The last post here was a fictional account of a soldier returning from the Vietnam War. This post is a letter written by a Vietnam War Veteran. I have not changed a single word.
While going through my diary I ran across a letter I wrote shortly after returning from Vietnam and thought it might be of interest to some who would take the time to read it or not. Let me know what you think.
I am a Marine and from the day I entered boot camp in 1964 I was taught that Marines are fearless. From the moment I landed in Danang Vietnam in October of 1967 I feared for my life. Can I put a date on incidents that increased that fear no not really. The memories of my thirteen months in Vietnam are locked away in my mind. On occasion when I am asked to remember those days I do so with reluctance.
My first thought of dying was probably in November of 1967 when the sirens went off and I heard the screaming sound of rockets overhead and the explosions of 120mm rockets as they impacted on the flight line. I grabbed my rifle and helmet and ran for the bunkers on the flight line in the revetments. I didn’t think it was possible for anyone to run that fast. With my fellow Marines we dashed the hundred yards to the bunkers as rockets landed all around us. When the rockets struck the shrapnel flew around us, it was pieces of fiery gold metal, and somehow we ran faster. On one occasion a rocket struck an aircraft ahead of me and the explosion knocked me back. I dodged to the right and angled to the bunker away from the exploding A-6.
These attacks occurred on an irregular basis throughout my tour.
On one occasion when I ran for my position at the bunker at the entrance to our hangars a rocket struck the aviation fuel tank 29 yards from the command bunker and the tank exploded and burned all night long. The sides of the tank seemed to melt as the tank collapsed. I remember seeing a man on a bicycle pedaling by as if the devil himself was chasing him. We laughed at the time but I thought afterwards how I emphasized with the man and felt his fear.
On a weekly basis I would travel to the Air Force’s side of Danang’s airfield and I saw the open sided sheds that were 15’ high and filled with shiny aluminum caskets. They were the dead waiting to be transported back home. That sight still haunts me as I think of the 50,000 men killed in a futile war.
I remember hearing that a truce was declared between the North Vietnamese and the US only no one told the Viet Cong. They kept on attacking. In January of 1968 during Vietnam’s Tet or New Years the Viet Cong began a massive assault on South Vietnam. We heard they had overrun Hue and several other Marine bases. Our turn came shortly after. The rocket attacks intensified, on one occasion the rockets struck all around as we were in the chow hall. I dropped my utensils and ran for the nearest bunker. I tripped on the wooden sidewalks leading to the bunker, falling face down and splitting my lip when my teeth smashed through my lip. My partners scooped me up and carried me to the bunker and later to the medical center where the Corpsman stitched my lip . I remember him saying “Your mouth is dirtier than your asshole!” When he saw the startled look on my face he said there were more germs on my lips than on my anus
My friends joked that I should get Purple Heart for being injured during combat. I thought of all the Marines out in the jungles being wounded and killed by bullets and booby traps and thought my injury paled in comparison to their traumas.
One night during a rocket attack a missile struck the bomb dump at the end of the runway and blew down dozens of our tin roof screen sided huts. There was a mushroom cloud rising into the sky and I thought they had finally gone the final step and dropped an Atomic bomb on us and I would surely die a horrible death from the radiation. Shortly after they hit the Flare dump in the same area and I saw the most spectacular fireworks show I had ever seen. We were standing on the top of our bunker between our huts photographing the explosion dressed in our underwear, a flak jacket and helmet when the First Sergeant came up to us and told us to get our ass’s inside the bunker. Shrapnel was whizzing all about us piercing the side of our hut and the sandbags of our bunker. I still have pieces of shrapnel as a reminder of how close I came to being maimed or killed.
When the Viet Cong over ran the base we ran to our bunkers on top of the revetments and began shooting at the black pajama clad Viet Cong as they ran down the run way caring satchel bombs to throw under our aircraft. Suddenly bullets started striking the metal below our sand bags. We discovered it wasn’t the Viet Cong shooting at us, it was the Air force. I thought that it would be a hell of a thing to be killed by “friendly fire.”
