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Book Review: Tales of Three Veterans 

Vietnam: Our Father-Daughter Journey
By Ed and Zoeann Murphy
Philmark, 2006, $14.95

The Last Dead Soldier Left Alive
By Richard Boes
iUniverse Inc., 2007, $12.95

The Making and Un-making
of a Marine

By Larry Winters, 2007, $19.95

As our nation fiercely debates the proper causes, objectives, and end point of yet another war, three veterans of the previous generation’s conflict in Vietnam have stepped forward to offer powerful testimonies on how they got there, what they saw, what it did to them—and the struggle to come all the way home.

It’s worth noting that all three of these Hudson Valley authors volunteered. Murphy, who served as an intelligence agent, left a Paulist seminary to join the military and was convinced that the war was wrong before he ever arrived. Winters and Boes both joined up because it seemed like a better option than staying home. Whatever illusions of glory any of them might have had were soon blown sky-high by the reality on the ground.

Murphy began working with Vietnam Veterans Against the War soon after his discharge, and his book is the most political and academic of the three. It’s a peace manifesto by an expert, proving that “military intelligence” is not always oxymoronic. His numerous return trips, one with his daughter, Zoeann, left him with a passionate love of the land he’d been sent to fight in and a large dollop of Buddhist philosophy flavoring his spiritual life. Numerous photos (by both father and daughter) help us to experience Murphy’s unlikely love affair with a country.

Larry Winters was a Marine grunt, bunking in a tent referred to by the rest of the platoon as “The Wild Kingdom” for the shenanigans and radical politics of its inhabitants. A young poet in the making with his beliefs in God and country shot to hell, Winters lived to come home and then found homecoming to be a struggle all its own. His healing journey led him to study psychodrama and become a therapist, and that perspective informs his look back at life before, during, and after ’Nam.

Like Murphy, Winters returned to Vietnam—but he went as one of a group of psychologists there to study post-traumatic stress disorder. And like Murphy, he sought and found a sense of atonement. Yet both books make one thing abundantly clear: We should think at least twice before we teach young men to kill, and expecting them to do so for the wrong reasons is tantamount to spiritual rape.

Richard Boes has written a ripped-from-the-heart memoir of the years of struggle, substance abuse, and failed relationships that followed his combat experience. It’s painful, yet richly rewarding. Imagine sitting
down in a pub next to a slightly scary-looking fellow who buys you a round and then begins to talk, his words spilling out in a heated rush, things bottled up within him all flooding to the surface. And although some of what he is saying is hard to hear, it’s made compelling by his wry, ironic perspective and stream-of-consciousness style, which is akin to that of Henry Miller or Jack Kerouac. At closing time, you’d be inviting him home for a nightcap to hear the rest—even if it disturbed your sleep for weeks to come.

It has taken these men decades to process their various experiences into art, and powerful art it is. It is a truism that any organization will be badly run unless the men in the boardroom understand the perspective of those in the trenches; one senses that if the current cabal of neocon opportunists had had to go where these three have been, war as a “problem-solving strategy” might cease to exist. A new round of post-combat memoirs has already begun (see Derek McGee’s When I Wished I Was Here: Dispatches From Fallujah, Short Takes 4/07). And these veterans’ offerings will become ever more valuable as more and more young men—and women—return from the unforgiving desert in need of a light on the path homeward.

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