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Archive for the ‘Colonel David H Hackworth’ Category

I recently had occasion to reread the in-depth review (below) by Paul Smith, and thought his unusual take on the story might be of interest to others.

Paul Smith

Paul Smith

Back in July 2014, he reviewed “Remains to be Seen”, the 3rd story in my linked short story collection entitled Dropping Out: a tree change novel-in-stories. Paul has a blog at  http://twogreytoes.blogspot.com.au/ The unusual title for the blog comes from a cat he once owned, which he and his partner called Two Grey Toes.

Two Grey Toes

Two Grey Toes

Below is Paul’s review of “Remains”, reprinted with his permission.

VIETNAM VETERAN BUCKS THE TREND

REMAINS TO BE SEEN BY Danielle de Valera – Some thoughts

Remains-cream-khaki

What is it about human nature that, no matter how much some blokes get blown off course, their homing instinct swings them back around so that their deepest urgings drive them to have a crack at what evolution made them for. Just being born male is enough to be led in the wrong direction. Peer pressure to transgress for the hell of it is just the start. Being born working class ensures that options that lead to independent success, taken for granted by the privileged few, are rarely considered. Going to war all but seals the fate of too many who take that route, whether voluntarily or by ballot. Existing, even if only briefly, as an agent of human destructiveness all but strips away the tissue of connectivity that makes us human – all BUT! The bond that men form with one another when the life of each depends on the loyalty of others endures more widely than marriage. That bond makes it difficult in some cases to overcome the nearly universal condescension of their gender towards women. Women therefore exist in the lives of such men as a convenience at best or an unavoidable encumbrance. Children, the evolutionary point of there being men and women in the first place, are a fearful and even distasteful prospect. Yet, here’s the story of a bloke and his woman, mired in pitiful relationships with his peers, who choose each other and embrace the prospect of having children – even if the likelihood of failure can’t be ruled out.

Danielle de Valera has done something I once thought I would never tolerate: writing in the first person about the life of a Vietnam Veteran. I first encountered this phenomenon in a writing course. One of the other students wrote about an incident in Vietnam, not only as though it had happened, but as though he’d been part of the action. I was incensed! In that moment I understood the outrage of indigenous people when a non-indigenous person writes (or paints etc.) as though they are indigenous. Anyone remember Wanda Koolmatrie? Or Eddie Burrup? Well, Ms de Valera has cured me of my possessiveness. (Yep, I am a VV.) I think what made the difference was that, in her use of first person narration, she does not come across as a “wannabe”. Her extensive knowledge of David Hackworth, one of the most acclaimed Vietnam Veterans certainly helps her achieve an authentic sense of “being there” without intending to claim as much. She also strikes the right tone in narrating events in Mullumbimby in the mid eighties – not as they actually happened, but as they would have, given the cast of characters in her story. There can be little doubt that she was there – as participant and as observer.

Ms de Valera’s story alternates between events in Mullumbimby in post-Vietnam war times and moments in the thick of it in-country, as we used to say. Each episode is a panel of an unfolding mural. The first combines inconsistent messages about the Japanese – as a former enemy on the one hand, and as purveyors of the stuff of our prosperity on the other. Being denied entry to the Ex-Services Club provokes cynicism and confirms the sense and fact of isolation for the two Vietnam Vets. This commonplace episode resonates with the animosity of Second World War Returned Servicemen towards Vietnam Veterans until 1987 or thereabouts. As they drive away in the slashing rain the story segues to an operation in Vietnam, as chopper-borne Diggers are dropping through the rain into a clearing for a rendezvous with US forces for what was to be a joint operation. Not for the last time in this story would the Diggers be let down, and worse, by their so called allies. Do we hear the voice of David Hackworth, disillusioned with his own country’s military, in this story? It wasn’t just the Diggers who questioned the professionalism of their overlords. Each of the alternating snapshots has such issues embedded in the narrative.

This is a story that can be re-read numerous times without exhausting all that is hidden between the lines. It is a Coming Home story that, in this and other works by Ms de Valera, unfolds over a number of years. That thought suggests a link with the film that bears the name of its genre. Is Michael O’Neill an Aussie version of Luke Martin – emotionally rather than physically disabled– who decides that the best way to help his mates is to escape the horror of their post-war life (for its destructive nature is every bit as horrific as their experience in Vietnam) is to throw himself into something resembling a “normal” life? Does Azure thus have her Lucky Out in Michael’s self administered “cleansing”?

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Australian soldiers in Vietnam

Australian soldiers in Vietnam

A long, long time ago when I was younger and my children were still in high school, my son fell in love with all things military. War was nothing new to me. I’d cut my teeth on WWII. My father went over the Kokoda Trial without a scratch – needless to say, he never said a word about it, except to my old Uncle Charlie, who’d been in the trenches in WWI.

With the star-struck son, it was different. I saw every Vietnam war movie ever made. I got to know the kinds of choppers used in Vietnam, and also in Korea — even what kinds of choppers the police were currently using to search for marihuana plantations in the hills in the northern rivers. I learned about post-traumatic stress disorder and what (and what not) to do about it. My son’s passion lasted around four years and fizzled out, thank heavens, before he was old enough to join the army. While it was still at tornado force, I bought him one Christmas a memoir by Colonel David H Hackworth (US Army), co-written with Julie Sherman and called About Face: The Odyssey of an American Warrior.

 About Face

Hackworth was famous, and one of the most decorated soldiers who ever lived. Some people credited him with being the model for Colonel Kurtz, the role played by Marlon Brando in Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now; others more reliably credited him with being the model for the gung ho commander of the helicopter unit immortalized in the movie by Robert Duvall. Hackworth did command a helicopter unit in Vietnam at one stage. His journey from all-American warrior (he lied about his age to get into the post-WWII occupying forces in Berlin at 15) to his public rejection of the Vietnam War in 1971 makes fascinating reading.

Young Hackworth

Older Hackworth

 

 

 

Unlike my son, I never fell in love with the military, but I did fall somewhat in love with Hackworth, and my little story “Remains to be Seen”, which was lucky enough to win the Ulitarra-Scheaffer Pen short story Award way back in 1993, is a kind of tribute to the man, although it is not about him. My formatting will always leave something to be desired, but the story (set half in the northern rivers, half in Vietnam) is now up on the web.

Remains cover khaki

It’s FREE in three formats at Smashwords:

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/454352 and it should be free on Amazon KDP, but so far they’re insisting on charging 99c for it. If you’ve got a dollar to spare, that’s at: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00LNDWRM2

NB This is a good place to encourage anyone who likes the work to put up a review. Remember, it doesn’t have to be a contender for the Pulitzer Prize. Just 50 words will do, and (hopefully) a reasonable number of stars 🙂

Hackworth spent some of his later years in Australia, living in Brisbane and later in the country not far from here – another reason for my fascination, perhaps,  though I suspect the real reason is that I just have a penchant for warriors. He died at the age of 74. The cause of his death is cited in some reports as bladder cancer, one of the many forms of cancer occurring with increasing frequency among Vietnam veterans exposed to the defoliants called Agents Orange and Blue.

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