Author: Richard M Barone
Publisher: Canto 34 Press (2011)
Binding: Paperback, 344 pages
A Heartrending Tale of Two Very Different Experiences During the Vietnam War
Richard Barone has written a searing indictment of the Army’s bait-and-switch scam that recruited thousands of unsuspecting college graduates into its combat ranks. This story is about two of its victims who joined the military with the understanding they would both become signal officers. They were told this would give them a chance at a good civilian job after their service.
In Chapter 1, we are introduced to Nello, while he’s still in college. A literature major, he’s also fascinated by philosophy. Penman, his college buddy, is a budding journalist.
After basic and advanced infantry training, Nello Doria and Eliot Penman both end up atFortBenningand OCS. Penman dropped out in the tenth week, and Doria soon asked for a resignation.
Afterward, Nello’s forced to serve in the infantry, which carries him to the jungles ofVietnam. Once he lands in-country, Nello ends up lugging a 25-pound radio upon his back, while Penman begins writing military propaganda inSaigon.
One night Nello becomes embroiled in a night attack with the Vietcong. Unexpectedly (pg. 115) a voice came from outside the perimeter. “Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot! You’re killing us. Stop shooting.!” The man came in closer, stumbling through the razor sharp concertina wire, his arms waving overhead, yelling with all his might, “Don’t shoot!” Fortunately, he was soon recognized as one of their own.
That night from hell resulted in the friendly fire deaths of many of those in Nello’s unit. As if that weren’t traumatic enough, later Nello and his fellow soldiers had to go beyond the perimeter to check out the situation. Using flashlights, they began to comprehend the tragic consequences of the fight.
One of the medics, Doc Buck said “This is bad, man. Five gone already. Too many wounded.”
Adding to the hellatious aftermath, Nello and others had to pick up bodies and body parts and throw them on the back of a truck.
I have rarely been as moved as I have by this book. I found myself dropping tears on the page as I read certain chapters. Those of us who haven’t faced combat will understand more about the mind-bending realities of war, and those who have been embroiled in combat, will be shaking their heads in recognition.
The irony here is that Penman’s journalistic military career brings him to war hero status, while Nello, who has seen the worst of it, becomes “just another casualty of war.”
The dedication reads “For the soldiers who died in my place.” That says so much. The book has photos and illustrations that add to its impact.
Richard Barone’s book is so well-written and eloquent, that I believe he should be considered on a par with award-winning author Tim O’Brien, and his classic Vietnam War fiction. If I were a history professor, I’d assign this book to my students. A fascinating read—I highly recommend it.
Reviewed by: Charlene Rubush (2012)