories.”

Later in life, Bultman talked fervently about the Marine Corps to John W. Carlson, a drinking buddy and a feature writer for The Star Press in Muncie, Indiana. Fascinated by what he heard, Carlson has written a book about Bultman’s life called No Strings Attached: John Bultman’s War as a Marine in Vietnam, and Its Aftermath (CreateSpace, 78 pp. $10. paper).

This short book provides a lucid image of Bultman’s personality, depicting his weaknesses as well as strengths. Best of all, Carlson shows that Bultman has a sense of humor about the world in general and an ability to laugh at himself when appropriate.

As the subtitle suggests, Bultman’s war experiences fill only half of the book. The “Aftermath” focuses on Bultman’s playing the banjo and battling PTSD.

After the war, John Bultman bummed around on beaches near San Diego, worked with Vietnam Veterans Against War, returned to college but dropped out, and then discovered and taught himself how to play the banjo. Love of music led him to the love of his life—Janan—who played the piano, flute, and mandolin. They married, had two daughters, and enjoyed success in the music business until PTSD overwhelmed him.

Bultman’s years of treatment for PTSD included two months as an in-patient at a VA hospital. Survivor guilt haunted him.

267x267-2d1fdaa5-3bb0-474e-8476f194863d8de0“When John describes his treatment, it takes on the aura of sweaty, physical effort,” Carlson writes, “’Oh, shit,’ he recalled. ‘It was hard, hard, hard work. My life changed dramatically,’ he said, though he noted his treatment wasn’t exactly a panacea. ‘I was not as angry.’ Still, even in the face of success, he doesn’t take such good news, such progress, for granted. He admitted, ‘I’ve never met a Vietnam vet that wasn’t grumpy. Every day, it’s always something. It’s just that now the level is different, of course.'”

To me, these four quotes quietly explain that PTSD is a lifelong problem. Along the way, a VA doctor declared Bultman one hundred percent disabled by the disorder.

Carlson’s No Strings Attached is what it is. Basically, he adds another witness to confirm the severe damage incurred by young minds exposed to traumatic situations.

—Henry Zeybel

Looking Back by Sarah Sherman McGrail

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Sarah Sherman McGrail’s two-volume set, Looking Back: A History of Boothbay Region’s Veterans during the Korean and Vietnam Wars (Cozy Harbor Press; 562 pp., Vol. I; 586 pp., Vol. II. $24.95 each) Volumes I & II), is a treasure chest of well-organized and carefully researched, alphabetized biographical sketches of more than two hundred  veterans from Maine’s Boothbay area. The books provide many unique personal wartime experiences.

“The men and women in these pages are our relatives, spouses, and neighbors,” McGrail writes. “They matured, learned about responsibility and respect, suffered trauma, and witnessed death.”

The veterans include Army draftee Ambrose “Sonny” Artzer, a cook who was responsible for feeding two hundred men daily and then pulling perimeter guard duty at his An Khe base in Vietnam. “The military food he prepared consisted of dehydrated milk, powdered food, including franks and beans, spaghetti and meatballs, peaches and fruit cocktail, Sonny’s favorites,” McGrail writes.

In the year Artzer left An Khe, Army dog handler George Blackman arrived. “The lives of the men were dependent upon an obedient, mean dog,” the author notes. “Blackman’s canine commands included, “sit, stay, down, come, as well as watch him, get him, and kill.”

Details like these abound. Many of the entries deal with the heat, humidity, monsoons, and the smells and dangerous creatures in Vietnam. Army Infantryman Ernest Carver, for example, encountered pit vipers, wild pigs, red deer, rats, mosquitoes, monkeys, elephants, and tigers. “The leeches were terrible,” the author notes. “During the rainy season, or monsoon season, Ernie said it was impossible to keep dry.”

Richard Benner enlisted in the Army in 1947 and served two tours in Vietnam, first as part of a Civil Affairs Team with the 521st Medical Intelligence Unit, the only outfit so dedicated in Vietnam. Near Qui Nhon there was a leper colony “and its inhabitants were relocated to a camp” because of their highly contagious disease, Benner said. “To their credit, the lepers painted their shacks different bright colors and Dick said they looked very nice.”

Volume II opens with the globe-hopping, thirty-year Navy career Seaman Harmon Roscoe Maddocks. He served in Vietnam with the 571st River Division as a Patrol Boat River (PBR) Captain aboard a Brown Water Navy vessel in the Mekong Delta. Wounded in action, Ross received two Bronze Stars while wearing the black beret of the “River Rats.”

