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

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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