For years I shied away from movies and books about Vietnam. I suppose it’s because I felt that none of them told the real story as I had known it. I saw Platoon and Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket and The Deer Hunter. I read The Things They Carried and even though that book and all those movies were fine examples of pain and conflict converted to art, they did not ring my war-memories’ bell. I could not emotionally connect with them, or if I did, it was on a partial basis.
Lately, I’ve been reading books on Vietnam and I suspect that I have done this as a result of making BRAVO! Maybe what I tried to forget or ignore for so many years has now become something I want to explore. Or maybe the stuff I am reading now is more in tune with my war.
One of the books I recently read was a memoir by the artist and newspaperman, the late Grady C. Myers and his former wife, Julie Titone. The title of the book is Boocoo Dinky Dow, My Short, Crazy Vietnam War. Grady Myers was an artist who went into the Army, went to Vietnam and was wounded in an ambush on March 5, 1969.
Julie Titone is a newspaper reporter and University communications director who was married to Grady C. Myers. There is this to consider: Julie Titone is a veteran of being married to a Vietnam veteran, and lived her own special post-combat version of Vietnam. I think that experience must have helped to inform the narrative in the book. I believe I also need to give Julie credit for having the wisdom to interview Grady and persist with the important work of recording and saving his stories.
The book is a no-nonsense and yet often humorous look at life in the Army and the former Republic of Vietnam in late 1968, early 1969. In some ways it reminds me of a funny Full Metal Jacket as it traces Grady’s Army experience through induction, boot camp, Vietnam, his wounds and his discharge.
Even though I was in a Marine unit and in-country earlier than Grady, a lot of what he and Julie write about is quite familiar to me. It’s often zany and several times reminded me of the film The Boys in Company C. The book portrays a Vietnam War a lot zanier than I recall, yet it rings true to me when the narrative describes patrols, standing watch, work parties, the firefights. The way the authors render the ambush when Grady was wounded really bores into a reader. You are there:
“It felt as if someone had welded a 10-penny nail to a sledgehammer and slammed it into my left shoulder…It seemed like it took 15 minutes for my M-60 to drop, 30 minutes for me to fall backward. With a lingering, sonic-level boom, a grenade exploded beside me and threw my body up and over to one side. My head thudded down and my eyes, which had been focusing on the leaves that shimmered and shook in the sunlight above me, began to roll back in their sockets.”
The reader meets a lot of interesting characters in the book. Some are funny, some are crazed, some are killers and most seem to be just like the men I served with…young kids tossed into the chaos of war. And like many of the men I served with, some of them go home in a body bag.
I like how Myers and Titone question memory in this book. It is a memoir, so it is about real events that happened, but the authors understand that memory is often eroded over time. What happened gets altered as you live your life going forward from the hell of war. Things that you heard while sitting around the trench on watch might become part of your own experience, or what happened to you in a firefight or on a listening post gets altered, expanded, forgotten.
Myers went on to have a successful career as an artist. There are some very funny and realistic drawings in this book that he composed. Many of Grady’s drawings are in the collection at the National Veterans Art Museum, some of which you can view online at http://www.nvam.org/collection-online/index.php?artist=Myers,+Grady+C.
I found Boocoo Dinky Dow to be a realistic and honest rendition of the Vietnam War that jibes with what I recall from my time in-country, a rendition without literary or post-modern shenanigans; and one would suspect that it should be, since both Myers and Titone were in the newspaper business for a number of years.
You can get a copy of Boocoo Dinky Dow, My Short, Crazy Vietnam War at Amazon.com in either hard cover or Kindle e-book at http://goo.gl/6o18uM.
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