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Sarah Sherman McGrail

One interesting story pre-dates the official American involvement in Vietnam. Harold Seavey, Jr. enlisted in the Air Force in 1951. One year later he was assigned to the 1600th Medical Group at Westover Air Force Base in Massachusetts as a Medical Service Apprentice. In that capacity Seavey participated in the evacuation of French troops from their war in Indochina.

In addition to the first-person accounts, these volumes also include addenda on subjects such as the history of the POW/MIA bracelet, song lyrics, photo albums, and poems.

—Curt Nelson

 

T.I.N.S* by Darrell Bain and Will Stafford

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Darrell Bain and Will Stafford are Vietnam War veterans who found each other on the Internet and became computer pen pals. Their years-long correspondence resulted in Bain narrating and publishing most of those exchanges in a book called T.I.N.S.* (CreateSpace, 290 pp., $11.99, paper). The book’s cover tells us that T.I.N.S. is an acronym for “This is no shit.” Humor is the basis for every story.

Or, as the subtitle says: “Hilarious stories by Vietnam vets, zany tales from the war, childhood craziness, and post-war foibles.” The difficulties of childhood and teenage development, along with mid-life aging, dominate the storytelling. This made me feel shortchanged as problems related to marriages, dogs and cats, professions, food and dieting, illnesses, and smoking dominated too much of the text.

At times, these exchanges resemble a game of can-you-top-this. They heighten the entertainment, but also create scenarios bordering on repetitive and mundane chores familiar to most people.

I wanted to hear more about the military careers of Stafford and Bain. Both men spent two tours in Vietnam. Stafford flew helicopter gunships and Chinooks. Bain served as an Army medic. Their few stories about the Vietnam War and military life in general lift the book to a higher level. These stories also are humorous, but deal with activities, events, and places far beyond ordinary life.

Regardless of the topic, Bain–the author of Medics Wild!— generally plays straight man to Stafford and makes him the star of the book. Both men display highly perfected senses of humor.

Bain extends a caveat: “This book contains the complete and unabridged books, Toppers and More Toppers,” both of which he wrote.

Bain’s website is darrellbain.com

—Henry Zeybel

The Way to Stay in Destiny by Augusta Scattergood

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Augusta Scattergood is a children’s book author and reviewer and a former librarian. Her 2012 book Glory Be was a Texas Bluebonnet Award nominee. She tells us she has “devoted her life and career to getting books into the hands of young readers.”

The hero of Scattergood’s latest YA book, The Way to Stay in Destiny (Scholastic, 192 pp., $16.99, hardcover; $6.99, paper; $10.99, Kindle), is an orphan named Thelonious (Theo) Monk Thomas by his hippie parents. It’s May 1974, and Theo has fallen into the hands of his mother’s brother, Uncle Raymond, a Vietnam veteran who has been working in Alaska since his war ended as a mechanic. He learned this skill during his time in the Army.

Theo’s parents died when he was four years old. His grandparents had raised him until their health failed, and then turned him over to Uncle Raymond, whom Theo “had never laid his eyes on.”

Uncle Raymond moves Theo from Kentucky to Destiny, Florida. In Kentucky, Theo had been in the same class with the same twelve kids forever. Now Theo and Uncle Raymond live in a boarding house that doubles as a dance studio in which a large piano tempts Theo who shares the musical skills of the man he was named after. Until Uncle Raymond takes over Theo’s life, the boy had been destined to be a famous musician or perhaps a big leaguer. His uncle has other ideas, and lays them down as laws.

Uncle Raymond carries everything he owns either in a heavy tool chest or in his old Army duffle bag He has a bum knee and complains it about constantly. When he wants to get Theo’s attention, he punches him in the arm, hard. He speaks abrupt, non-standard English.As in, “Don’t you know nothing?  It ain’t no ocean.”  And he tends to holler.

Uncle Raymond used the bus ride from Kentucky to Florida to lay out his rules. He reiterates them in the rooming house. “Things are different now,” he says, pounding his fist into his palm over and over again.  “You got to follow my rules.”

The primary source of conflict is the piano. When Uncle Raymond finds Theo playing it, he slams the keyboard cover on the boy’s hands. “Nobody but a fool wastes time on music,” he says.

At this stage of the novel I wondered what could happen to Theo and Uncle Raymond that would be uplifting or redeeming. Nothing much good can be said about Uncle Raymond. He seems to me to be straight out of a Dickens novel.

