Cherries - A Vietnam War Novel
Author: John Podlaski
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (2010)
Binding: Paperback, 456 pages
A book chronicling the experiences of eighteen year-old Army Infantry soldiers during their tour in the Vietnam War. During the draft years, scores of naive, frightened, and awed young soldiers arrived daily in Vietnam; they were immediately branded "Cherries" (slang for virgins) by their in-country peers. Thrust into an unpopular war, these new recruits had much to learn before being accepted and fully trusted by their brothers. These boys were forced to become men virtually overnight, learning the ropes quickly to make life or death decisions, while depending upon one another to survive. The first few months in country served as an intense learning experience where they saw, heard, and endured things never thought to be humanly possible - providing they lived that long.
There are 2.5 million existing stories from soldiers having served in Vietnam. Cherries is unique in that it is told from a "Cherry's" point of view. The story follows a group of teenaged soldiers throughout their transitions from Cherries to war-hardened veterans. Their experiences are at times educational, horrific, comical, and tragic, in their never-ending search for the enemy through the dark, wet, bug-infested jungles and mountains of South Vietnam.
Though Vietnam serves as the setting for Cherries, this story could take place during any war.
John Podlaski’s Cherries details the events surrounding a young, scared eighteen year old’s arrival and survival in Vietnam. Though “grunt” novels about the Vietnam War are common, this book is unique in that it views the war solely through the eyes of a single new arrival, called a “Cherry,” as he moves through all the emotions that go through an indoctrination into war. From arriving “in-country” to receiving initial training, being wounded, going on that first “R&R,” and finally “getting short,” the author does an excellent job of conveying the new emotions of almost every experience.
The main character is John “Pollack” Kowalski, who arrives in Vietnam as an infantryman and sent to the Wolfhounds of the 25th infantry division. Later he is transferred to the 101st Airborne Division. In both units, he finds leadership and cowardice, laughter and loss, and learns who and what he is inside. I particularly enjoyed how the author was able to illustrate the “newness” of everything Kowalski experienced. That ability absolutely separates this book from most every other infantry novel this reviewer has read.
There’s no doubt that the author called upon his experience as a grunt in Vietnam while writing his first novel, because it’s too real to be otherwise. The author was a young soldier of Polish descent when he went to Vietnam to serve with the Wolfhounds and the Screaming Eagles, and he wrote about what he knows. And, he wrote it well. Vietnam vets and anyone who has been a young soldier in any war will appreciate the sentiments here.
Reviewed by: Rob Ballister (2010)