They Called Him Doc: Joseph Guy LaPointe Jr. by Linda D. Swink is a touching story about a man who loved all living things—plants, animals, and his fellow man. Immersed in the horrors of war, he found ways to take care of those around him. Despite the tragic nature of some of its events, They Called Him Doc is an uplifting tale of one man's capacity for love and sacrifice in his personal life and in his military career, and the effect he had on many people.
His good soul, gentle spirit, and loving nature show clearly through the storytelling, which uses well-selected details of his childhood, friendships, courtship and marriage, his military career, and the commitment of those who still keep alive the memory of his sacrifices.
His early years show how LaPointe developed his sincere and deep love of life and his religious faith, as well as the duty he felt to serve his country. Growing up, he explored nature and read books “on anything that crawled, slithered, hopped, or flew.” He had childhood heroes such as Gene Autry and tried to live up to the “Cowboy Code,” including “A cowboy is patriotic.” He attended church and took his faith to heart.
He developed deep and long-lasting friendships. His friends explored nature with him, invented and played games, and pulled pranks and hijinks. They also stood by him during tough times. After high school, he worked and played music. When he met Cindy, who became his wife and the mother of his child, he devoted himself to her and their future. After he received his draft notice, he chose to join the Army. During basic training he registered his status as a conscientious objector, not to get out of military service, but to avoid the possibility of killing another human being. Consequently, he was trained as a medic and sent to Vietnam in 1968.
While most chapters are told in the third person, the author stepped aside to give a clear voice to others. Certain chapters contain Cindy's first-person memories and thoughts, a striking choice which gives his beloved wife a primary and effective voice. During his time in the military, LaPointe regularly wrote letters to his family and wife. By including many of these directly in the book, LaPointe is also given a primary voice. Late in the book, men from his unit tell stories about LaPointe and their time in Vietnam. They provide yet another way of seeing the events. The result is a beautiful and moving story told with many voices.
Although formatting and grammatical issues impede comprehension at some points, LaPointe's story is well worth the read.
Review by Barb Evenson (August 2019)
A young widow sits at home considering all the “what ifs.” What if her husband hadn’t volunteered to go on that mission? He didn’t have to go. He was supposed to be on an airplane, flying to Hawaii for R&R to meet his wife and newborn baby. What if he had gotten into college before being drafted? He would have had a deferment. What if he had run off to Canada to avoid going to war? He’d be safe now. What if he hadn’t declared himself a conscientious objector? He wouldn’t have been assigned as a medic, running to the aid of his buddies, only to get killed. As a regular soldier he would have carried a gun instead of a medical bag. He would have been able to defend himself. He would be alive today. But “what ifs” never change anything and life goes on. They Called Him Doc is the story of a young man, not yet twenty-one, who gave his life for his fellow soldiers in Vietnam.
Book Format(s): Soft cover
Review Genre: Nonfiction—Memoir/Biography
Number of Pages: 203