Uncle Raymond got his new job in Florida thanks to the intervention of an old Army buddy. “The boss is coming in early to show me the ropes,” he says. “ Least there’s somebody left who appreciates what we both fought for.”

Uncle Raymond seems permanently marked by his Army service. He demands that Theo “makes up the bed tight with that military fold thing.” He also insists that Theo does the laundry and folds the underwear in squares. Do we ever find out why Uncle Theo behaves so hatefully toward 6th grader Theo?  Yes, we do; it relates to the culture wars of the sixties.

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Augusta Scattergood

Theo’s parents were antiwar protestors. Raymond claims they spat on him and called him a baby killer when he came home from Vietnam. Theo’s mother, he tells the boy, went off to a “fancy college, met your daddy, she didn’t care a thing about me. I was far off, fighting for my country. He was carrying signs, spitting on soldiers. Didn’t matter what our family always stood for.”

When Raymond goes off to sleep, Theo says, “Before long, my uncle’s yelling about jungles and guns and spit.”

In the final chapter, Theo says that his uncle “might be coming around.” He even laughs, saying “I’ll never get used to that sound.”

The changes in Uncle Raymond seem abrupt and unrealistic. He has been depicted as an extremely deranged Vietnam veteran. At least he isn’t a drunk or drug addict and he does have a job. But he shouldn’t be raising a child.

This book leaves the young adult reader with a narrow view of the Vietnam War, of hippies, and of Vietnam veterans. That is not a good thing.

—David Willson

 

 

The Great Mars Hill Bank Robbery by Ron Chase

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Ron Chase served in the U. S. Army during the Vietnam War in Korea and Alaska. The subject of Chase’s book, The Great Mars Hill Bank Robbery (Down East Books, 160 pp., $16.95, paper), Bernard Patterson, also served in the Army. As a nineteen year old during the peak of the Vietnam War, he was a tunnel rat for three tours of duty.

The prologue notes that like “hundreds of thousands of other young men who served during the Vietnam era, we both returned disillusioned, distrustful of our government institutions and with an abiding sense we no longer fit neatly into the society we left.” Patterson deals with his disillusion by robbing the Northern National Bank in Mars Hill, Maine, on November 12, 1971. He escapes with $110,000. When I read the details of that robbery, it seemed like a comedy of errors as Patterson muddled his way through the event and escaped.

When Patterson is interviewed later about what caused him to rob the bank, he says the federal government promised to pay for his college education, but when he asked for the money, the government refused. Patterson—all of five-feet, three-inches tall and 140 pounds—uses the considerable skills he learned in Vietnam as a tunnel rat and paratrooper to elude capture for seven months. He had been awarded four Bronze Stars for valor.

One of his neighbors in Mars Hill say that “he was alright until he came home from the Army.”  I heard that often myself, and when I heard it, I had the thought that many Americans wished that Vietnam veterans had not returned from our war.

By the time Patterson is captured, he’s traveled 20,000 miles in seven countries on three continents. He is much underestimated by the FBI and other law enforcement personnel who pursue him. Someone asks: “How did an unsophisticated, under-educated young man from rural Northern Maine elude the might of American law enforcement?”

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Nancy and Ron Chase

I suggest that you read this fascinating book for the story alone, including finding out in detail where the money winds up. In seven months Patterson spends the $110,000 on what’s often referred to as “wine, women and song.” Actually, not that much song, but a lot of wine, the most expensive that Switzerland, France, and England had to offer.

Ultimately, Bernard Patterson remains a mystery. As the author says, “he has an enigmatic, convoluted, uncompromising persona.”

I highly recommend this book to those who want to learn about what one Vietnam veteran chooses to do with his life after coming home from the war.

Patterson pays the price for his bank escapade. After a lengthy time in prison, he settles down to become a pot farmer and dealer. His time in prison had been spent learning about marijuana horticulture; he learned it well.

The author’s website is ronchaseoutdoors.com

—David Willson

When We Wore the Uniform edited by Barry Hugh Yeakle

 

10917801_370410826493601_5675899735985768310_oFor years, a bunch of former Marines calling themselves the Leatherneck Coffee Club sat down together in Northern Indiana, drank coffee, and swapped stories about their active duty days. One guy kept insisting on putting the stories together in a book and sharing them with the rest of the world. Another guy asked around and got help from writing professionals. That led to finding support from the Indiana Humanities and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

That effort created a printed book rather than one written in crayon, according to Barry Hugh Yeakle who edited When We Wore the Uniform: The Collected Stories of the Leatherneck Coffee Club (Leatherneck Coffee Club of Northern Indiana, 188 pp.). The book spans the years 1950-2001.  Marines of different ages, ranks, and specialties talk about their experiences in training, in garrison, at sea, and overseas. A a few reflect on it all.