Speaking of “friendly fire” shortly after Martin Luther King was killed back in the States a black soldier went berserk and began firing a M-79 grenade launcher into our living area scaring the hell out of me and every other Marine in the area. Fortunately he was captured before he could complete his revenge attack on the “white people” who had assassinated his hero. Was I scared, hell yes I was scared every day I was “in country.”
The last thirty days were the worst. Rumor had it that more men were killed in the month before they rotated back then any other day of their tour. The happiest day of my life was when the plane carrying me home lifted off the runway in December of 1968. When I flew over the San Francisco bay to land at the SF airport a lady commented on how muddy the water was and I said “yes it is but it’s my home and I’m so glad to be back here alive and not in a silver box!”
My first wife can testify to my lingering fears; when a siren would go off and I would jump out of bed and run for the door. She caught me and held me till the fear and shaking stopped. My second wife can tell you how movies about the war in Vietnam would ignite those old fears so bad that she wouldn’t allow me to watch those films.
I was in Country during the intense spraying of “Agent Orange” to defoliate the jungles to expose the trails and hiding spots of the Viet Cong. Did this cause the degenerative nerve disease Multiple Sclerosis? I don’t know and I don’t think my Neurologist Doctor Joanna Cooper can say for certain. The cause of MS is still unknown but the possibility is there.
I returned to the States in December of 1968 and was advised I would get an early out in December instead of May 1969. I was still credited with a full four years of service. I received a letter from Sgt Major at Treasure island advising me that Marine Corp in its infinite wisdom promoted me to Staff Sergeant, added a metal and then invited me to Treasure Island to accept the stripes and ribbon. I declined seeing an re-enlistment pitch coming.
David R. Evans USMC 2113468
David R. Evans-6580
USMC 1964-1968 Semper Fi
Dragon’s Ridge – An orphanage headmistress must use her wits to escape from a dragon, but only compassion can set her free from both dragons and men.
Brian Thao Nguyen Gunney was born in Vietnam and escaped to the U.S. as a refugee in 1975. After briefly considering a creative writing major, he earned a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering and scientific computing from the University of Michigan. He drew on his technical training, outdoor experience, and interest in history to bring dragons into the real world in his first novel, Dragon’s Ridge. Brian works in scientific computer simulations. He writes, hikes, runs, and bikes in Northern California, where he lives with his wife and two teenage children.
Dragon’s Ridge – An orphanage headmistress is snatched, saving a child from a dragon, and the world believes her dead and eaten. For centuries, Gascony’s top predators have treated humankind as easy prey.
But Isodore’s misery has only begun. On a lonely ledge high in the Pyrénées, where even the famed dragon slayers won’t go, she comes to terms with the nature of dragons, her fate in her captor’s hands, and her own dark secret. A child survivor of a dragon’s wrath, she has relied on her wits to stay alive. But it’s compassion that gives that life meaning, stirring a warrior’s idealism, breaching class divisions, and sustaining love for an outcast. On Dragon’s Ridge, Isodore’s struggle brings the two virtues into conflict. She placates her captor to plot her escape, unaware that the plan will cost her a part of herself she can never get back.
Dragon’s Ridge will test the fortitude, resourcefulness, and humanity of the humble headmistress. It will forever change her, the lives she touches, and the world she lives in.
Writing Dragon’s Ridge was an opportunity to present a fantasy setting with scientific plausibility. There is a tradition of minding scientific plausibility in sci-fi, but not so much in fantasy, maybe due to the reliance on magic to explain things. In real life, science and technology are governed by natural laws, with limitations and consequences. When fantasy resembles that, the story feels true to life for me. When it doesn’t, it’s like a free lunch, and there’s no such thing as a free lunch. I’ve enjoyed stories like that, like fairytales or humor or satire. But for adventure stories, I want to feel like I’m right there with the characters, sharing their world and their agency. Scientific implausibility makes it difficult for me.
