A Portion of the Loveliness by Christoph Feldkirchen

Christoph Feldkirchen’s  A Portion of the Loveliness (Feldkirchen Press, 212 pp., $11.95, paper; $7.95, Kindle) is a work of fiction. There are three short novels in this book; the first one, “Nothing Could Happen,” deals with the war in Vietnam. That title is taken from a long quotation from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness that sets the tone of the book. It is a scene in which a man-of-war ship sends shells from the Congo River in the African jungle trying to hit unseen enemies. It reminded me of the American war in Vietnam, which I suspect is intentional.

The main character of this short novel, Feldkrichen (like the author), tells us he entered Navy boot camp in September 1965. Later he describes his onboard duty on a ship nicknamed “The Bucket.”

“If you were unlucky, you might work all day, be CQ all evening, stand a midnight to four a.m. watch, grab two hours of sleep, and be on duty all next day,” he writes. “Everyone was tired, all were irritable and there was no end of griping.”

I’ve not read many novels or memoirs dealing with Navy duty during the Vietnam War. I enjoyed this one. When it ended, I found myself wishing for more, a rare feeling when reading a book I knew nothing about before I started it.

This short novel is light hearted, well written, and it reinforces my long-ago decision to spend my tour of military duty in the Army. The graphic descriptions of seasickness made me slightly nauseous.  (Full disclosure: The chemo I am on makes me feel that way often enough anyhow.)

Thanks, Christoph Feldkirchen, for writing this book. The other two novellas also were good. Please consider writing a full-length novel or memoir of your time in the Navy. I promise I will read it.

—David Willson

Across the Pond by Michael McCormick

Michael McCormick’s Across the Pond  (CreateSpace, 53 pp., $11.58, paper; $0.99, Kindle) reminds us that the Vietnam War changed many patriotic young men into disillusioned adults who were forsaken by society. This novella, first published in 1994, about Sean “Mack” McBride is based on the war-time experiences of author Michael McCormick, a former U.S. Marine who received the Silver Star and Purple Heart.

As a new guy in Vietnam, McBride watches his squad leader murder a civilian, and lives through a bloodbath in a maze of booby traps that drives a patrol to the edge of mutiny. A highly personalized account of the 1968 Battle of Hue highlights the book.

Between combat scenes, the story flashes back to McBride’s home life and Marine Corps boot camp training. The story ends with McBride, jobless and hungry, giving his last bit of food to a fellow veteran with the thousand-yard stare.

The story is only forty-four pages in length. With all due respect to McCormick, a psychotherapist in California, I feel that his novella is merely an outline for the autobiography that he someday should write.

—The author’s website is www.michaelmccormick.website

—Henry Zeybel

The Foot Soldier by Mark Rubinstein

Mark Rubinstein served in the U. S. Army in South Vietnam as a field medic tending to paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division. After his discharge he went to medical school, took a psychiatric residency, and became a forensic psychiatrist. He is now a professor of psychiatry at Cornell University Medical School. The Foot Soldier (Thunder Lake Press, 58 pp., $3.99, paper; $.99, Kindle) is his third work of fiction.

This novella features blurbs that give an accurate picture of the book. Warren Glaser, who served as a Marine Corps surgeon in Korea, says: “It brings you to the hell of wartime combat. It’s a compelling story.” Martin Isler says the book “is every bit as compelling as The Things They Carried.”  High praise, indeed, although a bit overreaching.

When the main character, Costa, arrives in South Vietnam, the heat hits him “like a blast furnace” as he and the other new arrivals are “herded like cattle into a replacement depot.”

I wasn’t thrilled to encounter those Vietnam War fiction clichés on the very first page of the book. They would be fine In dialogue, but not in Costa’s internal thoughts. They set my teeth on edge, to not coin a phrase. Furthermore, the heat there was not like a blast furnace. It was too humid for that.

Costa is assigned to Second Battalion, Bravo Company, Third Platoon, under the command of a Lt. Johnson, a stereotype of the redneck southern officer: fat, piggy -eyed, and prejudiced against northerners.  His first communication with Costa consists of asking him if he is “a guinea, a spic or wetback?”

