Reviewed by Joni Bour

Here we are again, you, me, Dan and Charles. BROWNWATER II picks up where BROWNWATER I leaves off. I am told that the author is already starting on BROWNWATER III and that it will continue the adventures of Dan and Charles (a little bit like Huck and Tom if you ask me). After finishing this book, I canít help but wonder if the author has some of the quirks as the characters. My guess is that these characters are much like him and maybe this is how he writes so well about their antics. True, the characters are night and day different from each other, but then arenít we all that way at some point in our lives? Given the proper test and circumstance, any young man might surprise himself or his mother as to what he might do when the chips are down. I would imagine further that Mr. Crawford has a few hair-raising stories he chose not to tell, whether they were about himself, Dan or Charles.

The author keeps you chuckling through most of the book but here is an odd anomaly- you actually cry at the same time. How do I explain that? I am not sure I can explain why, but many times throughout the 425 pages of actual story, I laughed, then I shook my head and felt very sad, all the while with a smile on my face. That isnít very easy to understand I guess, but I think it is because the event he wrote about would be funny if written about young men sitting around out behind the school and not in the middle of the Mekong Delta. It would be hysterical if not for the fact that these boys were throwing percussion grenades in the water around their ship to keep the VC away instead of working on their muscle cars and smooching with their high school sweetheart. Except for the inescapable reality of war, this is a very funny book.

Sometimes you may worry about Charles and whether he will ever grow a thicker skin, ever find a way to blend and not be the butt of so many jokes. You will also puzzle over Dan and how he became so indifferent, so disillusioned with life. These two seem to be polar opposites and yet they seem drawn to each other. I think as you read the book, you begin to see why. They need each other, the way flowers need dirt and coffee needs a cup. They balance each other. Perhaps Dan sees something of himself in Charles, the way he had been before the wages of war left its mark. Maybe Charles saw a survivor instinct in Dan that he knew he needed to learn. However or why ever it was, it makes a good story.

The book is refreshing because it is different. I would stake all the money in my pocket that you will never find another book series like this. The world should breath a thankful sigh that there are veterans like Sam Crawford around to tell a good story, whether it is all fact or not. The world should also be glad that there is only one Sam Crawford with which to contend. I doubt that we could handle more.

It isnít often that an author who has experienced what he is writing about finds a way to take the focus off himself and place it on others. Mr. Crawford wanted to be the story- teller and not the story, though I do believe he is the story all the same. Have you ever believed something so strongly in your heart that you did not need someone else to tell you whether it was true or not? Have you ever known something was real even though you had no proof? Of course, you have. That is the same feeling I had about this series of books. I spoke not long ago with the author over the phone and he told me things about his life and his stories, but his answers did not change my thoughts at all. These little war stories, little snapshots into fictitious lives, are not so fictitious at all. They happened. Maybe not all of them and maybe not even in the same order as you will read them, but they are real.

I find this series of books precious like an old photo of a great-grandfather in his WWI uniform or a letter written by a sailor to his loving wife. They are history, not the sort you will find in 8th grade American studies, but personal history, the kind that lives in the heart and minds of those who have survived war. It probably wonít win a Pulitzer or even be on the New York Times best seller list, but I donít care. Dan and Charles' story is far more important than that.

Be sure to take a look at the pictures in the back of the book, they are actual photos of Sam Crawford when he served in the Mekong Delta as part of the Brown Water Navy during the Vietnam War. Many of the photos will relate to different segments of the book.

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Posted 2/7/05