To complement scientific plausibility, I used a real-world setting. My goal was to make the setting as authentic as possible from the scientific and historical perspectives.
What brought you to writing? I have a very active imagination. A story gets inside my head, and I have to write it down so that it won’t distract me from my work. I had never thought of myself as a writer until I looked back on my life and saw how much writing I had done. Writing is something I’ve returned to time and time again.
Tell us about your writing process: Ideas linger in my head, sometimes for years. They grow without direction or constraint. Sometimes, they collide and happen to fit together like pieces of a puzzle. I think that’s when they turn from ideas into story and grow like a rolling snowball. That’s the inspiration. The telling of the story is the work. My California Writers Club – Tri-Valley Branch critique group, helps keep me making progress. Talking about my drafts helps me think about it, dissect it, understand what’s going on, and see things I had overlooked. Not only can I fix what’s wrong, but I can also find out what else I could add to the scene.
What is the most challenging part of your writing process? Writing characters who are very different from me. I have to get into my characters’ heads to see how they think and respond, but it’s hard to get into a head that’s very different from mine. For example, I’m rather introverted, so it’s hard for me to write outgoing characters at a party.
In the editing process, polishing the manuscript for publication is challenging. Writing is fun and something I do for myself. Moving toward publication means getting a lot of technical things right. It’s important but tedious. I struggle with certain details of the English language, particularly with verb tenses and plurals.
Has an association membership helped you or your writing? Being around writers in TWC reminds me that it’s okay to write. The encouragement I received kept me going when I was stuck. My critique group helps to keep me writing regularly. I knew nothing about publishing or marketing books. Learning from speakers and my peers about how all that works is very helpful to give me an idea of the road ahead.
How long did it take you to write your first book? The idea first came to me about thirteen years ago, and I put the first words down eight years ago. I worked on the book six out of those eight years. In all, I wrote five complete drafts.
How long to get it published? Once I decided to publish the book, it took almost two years. I continued working on the manuscript because I was still studying the art of writing and incorporating what I learned into the manuscript as I was preparing for publication. I didn’t have any luck after a few months of trying the traditional publishing route. I believed I had a good story to tell, so I approached Paula Chinick of Russian Hill Press, an independent publisher in our writing club.
Do your protagonists ever disappoint you? No. As long as a character is authentic, I find them interesting. My characters seem to have minds of their own. If they go off-script, that’s all the better. It shows they’re independent of me. The best ideas come from them acting on their own.
Do you have subplots? If so, how do you weave them into the novel’s arc? As a novice, I used to be concerned that I didn’t have enough subplots, but when I saw how long Dragon’s Ridge was getting, I stopped being so concerned. Weaving in subplots, for me, is a lot of work. I usually don’t know the subplots ahead of time, so when I get an idea, I have to do quite a bit of rewriting and editing to weave it in tightly.
How do you raise the stakes for your protagonist—for the antagonist? Isodore is fighting for her life from the first scene, so the stakes start out very high for her. But it’s when she wants more than just to live that the reader sees the full depth of her character. For her, the stakes were raised by the opportunity to get things she had thought were out of her reach. Can she bring peace between two enemies? Will she avenge the injustices she had to endure? Could she be her true self? It’s similar for the antagonist. He’s not concerned only with the present struggle. He wants to survive the changes he knows are inevitable, among other things.
I didn’t start the story with complex stakes. They kind of created themselves. I think authors get to play god in their stories, but I don’t think I’m the kind of god who rubs my hands together saying, “Ah-hah!” After constructing the premise of Dragon’s Ridge, I mostly left the characters to find their way to the ending. I like being the observer more than the master.
What kind of research do you do? I had to learn a lot about the setting to figure out how the characters would interact with it, everything from the daily life of peasants to historically significant events. I read up on medieval history, and it’s fascinating. The medieval world was dynamic and lasted a thousand years. It started as the remains of the western Roman Empire and became the foundation of the Renaissance. Popular culture often portrays a composite setting, putting together elements that didn’t overlap much, if at all, in real life.