I never heard that sort of talk in the Army. And I thought that a “spic” and a “wetback” were the same. Johnson is said to be a “ninety-day wonder right out of OCS.”

Costa’s first assignment is to “empty fifty-gallon drums of excrement from the company latrines.” No mention is made of burning the stuff.  Soon, Costa is on a search and destroy mission in Quang Ngai Province. A free-fire zone in VC country.

Rubinstein

Costa is assigned to walk point by the lieutenant, against the wishes of First Sergeant Davis,an old Asian hand who knows the score. Davis is also the designated tunnel-rat and is said to not have looked for a “rear flank assignment.”  At one point Lt. Johnson threatens Sgt. Davis with a “Section Eight.” Not likely.

Things don’t go well, and Costa finds himself at the point of Lt. Johnson’s .45 being ordered to kill a harmless old man in a village. Johnson already has shot several village pigs and demonstrated a “penchant for violence and sadism” as he “descended into some beastly valley of mindless hatred.” The lieutenant ends up dead; Costa is medevaced with a foot shot off. His tour of duty is over.

This novella is packed with grunt action and is well-written once it gets going. That said, it contains a few clinkers. Early on, the narrator tells us that a grunt spends a year in the boonies and then is reassigned to one year in the rear. That simply didn’t happen. After a year a grunt would be going home, if he were still alive.

I also would have liked to have been told straight out what happened to that excrement. I have fretted about its destination.

This novella is a good place for a reader to start with a brief entrance into literature about grunts in the Vietnam War, what the author calls a “war measured in clicks.”

The next stop should be Tim O’Brien’s classic The Things They Carried.

The author’s website is http://mark.markrubinstein-author.com

—David Willson

 

 

The Bird Dreamer by Michael Francis Reagan

We are told in Michael Francis Reagan’s The Bird Dreamer (War Writers’ Campaign, 59 pp., $4.99, Kindle) that the author served as a plane captain in the U. S. Navy from 1963-67 during the Vietnam War, and that he is a free-lance illustrator.

The hero of the story Reagan tells in this novella grew up alone in the woods in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina abandoned by his mother and then by his father. Eli Martin becomes an artist devoted to drawing birds. He is self-educated by a house of books, including Frye’s Complete Geography, which features maps of the world on which “Vietnam was a pale rose color.” He is the “Bird Dreamer” of the title. 

When Eli turns eighteen, he walks out of the woods and joins the Marines for four years, spending two combat-heavy tours in Vietnam with a rifle company in the Annam Highlands. 

He leaves behind his sweetheart, Erin Bellew, in the nearby village of Covenant. She is the daughter of the proprietor of Bellew’s General Store. Eli has secretly pledged his troth to Erin, without even making it known to her. He returns to his home deep in the woods, much traumatized by his time in Vietnam after having been awarded two Purple Hearts, the Bronze Star, and the Silver Star. He was called “Mountain Man” by his comrades in the Marines.

Michael Francis Reagan

He returns “home from a war nobody believed in anymore,”  as Eli puts it. He goes on to say: “I died over there, too, you know.”

When Erin realizes Eli is back, she thinks, “Would the war have ruined him like she had seen it do to so many other boys from around here?”

She has good reason to worry. Eli and his team had entered a small village after it had been napalmed, and witnessed the deaths of three small girls in a hut. They were suffering, but not quite dead from their lethal burns, and Eli put them out of their misery. One of the girls left behind a sketchbook of birds similar to the one that Eli had filled with bird drawings back home. Eli takes the sketchbook with him.

This moving story is equal parts parable and dream. Erin and Eli reach out to each other, hoping for the healing power of love. The reader will root for these two pure souls.

The book’s publisher, the nonprofit War Writers’ Campaign, believes in the power of therapy through communication.

I highly recommend this small book. It is one of a kind, and it is the sweetest and most hopeful healing tale of the Vietnam War I have ever read.

—David Willson