The book contains about a hundred stories. Barry Yeakle, Monte Hoover, John Purcell, Ron Stefanko, Sr., and Carl Johnson III contribute multiple times.

The storytellers are veterans with a strong sense of pride in the Marine Corps, but who also find humor in its flaws. Their ambivalent feelings about first sergeants provide images that nicely fill the traditional mold. And beating-the-system stands out as a favorite endeavor. The section titled “It Happened Overseas” contains stories about the Vietnam War.

The accounts of combat are recollected with little embellishment. Facts pertaining to life-or-death situations are told indirectly. For example, the casualty rate is described as follows: “Attrition was so bad that you might be a rifleman one day, the fire team leader the next, and a squus_marine_corps_mugad leader by the end of the week.”

“We were dehydrated, hungry, exhausted and furious at the enemy” summarizes a day that ended with a unit lost and outnumbered. The straightforward and unpretentious style of the former Marines makes it easy to find commonality with them.

Books like this are enlightening because a reader is privy to a what amounts to a bitch session in which participants are no longer under anyone’s jurisdiction. No holds are barred. Yet reflections made during the years since the events occurred temper complaints and things past are seen more accurately.

The book’s gem of a glossary of “naval lingo” provided a few definitions that made me laugh out loud.  The highly distinctive art style of Claudia Viscarra illustrates many of the stories.

—Henry Zeybel

The Wages of War by Richard Severo and Lewis Milford

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The Wages of War: When  America’s Soldiers Came Home: From Valley Forge to Vietnam, written by Richard Serevo and Lewis Milford and edited by Mark Crispin Miller (Forbidden Bookshelf/Open Road Media, 495 pp., $14.99,  E book), presents an intriguing history of American veterans’ post-war struggles through the Vietnam War. The common theme is how the United States has gone to war without a viable plan to take care of returning veterans

Part one of the book—first published in 1989 and now available in a new electronic edition—introduces Daniel  Shays, whose name is forever attached to a rebellion of veterans turned farmers in the Early Republic petitioning for their pay from a nation without a hard currency or the desire to give enlisted veterans their due. Twenty-five years after the end of the Revolution the most enlisted soldiers attained was land they acquired cashing in certificates at less than face value and little of their overdue wages. Commissioned officers, supported by Gen.Henry Knox and profiteers and bankers, fared much better.

Renewed debates over military pension followed the War of 1812 and the Mexican War. President James Monroe favored veterans benefits, but many politicians opposed them. North Carolina Sen. Nathaniel Macon, for example, described military pensions as “like sweet poison on the taste; it pleases at first, but kills at last.” Congress passed a Continental Army pension bill in 1819 over the objections of some southern Congressmen who looked on pensions as the purview of states rather than the federal government.

The peaceful years between the War of 1812 and the war with Mexico saw the standing army reduced to 6,000. But an unofficial survey found that of fifty-five recruits “nine-tenths enlisted on account of some female difficulty, thirteen changed their names and forty-three were drunk, or partially so, at the time of their enlistment.” The Mexican War ended in 1848 with veterans “given enthusiastic homecomings but little else.”

In 1862 American novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote what could also apply to Vietnam War veterans. He predicted that after Union soldiers returned from the Civil War, “the quiet life of the New England villages would be spoiled and coarsened.” Elaborating on Hawthorne’s view, the  authors note: “For in the Civil War, as in Vietnam,  it was the youth of the poor and the working classes who dominated the ranks, constituting the cannon fodder and produced the survivors who would sully the quiet.”

The Civil War national rift was wide as veterans on both sides faced unemployment “amid parades and bounteous praise.” Gen. Grant’s election as president in 1868, coupled with the founding of the first powerful veterans’ organization, the Grand Army of The Republic, helped make the nation aware that veterans were rising as a political force.

Regardless of the politics leading to wars, this well-documented study establishes the fact that veterans’ pensions were always negotiable in post-war years. The late 1800s was a good time for Union veterans and their lawyers. The 1885 veteran pension budget was the government’s largest budget item.  In 1897 Union veterans received some $150 million in pensions and Confederate veterans just over $1 million.