An example is the chivalrous warrior knights in shining armor. Knights of the Early Middle Ages didn’t care much about chivalry, which was a concept invented by the clergy to incentivize more civil behavior from the warrior class. By the time shining suits of armor came around, knights pretty much stopped being warriors. They were more like athletes competing in tournaments.
I also read about the people, their language, and their technology. I studied the geography and the ecology of the region. I obviously inserted elements of fantasy into the setting. Still, I wanted to keep that minimal and make the setting as historical as I could.
For scientific realism, I had more of a head start because of my aerospace engineering background. To make sure I had scientifically plausible dragons, I did some aerodynamics calculations, which led to a blog post. I also looked at recent theories on giant pterosaurs. I was comforted that my dragons aren’t much different in size than those prehistoric flyers.
I even made tallow torches to verify that what I wrote about them was accurate.
After studying the medieval world, I can’t help but change my perspective on my life a little bit. Salt, one of the cheapest and most ubiquitous commodities in our world, was once available only to the most important people of the medieval world. Now, when I measure out half a teaspoon of salt, I feel rather privileged.
How do our readers contact you? https://dragonsridgebook.com/
In addition to presenting the book, the website has a blog and a contact page. I also have set up an author page at Good Reads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/21950689.Brian_T_N_Gunney
Brian enjoying the great outdoors.
Veteran – TV Cameraman, NASA Journalist, Sci-Fi & Mystery Writer
What’s the name of your most recent book? And could you tell us a little about it and any other books you’ve written? My latest novel is “Death in the Holler,” a mystery published on June 15, 2020. Luke Ryder, the main character, is a Kentucky game warden who’s an alcoholic. He’s in danger of losing his job because of his addiction.
Ryder’s life-long friend, Sheriff Jim Pike, wants to hire him, but only if Ryder can control his drinking. Pike offers to ask Ryder’s boss to give him a temporary transfer if a big case comes up. In Kentucky, game wardens are also law enforcement officers.
A Latino man from Louisville is found shot dead on a farm’s food plot shortly after the beginning of “muzzle-loader” deer-hunting season. Sheriff Pike calls on Ryder to help with the investigation. The two lawmen wonder why a man from a big city ghetto would be killed on a remote farm in a holler, a small, wooded valley. And why was he killed with a modern black powder weapon or perhaps an antique flintlock firearm?
This story is loaded with rough and tumble action, plus a smidgen of romance. Readers tell me that as they follow the story, they constantly root for Ryder to defeat his alcoholism and to find the killer.
Another of my books, “The Knight Prowler, a Novella,” is a mystery about a government researcher whose body is discovered not far from the Livermore Lab in Northern California. Rick Knight, the protagonist, is a TV nighttime crime reporter. His brother, John, is a Livermore Police detective. They team-up in an effort to catch the killer.
How did you come up with the ideas for those two mysteries? The concept for “Death in the Holler” came to me when I was visiting my daughter, Melody, and her husband, Matt, in Kentucky. Matt hunts deer with a crossbow. To attract deer, he plants “food plots” on a relative’s farm. My brother-in-law also lives in the Bluegrass State and has hunted deer. I helped him plant a food plot on his farm years ago. So I wondered, what if somebody was killed on a food plot during hunting season? That was how the idea for “Death in the Holler” was born.
As for “The Knight Prowler,” I wrote that short book to see if I would like writing in the crime/mystery genre. I have a background filming crime news for television, though I did this many years ago. My first jobs after my Army service were news cinematography positions. I covered daytime crime for several years for WMAL-TV (now WJLA), the ABC affiliate in Washington, D.C.
