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Viet Nam Generation Journal & Newsletter

V3, N3 (November 1991)

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REMF Books

David Willson, Librarian, Green River Community College

Hathaway, Stephen. A Kind of Redemption: Stories.

Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1991.

Stephen tells me that the story most Vietnam vets like best in his collection of eleven Vietnam-related stories is "Grote Apart." (p. 76) It's my favorite, too. I don't have to look deep into my soul (or anywhere else) to figure out why. The first sentence says plenty about a problem I share with Grote, not a problem I am eager to talk about, especially with grunts. But a problem I was glad to read that another REMF was also tortured by. "Quite unexpectedly, and after nearly fifteen years, Timothy Grote has begun to imagine that he performed heroic acts in Viet Nam." Grote goes on to tell us about his war. ". . . [N]obody shot him or stabbed him with a bayonet or threw hand grenades or shot rockets at him. Nor did he shoot, bayonet, grenade, or rocket anybody else. No snakes, rats, centipedes, or panthers bit him, he didn't take drugs. He wasn't disobedient. He didn't get very many medals." Grote is tormented by a tour of duty that everyone would be quick to tell him was a piece of cake. I sympathize with Grote, and with Hathaway. Hathaway's story was one of the forces which drove me to research the military records of every Willson back to Abner Willson in the War of 1812 (so far). They were all braver than I, even my father who was a clerk-typist in the Marines in World War II, typing courts-martial. He also spent 17 days in the worst fighting on Iwo Jima, not that he ever discussed it with me. But enough about me, even though I found much of me in Hathaway's stories.

The title story deals directly and painfully with a young man and his father, a World War II veteran and a survivor of the Bataan Death March. We of the Vietnam generation will always seem pygmies in the the eyes of that generation of men. They tell us that we must put the Vietnam Syndrome away, that it is dead. Hathaway reminds us that this claim is bullshit. Also he discusses family history. "Not that Grote cares a fig about genealogy, the dreary province of gimcrack notability. Who and what those people were in the dim recesses of the past doesn't inspire in him anything more than idle curiosity." (p. 109 "Grote Discovers Himself Trapped in Time")

I suspect I'll never be this dispassionate about the past, mine especially. I sometimes wish Abner Willson hadn't successfully stood off the attack of a boatful of Indians in the War of 1812 (although if he hadn't, there would have been no REMF and no REMF Diary , at least not from me.) In my own tour of duty I never even entered Indian country, let alone fought any Indians.

Frazer, Michael. Nasho.

West Melbourne, Australia: Aires Imprint, 1984.

The Australian soldiers in Vietnam didn't call REMFs by that name. But soldiers always have a name for the rear echelon. The Australians used "Base Wallahs" or "Pogos". The called Vietnam the Funny Place, Funny Farm, and Queer Country. The Vietnamese were called Nigel Nog, or just plain Nigel, or just plain nogs.

When I first arrived in-country and received my permanent duty station, I noticed large young men with odd uniforms and weird hats going through the mess line. They sounded English to me. I asked who they were and was told they were Australians. Why were they here, I asked. "They are afraid that if this war is lost, Asians will take over Australia. That's the Domino Theory," I was told. I don't remember Australians much after that, but several thousands of them died in Vietnam.

Nasho is a novel by a man who spent 253 days in Vietnam as a National Serviceman, between 1969 and 1971. He was a base wallah, and so is his hero, Peter Turner. Much of the novel is in diary form, which I especially appreciated.

The Vietnam section doesn't start until page 156, because the author gives us plenty of army training and Australian duty first. The Vietnam section is preceded by a glossary which defines Pogo: "Derogatory term for a soldier posted at base whose job is inside the wire perimeter, i.e. he doesn't have to go out and do the fighting. The term pogo comes from pogo stick, slang for prick." (p. 159)

The book does have a plot, but even though I've read it twice, I've not quite figured it out. The strength of the novel is that it is the only one of its sort. Turner writes news releases for Australian newspapers, and vets all photographs before they are sent from AIC Saigon to the Australian newspapers - and many of the photos are included in Nasho , which isn't typical for a Vietnam War novel.

This is the novel to read if you are curious about the Australian effort in the Vietnam War. The epilogue (p. 296) tells us how the Australians felt about their service. "They had risked their lives in a foreign war, fought on behalf of their country. Now, at home, years later, they were embarrassed to talk about it."

Primm, Sandy. Short Time: Stories.

St. Louis: The Cauldron Press, 1977.

At the last Popular Culture Association Conference in San Antonio, the author of one of the most elusive pieces of Vietnam War Literature, an item so elusive that it is not listed in John Newman's book, popped up from nowhere. Appropriately, he surfaced at the bibliographic group hosted by John Baky. Sandy Primm wasn't clutching a copy of his book, Short-Time , to his chest. He didn't need to. He introduced himself to me as Sandy Primm, and off-handedly mentioned his little book. I embraced him in a bearhug and barely stopped short of kissing him. "The lost is found," I cried!

One of his small and beautiful stories had appeared in Demilitarized Zones, but I had never seen Short Time , not even in a library. Sandy did not have a copy with him in San Antonio, but a few weeks later I received one from him in the mail. I was not disappointed.

Short Time is a REMF work of prose poems, or very short stories, which work together to make a succinct and moving novel of Sandy's tour of duty.

The first story I turned to was on page 4, "HG, USARV, Long Binh," because I'd been stationed there, too. I wanted to see how well he did with that special duty station. Sandy did not let me down.

HG, USARV, Long Binh:

A monstrous prefab complex thru which the pair of old mamasans wander. They are janitors. With efficent [sic] little pushes of their fan-like Vietnamese brooms, they sweep up piles of dirt or WHAP-WHAP-WHAP, one smashes a big waterbug and pops it, still squirming, into her mouth, chews it up, and then smiles at us roundeyes.

Sandy's "Yates' ARCOM" (p. 24) perfectly captures the power of the army clerk. "There was a sergeant down the hall who didn't like what we were doing so we sent him to Nam. He'd just come back and didn't have the slightest idea where those orders came from."

One of Sandy's stories even mentions Louisville ("Going and Coming Back"), site of the next Popular Culture Association Conference. I hope to see him there so I can tell him in person how fine his book is.

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