Reviewed by Joni Bour

I read a lot of books about the Vietnam War and those who survived it. Some books are good; some are not so good. Some claim to be true and yet you can't quite believe them. Some are filled between the covers with jargon that an average person has no clue about. Some are so exceptional you may never forget them. I can promise without fear, that this is one of those books.

This is hands down one of the best books I have ever read on any subject. I am not sure I can explain why his words touched me so. But I think it is because he wrote not from a researcher's point of view, but a survivor's point of view. Not from second hand knowledge but from his own memories, heart and humor and very personal battles with sadness, anger and hate. These are all things a researcher or biographer can only hope to convey. No matter your writing talent, you were either there, or you weren't.

When I read Standiford's book, it felt like he was sitting right there in my living room. His writing style was such that I felt almost as if I could hear him talking. And like an old friend who had come home from the war, he was different, but alive. So I was grateful. He sat down in my oldest, best, most comfortable chair, took off his shoes to rest a while and told me about what had happened since we last met. Some of what he told made me laugh so hard I got a headache. His tales of boot camp woe made my husband, a Navy veteran, laugh until tears came and wistfully remember "the old days" for the rest of the evening. There were other times when I thought my heart would surely break, such as when he spoke of praying to God that a fellow soldier would just die to end his terrible suffering as a result of severe burns from Napalm. And then particularly touching were his feelings after those prayers - deep feelings of guilt for wishing such a terrible thing. How can one even imagine such terrible pain for either soldier?

There were times when he made me so mad I wanted to slam that stinking book shut- wham!( In truth I probably could not have slammed it shut, because I had to find out what was going to happen, and the book was anything but stinky). But then I almost heard his whisper, "Don't let me down, don't do that. America already closed the book on us years ago". His story compels you to finish and then when you do, or at least when I did, I felt a deep sense of loss. Not just loss but shock and sadness and wonderment, of how in God's name could any man or woman have survived that war, mentally or spiritually? For that reason alone, C. W Standiford has become my hero.

There are some things that he doesn't tell us much about. He was decorated several times for his courage under fire and other acts of bravery, but he doesn't touch on those much. I guess that isn't what he wanted us to get from his book. You do get that he is a remarkable man. You may "get" a lot of things you never got before. I did. But more than even those reasons, he is my hero because he wrote personally about things that we all need to read if we will ever, ever begin to understand anything about what happened to America and, more importantly, to those who served our country during the Vietnam War. He also proved you do not need to be Tom Clancy with an army of researchers to tell a story worth knowing. But you probably do need to be a Marine willing to look the world squarely in the eye and say" Semper Fi" and lay down that book and walk away - which is a powerful thing to do.

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Posted 10/20/03