I filmed stories about many bank robberies and homicides. Often I found myself in bad sections of town, usually on my own. More than once, friends asked me if I carried a “piece,” a pistol. I didn’t. I found that most folks in the “bad” part of town were good people. At first, I felt edgy going to murder scenes by myself, often after the police had left the scene. But I grew to like the excitement—I became addicted to taking chances to get stories.
Even now, flashes of memory from crime scenes I visited years ago pop into my mind’s eye. I see money blowing across the street after a bank robbery, a pistol lying near a curb of a major avenue, bullet holes in a door, blood on a concrete sidewalk, and much worse. So, when writing a mystery, I find it easy to realistically picture scenes, even though I’ve invented a purely fictional story. When I think of what will happen in my stories, I daydream. I see the story unfold. I hear the characters talk, and I feel the cold or hot air, the humidity. I imagine smells that waft through the air.
Do you write in more than one genre? In addition to crime/mystery, I write science fiction. I began to write it because I worked for NASA for years. I saw many projects and learned of numerous discoveries that would have been fiction in years past.
What brought you to writing? I was born on Chicago’s Southside. When I was very young, my family moved to a small, two-bedroom house in Milton Township between Glen Ellyn, an affluent suburb, and Lombard. I was lucky to attend very fine public schools in Glen Ellyn. In contrast to many of my schoolmates’ families, mine wasn’t well-to-do. At times we were poor. Later, our financial situation was better. But I have always been sympathetic to poor and downtrodden people.
I was good in science and math at school. English was my weakest subject. Some of my teachers urged me to study to become an engineer or a scientist. But I wanted to do something that could help right the wrongs of the world, journalism. So, I studied TV news when I went to the University of Illinois. That’s where I began to learn to write.
The day after I completed college, I was drafted into the Army during the Vietnam War and was on a jet plane on my way to basic training. The university sent my diploma to my parents’ house. The Army made me a journalist. Early on, my Army newspaper editor taught me the most I’d learned to that point about writing. I wrote for the Ft. Lewis newspaper, “The Ranger,” a weekly that included as many as forty pages. It had roughly 20,000 to 30,000 readers because Ft. Lewis is the size of a small city. I also wrote and hosted an Army radio news program that aired on a few stations in the Pacific Northwest.
After the Army, I worked in commercial TV news. I filmed crime and other news events. Later, I was a broadcast engineer at WMAL-AM/FM, an ABC Network station. While I was having a beer with a NASA official, he offered me a job to write and produce documentary programs for the agency. After joining NASA, I made more than a hundred NASA TV programs. Later, I wrote hundreds of articles and news items for NASA. I earned my living for much of my career writing about news events and discoveries. After thirty years, I retired from NASA. It was then that I decided to take a stab at writing fiction.
What are you working on now? I’ve nearly completed a volume of short stories called “Florida Grand Theft & Other Tales.” It not only contains crime stories but also includes a section of sci-fi short stories. My next mystery novel is tentatively titled “Murder at NASA.” Besides that, I’m planning a memoir about my TV news experiences and my time working at NASA.
How do our readers contact you? My website is an excellent place to contact me at http://www.bluckart.com. There’s a place on the home page where you can send me a message. There’s another page on my site that lists my books and where they can be purchased: http://bluckart.com/books.html.
Mystery/Thriller, Supernatural, Military
In Blood Debt, San Francisco Homicide Investigator and Vietnam veteran Vince Torelli strives to clean up the violence in San Francisco. But, after a suspect in a double murder is killed during an attempted arrest, he finds himself protecting the good police officers of the city he considers family. His efforts put him in the line of fire when he’s targeted. The brother of the suspect victim wants revenge on the officers responsible, and he’ll stop at nothing. He kidnaps Vince, a man obsessively loyal to his job as well as those he works with and defends, a man as smart and committed to his principles as the criminals he catches almost without fail. Vince knows best, though; a blood debt always demands payment.
How long have you wanted to write? When I was a young boy, my mother instilled in me a love of books and reading. I read mostly adventure stories, in particular, a lot of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and I admired how he could spin such wonderful stories. I vowed at a young age to write my own stories someday, as I knew the joy I got from books. I wanted to someday write books that would give that joy to others.