The authors suggest that the cry “Remember the Maine” that led to the war with Spain mirrors the lack of credibility surrounding the Tonkin Gulf Resolution in Vietnam in 1965. One senator likened sending the ship to Cuba to “throwing a match into an oil well for fun.”

The troops arriving in Cuba in 1898 faced an unexpected triple threat : malaria, typhoid, and Yellow Fever. In August troops returning were quarantined in New York. Officials claimed that these diseases were not war-related and rejected many veterans’ claims, blaming their problems on “homesickness.” One War Department general opined: “Soldiers do not like sympathy; Sympathy is for women and children.”

The section on the Philippine War differs from the others. The authors provide vivid descriptions of the guerrilla tactics used against the Americans and the torture (water interrogation) and racism attributed to American soldiers. This seems to be off the subject of veterans’ benefits. Perhaps the authors meant to show the effect these grisly reports would have on veterans’ pensions after the war ended in 1902.

There are four chapters on the aftermath of World War I. They include reports on how African American and Italian veterans were treated in the racist atmosphere of the 1920s. The American Legion, founded in 1919, did little or nothing for black veterans. In 1930, the authors note, “Gold Star Mothers were offered a trip to Europe to see the graves of their sons. The black mothers were to travel separately.”  Most of them declined to go.

 
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The 1989 dust jacket

 

One chapter centers on how six million veterans were dealt with by the corrupt Charles Forbes, the first Veterans Bureau Administrator. Another examines the Bonus Expeditionary Force (Bonus Army) encampment in Washington, D.C., in the summer of 1932. President Herbert Hoover had the World War I veterans who were demanding their promised bonuses evicted at gunpoint, vetoed the veteran bonus bill, and lost that year’s election to Franklin D. Roosevelt.

World War II victories in Europe and Japan in 1945 brought 16 million veterans home. Civilians who suffered through the Great Depression feared the return of the soldiers. The section on WWI vets focuses on the Servicemans Readjustment Act, also known as the World War II G.I. Bill, which Roosevelt signed into law over the objections of some economists, politicians, labor unions, and news purveyors.

Before moving on to the Korean War the authors examine women veterans, including testimony from Lynda Van Devanter, the first national womens director of Vietnam Veterans of America. In 1982 Van Devanter told the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs that in VA hospitals “qualified gynecologists are not available and old retired physicians are doing the exams instead, in some cases in full view of men passing through the exam area.” As to whether women veterans were “actually military,” Van Devanter told the committee: “Some sixty-five women were held on Corregidor for the duration of WW II.” She asked, “Where are the studies of those women?”

The authors have presented a clear explanation of why “35 years after the end of the Korean War Washington remained without any memorial to honor the memory of those who served in Korea.” They reveal how Korean War troops were suspected of treason while held captive in North Korea. Two chapters,” Scapegoats” and “Scapegoaters,” succinctly describe how the red scare of the early and mid 1950s led to veterans being labeled as weak when they had succumbed to torture and brainwashing in captivity.

The Vietnam War chapters cover the health and political consequences resulting from 12 million gallons of Agent Orange and other toxic defoliants sprayed during the war. The human costs of the Vietnam War are well documented. This study also estimates that the war cost from $140-676 billion, with an additional $233 billion for veterans benefits.

Veterans benefits, especially Agent Orange compensation, are shown to be a budget buster and political football from the end of the war in 1975 through the Reagan Administration in 1988. The authors report that the Centers for Disease Control did not study the Agent Orange issue because accurate records of where troops served and when they were in areas that were defoliated were unavailable. The VA, as virtually all Vietnam veterans know, spent many years resisting responsibility for Agent Orange treatment.

A veteran went to the VA for “an Agent Orange health test,” the authors note, “only to be told by a VA doctor that he was simply trying to get more money from the VA.” A VA official is quoted saying, ” Part of my job is to say no. Absolutely nobody had an Agent Orange disability.”

VVA founder Bobby Muller is quoted, recalling his enlistment: “I remember joining the Marines and standing in my dress whites and hearing ‘The Star -Spangled Banner’ and crying like a baby.”

Muller came home from the war in a wheelchair and fought the VA, legislators on Capitol Hill, and the old-line veterans service organization for years before they started to recognize the physical and psychological problems unique to American veterans of the Vietnam War.

—Curt Nelson