Two innocent lives are brought together in a war-inspired love affair through a letter addressed to “Any Soldier,” tacked to a bulletin board in a combat ready-room. The reader is drawn into a titillating experience reading personal revelations in private letters from a 23-year-old Marine Corps pilot. Moved by monotonous routine, he unpins and reads the letter out of boredom and curiosity. Lieutenant Jay Fox lives day to day at the incompetence of unseen enemy gunners, identified only by the character of their barrage attempting to destroy him and his A-6 Intruder before his bombs obliterate the “gooks.” He lives each dreary day to maybe die each night. Squadron mates do. Dullness through a daily routine prevails until he thoughtfully answers obviously silly questions from an innocent 19-year-old college student. Hesitantly, guardedly, an exchange begins. Ashley Beth Justice suffers the difficulties encountered away from home the first time. She writes about problems, and delights, in dealing with college roommates and routines experienced by a first-year college student having known and experienced little outside her rural South home.
At first, letters are innocent and probing. Then subtly over months, nearly every subject of life is explored, from the sharing sadness of losing a favored pet to questioning the war and politics. Flirtation, sex, and love intrude. Writing in increasingly personal levels, each writer elevates the other’s maturity and awareness in life. Respect and trust emerge. Frivolity and flights of silly imagination lighten gloomier thoughts and fears. Despite his conservative leanings and her staunch liberal attitude, each begins to understand life in grander perspective through understanding the other. Slight misunderstandings in expressed words or phrases create tensions as their relationship sometimes wavers, however, always to strengthen and grow—like a couple in a long-term affair. The ending is both surprising and understandable.
Descriptions of combat and life as a Marine Corps pilot in Vietnam are without flaw, obviously coming first-hand. Life as an emerging young woman away from home for the first time is authentic. Both voices ring true in language and tone through all topics.
The book’s presentation is somewhat unique with letters from Jay Fox printed out in faux typewriter font and Ashley Beth’s in computer-generated cursive font. This reality along with flawlessly spelled and formatted letters did bring forth some consternation when there appeared no strikeovers, errors, or corrections, as one would expect in real letters. Cursive also may offer some reading difficulty for young readers no longer taught cursive. A minor flaw was the author’s choice to combine both a literary fiction with military history with the inclusion of actual photos of individuals who were the foundation of the letters along with supplemental information on the real letter writers.
Unpinning a letter “To Any Soldier” from the bulletin board begins a delightful love story.
Review by Tom Beard (May 2019)
In 1968 Jay Fox is a young marine attack pilot in Vietnam and Ashley Beth Justice is a college freshman in North Carolina when they meet each other by chance, through letters.
Ashley Beth, naïve and totally separated from the Vietnam War, begins her letter-writing as a way to personally contribute to the war effort. Having recently moved away from her small hometown, she's beginning to see the world from a new perspective.
Jay, in the midst of bombing runs each evening, has purposefully distanced himself from any close relationships, but there's something about Ashley Beth's innocent and forthright manner that compels him to answer her letters.
The reality of the war hits home for Ashley Beth when Jay describes his plane almost colliding with another after a dangerous bombing run. The stakes are higher now—the disagreements, more intense; the flirtations, more significant.
Even amid the bloodshed in Vietnam and the civil unrest at home, Jay and Ashley Beth dare to dream of a life together while struggling to understand the war and themselves in To Any Soldier.
ISBN/ASIN: ASIN: B00TKTE6UM (Kindle) ISBN-10: 1505206448 ISBN-13: 978-1505206449 (soft cover)
Book Format(s): Soft cover
Review Genre: Fiction—Literary Fiction
Number of Pages: 264