How long did it take you to reach your goal of publication? Many years! With growing up, school, college, the Army, becoming a police officer, marriage, and raising two children, there just wasn’t time for me to write, though I never lost the desire. The opportunity came when the kids were in college, and I had finished my master’s degree. One afternoon, another sergeant and fellow Vietnam Veteran and I were swapping stories from our tours in the police department briefing room. Other officers heard us and stopped to listen. They told me later that day I should write my stories down, they would make a good book. That night, I began writing.
Are you traditionally published, indie published, or a hybrid author? Traditionally published. I researched small publishers, on the advice of a genuinely nice lady, and very prolific author I had met at a writer’s conference and was lucky enough to have one accept my manuscript. I have been with them, Writers Exchange, for 18 years, and all five of my books have been published by them. I have two new novels currently in their queue undergoing editing. I hope to have them published by mid-2021. By the way, that nice lady and I are fast friends and have been for 20 years.
Where do you write? A small 4th bedroom in my house was converted to an office/writing room. It gives me the privacy I need to concentrate, with no interruptions from family (other than the dogs). I have a TV in there. I tune to soft rock music, at low volume, as a background when writing. I find I am more proficient when writing with the background music. It helps me concentrate.
Where do you find your characters? How do you name them? All of them are drawn from real life, at least the main characters. I’ve patterned them after friends, family, and other people I know or have known. Obviously, I change the names, but I have had some readers recognize the character and ask me if the character is based on them, or on so-and-so. I usually tell them, “not entirely.” A couple of times, I have used their real names, with permission, of course, because the name suits the character. Those persons really get a kick out of being in the book!
I try to develop names that suit the characters. If a tough guy is needed, I’m not going to name him Chad, or Chip, or Timmy, etc. I chose Vince Torelli as the name for the protagonist in five of my books—a tough, dedicated, homicide inspector with San Francisco PD. An Italian name, to me, rings of toughness. Of course, the character’s personality has to echo the tough name. I also like to have the protagonist exhibit compassion at times, too. I try to avoid cliché names like “Reaper,” “Savage,” and the like.
Real settings or fictional towns? I use both. In M.P., a Novel of Vietnam, all the locations were real, and all the military units, from whichever side, were real and operated in the area at the time setting of the book. All the areas mentioned in the Torelli books, in San Francisco and the greater Bay Area, are real, as are all towns, streets, highways, hotels, restaurants, etc. I even used the address of my childhood home in one of the books! I like to think it adds a sense of realism when the reader knows or has visited the areas where the scenes take place.
If you could have written any book already written, which one would it be? Any of the Tarzan books! ERB is my absolute favorite author, and I have read almost everything he has written (80 books), a lot of them more than once. His writing is what got me hooked on reading and inspired me to become a writer. By the way, I have 73 of his books in my bookcase.
One other book is The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway. An absolutely amazing book, skillfully written. I felt I was on the boat with him. Some of the best descriptive writing I’ve read.
You’re stranded on a deserted island.. what must you have? All my ERB books, my reading glasses, and a Lazy-boy recliner
Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and/or your books? As I mentioned, I have written seven books—five published (in Kindle and paperback) and two at the publisher’s. I have posted the first chapters of all my published work on my webpage, including a couple of short stories (non-published). Please take a few minutes to visit the site, learn more about me, view some photos, and read the excerpts. Between the five books and a short story, I have been fortunate to receive eight writing competition awards.
A big thank you to my friend, and award-winning author, George Cramer, for inviting me to post at his blog.
If any of you read a book of mine or the short stories, I would love to hear from you. Please post a review at Amazom.com, or send it directly to me so I can post it at other sites.
Thanks for taking the time to read about me and my writing. I appreciate it.
Best wishes, John
Website and links: www.jschembra.com https://www.facebook.com/Books-by-John